The Los Angeles Chargers’ 2023 NFL season was marked by highs and lows, reflecting both the team’s potential and its perennial struggle to convert talent into deep playoff runs. As we review their performance and prospects, it’s clear that the Chargers remain an enigma wrapped in the potential of what could be.

Season highlights and challenges

The Chargers, known for their aggressive off-season moves and capitalising on quarterback Justin Herbert’s rookie contract, aimed higher than a wildcard spot. Yet, they faced stiff competition within their division, notably from the Kansas City Chiefs. Their 2022 season was a rollercoaster, culminating in a historic playoff collapse against the Jacksonville Jaguars, where they squandered a 27-point lead—the largest in franchise history and a first in playoff history for a team with a +5 turnover margin to lose​​.

The team’s roster saw significant changes in 2023, with key signings like linebacker Eric Kendricks from the Minnesota Vikings and several draft picks aimed at bolstering their ranks, including wide receiver Quentin Johnston and EDGE Tuli Tuipulotu​​​​. Despite these additions, the Chargers faced challenges, particularly in the defensive line and the secondary, spotlighting the need for further reinforcements​​. 

Injuries also proved costly, as quarterback Justin Herbert and running back Austin Ekeler missed significant time. The low point came on Dec. 14 when the Las Vegas Raiders embarrassed the Chargers on Thursday Night Football, defeating them 63-21. This eventually led to the firing of head coach Brandon Staley.

Los Angeles Chargers' SoFi Stadium

Coaching and strategy shifts

The Chargers made a significant move in the offseason, luring Jim Harbaugh away from Michigan to hire him as the new head coach. Harbaugh has an excellent NFL record, leading the San Francisco 49ers to a 44-19-1 record over four seasons and a Super Bowl appearance in 2012. He is coming off a national championship at Michigan and is expected to turn the Chargers’ fortunes around immediately. Harbaugh is known for developing a strong defence with an offence that likes to play physical, powerful football.

At offensive coordinator, the Chargers hired Greg Roman to replace Kellen Moore, who took the same position with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Chargers could add more weapons offensively in the NFL Draft, with rumours of them going after a name like tight end Brock Bowers or wide receiver Malik Nabers to help lift the passing game. The Chargers also appointed Jesse Minter as the team’s new defensive coordinator.

Chargers hiring Greg Roman, Jesse Minter as offensive, defensive coordinators

Player performance and future prospects

Quarterback Justin Herbert has showcased considerable talent and potential, despite facing obstacles, including a significant injury this past season. He endured a fractured index finger on his throwing hand during a game against the Broncos, causing him to miss the final four games of the 2023 season. Still, Harbaugh plans to build around Herbert, who has illustrated Super Bowl potential and led many people to make Los Angeles Chargers football bets against difficult opponents.

The addition of wide receiver Quentin Johnston in the 2023 NFL Draft is already injecting youthful vigour and skill into the position, enhancing the team’s offensive strategies, particularly by providing Herbert with a dependable target. While Johnston only caught 38 passes for 431 yards in his rookie season, his role is anticipated to grow in 2024, complementing Herbert’s passing abilities significantly. The Chargers could also add more wide receivers alongside Johnston in the upcoming draft.

The Chargers’ defense, bolstered by prominent figures such as Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack, and Derwin James, continues to be a pivotal element of the team’s competitive framework, despite a recognised need for improvement against the run. The ongoing competition for starting positions, especially highlighted by the linebacker contest between Kenneth Murray and rookie Daiyan Henley, signals the team’s commitment to evolving and optimising its lineup. As the Chargers navigate through injuries and roster adjustments, their focus remains on overcoming immediate hurdles while strategically planning for the future.

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert

Chargers Draft outlook

For the 2024 NFL Draft, the Chargers have a significant opportunity to address their team needs and build around Justin Herbert with their eight draft picks, including the highly coveted fifth overall pick. Their key areas of need include tight end, wide receiver, cornerback, offensive tackle, and defensive linemen. Given their history of not engaging heavily in trades, there’s a possibility they may trade down from the fifth spot if offered a compelling package of picks to gain more draft capital.

Mock drafts suggest focusing on enhancing the offensive line to protect Herbert, most notably tackle Joe Alt. They could also go after an EDGE rusher such as Dallas Turner. Specific mock draft picks for the Chargers include selecting Brock Bowers, a game-changing tight end compared by many to Travis Kelce and George Kittle. Bowers would provide Herbert with a reliable middle-field target that could add big chunks of yards after the catch. Some mocks also suggest the Chargers could go for one of the big-name wide receivers, most notably Malik Nabers or Marvin Harrison Jr. if they’re available at No. 5.

Given their current roster and recent performances, the Chargers’ draft strategy is likely to be centred on maximising the value of their high draft picks and addressing their most pressing needs to ensure a competitive team for the 2024 season.

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