Chargers ready to trade No. 5 pick in NFL draft if the price is right

Chargers new general manager Joe Hortiz talks to a person following the introductory press conference of coach Jim Harbaugh.

Former USC quarterback Caleb Williams going first to Chicago next week is the greatest certainty entering the 2024 NFL draft.

And the next surest thing?

The Chargers trading out of the No. 5 spot, at least if the overwhelming outside speculation is correct.

In an endeavor that can defy logic and prediction, the public consensus has reached a point where new general manager Joe Hortiz dealing his first career selection in order to add draft capital seems to be a foregone conclusion.

“If we’re going to trade away from great players,” Hortiz said Thursday, “there’s got to be a reason in terms of value for us.”

In transitioning to becoming a tougher, line-of-scrimmage-focused team under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh, the Chargers are in the midst of a clear roster rebuild.

They need players at multiple spots but don’t need a quarterback entering a draft in which four of them could be taken at the top. That potentially puts the Chargers in position to trade the fifth selection to a quarterback-needy team.

Read more: Why Jim Harbaugh jumped at chance to live 'The Rockford Files' RV beach life

The most popular possibility among those teams is Minnesota, which holds two first-round picks — Nos. 11 and 23 — to dangle as bait.

Hortiz said he has spoken to other general managers about trading back, describing those conversations as preliminary.

“On draft day,” he explained, “that’s when it will really pick up.”

The top three selections Thursday are expected to be quarterbacks. Arizona, which has Kyler Murray, then picks fourth. If the Cardinals don’t trade back and draft a player at another position, the Chargers would be set up to deal.

If Arizona moves out of No. 4, however, and another team chooses a quarterback, the Chargers would hold what they consider to be the de facto No. 1 selection, with every nonquarterback still available.

“We believe we have the first pick in the draft,” Hortiz said. “I know there’s going to be four picks that go before us. … If four quarterbacks go, we believe strongly that we have the first pick.”

Read more: Jim Harbaugh: Chargers could get top non-quarterback in NFL draft

In that scenario, the Chargers could select someone such as Marvin Harrison Jr., who is generally considered to be the top prospect at wide receiver, a position the Chargers need.

Or, as Hortiz explained it, they’d be in position to demand a premium price from a team still looking to move up, a price perhaps greater than what No. 5 traditionally would net.

“They have to make it attractive for us to move away from those players,” Hortiz said. “The whole, ‘It’s a fair trade. It’s a wash,’ I don’t think that’s a trade that we’re interested in.”

Whatever happens, the Chargers will be looking for the best player available — regardless of position — when they do pick, Hortiz said. In his previous job with Baltimore, he said he learned that teams are “never one player away, ever.”

The idea, instead, is to build depth, something the Chargers have lacked in recent seasons while boasting a more top-heavy roster. Too often of late, injuries have derailed this franchise’s plans.

Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. lines up against Michigan.
Many scouts project Ohio State's Marvin Harrison Jr. to be the top wide receiver in the upcoming NFL draft. (David Dermer / Associated Press)

In detailing his vision, Hortiz pointed to 2022 when the Ravens drafted safety Kyle Hamilton at No. 14 just weeks after signing Marcus Williams to a deal worth up to $70 million. At the time, Baltimore also had Chuck Clark at the position.

“We had two starting safeties, and we just took the best player on the board,” said Hortiz, who later added, “If you get a chance to take great players, you take them.”

The pursuit of depth while also beefing up the line of scrimmage is expected to come to life for the Chargers during this draft. Many projections have them selecting an offensive lineman in Round 1.

In front of quarterback Justin Herbert, the Chargers have five players who have been NFL starters, but the desire to become more imposing likely means an upgrade.

“I think we could go out and play football today,” Hortiz said when asked about the state of his offensive line. “I do believe that, 100%. But again, best players, you just take them. Because what you do is you create great depth and create great competition and then the best players play.”

Read more: How do you make Justin Herbert even better? Chargers coaches have a new plan

New back

The Chargers signed veteran J.K. Dobbins, the fourth former Ravens player they’ve added this offseason. Hortiz called the running back a “special, special competitor.”

Dobbins will join Gus Edwards, who also came from Baltimore, in a revamped backfield as the Chargers continue to seek physicality.

A second-round pick in 2020, Dobbins has produced when available, averaging 5.8 yards per rush in 24 games. He has dealt with two significant injuries, however — knee and Achilles tendon — that have limited him to nine games over the last three seasons.

Dobbins, 25, suffered a season-ending torn Achilles in Week 1 last season. Hortiz said the back should be ready for the start of training camp in July. The addition of Dobbins won’t prevent the Chargers from perhaps drafting a running back, Hortiz said.

“What the goal is is to add depth and add great players at every position,” he said. “You don’t want to turn away from a good player because you signed someone.”

Get the best, most interesting and strangest stories of the day from the L.A. sports scene and beyond from our newsletter The Sports Report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.