Chargers' WR1 spot is Ladd McConkey’s to lose in training camp

He may not be the WR1 yet but it is only a matter of time.
Ladd McConkey hits the gridiron during Los Angeles Chargers' rookie camp
Ladd McConkey hits the gridiron during Los Angeles Chargers' rookie camp / Ric Tapia/GettyImages

We are approximately two weeks away from Chargers training camp beginning on July 24. And while the launch of the Jim Harbaugh era is generating loads of excitement, there is one pivotal position group in dire need of enhancement this summer.

The wide receiver position is, on paper at least, a glaring weakness on the Chargers roster. And if the Bolts want to compete in a conference filled with explosive passing attacks, they need to solidify the supporting cast around Justin Herbert. 

The wide receiver core lost it’s catalysts this offseason. Veteran wideout Keenan Allen will now be catching passes from Caleb Williams with the Chicago Bears, and deep threat Mike Willams was released by the Bolts before signing a one-year deal with the New York Jets.

That leaves the Chargers with something fans might be dreading: Quentin Johnston as the WR1. Is it possible he bounces back from a dreadful rookie season? Absolutely. He showed some flashes of potential as the season progressed, as his ability to get open improved. But the slew of drops in key situations were too much to overcome, casting a dark cloud over his first season as a pro. 

The other candidate to assume that role is Joshua Palmer, who is entering his fourth season and has shown potential. He only played 10 games in 2023, but was on pace for a smidge under 61 catches and 929 receiving yards if he played a full 17-game slate. But he has had very few opportunities to prove can be a bona fide #1 option in this offense. 

Ladd McConkey's inside track to being the Chargers' WR1

And then there is Ladd McConkey. The former Georgia Bulldog was selected with the 34th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. And based on a scouting report from the NFL Network’s Lance Zurlein, he could flourish with Herbert as his quarterback.

“His pace and rhythm make cornerbacks more reactive than proactive. He has the footwork and body control to snap off crisp breaks and open windows for his quarterback. He can manipulate coverage with an advanced feel for leverage and has enough top-end speed to get past cornerbacks who are non-believers.”

Sounds like a possible Keenan Allen carbon copy. Coincidentally, he resembled the former Chargers route-running wizard in a video the Chargers posted to social media last month. Herbert and Allen flourished during their four years of playing together, so the chances of Herbert leaning on a rookie receiver with similar traits is not out of the realm of possibility.

Are his 2023 stats dazzling? Not necessarily, as he recorded 30 catches for 478 receiving yards and two touchdown catches. But McConkey has the footwork, sturdy hands, and deceptive speed that could catapult him to the top of the Chargers wide receiver depth chart. 

If it does not happen this summer during training camp, then do not be surprised if the transition occurs early into the 2024 campaign when he officially hits the gridiron with the boys in powder blue.