The 2023 NFL Combine has officially kicked us into gear for draft season and there were some big winners that may be bigger on the LA Chargers' radar. Perhaps the biggest winner is Georgia's Nolan Smith, who balled out at the combine and checks multiple boxes to be a first-round pick for the Chargers.
Edge rusher may not seem like a first-round need for the Bolts with Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa but this selection would have one eye towards the future. If this is indeed the route the Chargers take, how would it impact the rest of the team's draft class?
We hopped on Pro Football Focus' mock draft simulator to try and answer that question.
Full Chargers mock draft with Nolan Smith as the 21st overall pick:
With the 21st pick the Chargers select Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia
Not only does Smith check multiple boxes for the Chargers but the Chargers would be a great landing spot for him. His athleticism jumps off the screen and he has a very high ceiling as an edge rusher at the NFL level.
Learning for a year behind Mack and Bosa while serving a rotational pass-rush role would be great for Smith. It would also open the door to move Mack or Bosa to the inside on pass-rushing downs, which could cause a nightmare matchup for opposing offensive lines.
With the 53rd pick the Chargers select Dawand Jones, T, Ohio State
This Chargers mock draft is done under the assumption that the team is able to re-sign Drue Tranquill but cannot re-sign Trey Pipkins. With that in mind, the team is essentially forced to take its Pipkins replacement in Dawand Jones.
Jones is a freak athlete with size and strength that will give him a baseline of success at the NFL level. His footwork and fundamentals definitely need work but with a solid offensive line around him, Jones can have rookie-level success in 2023 and build on that as he gets NFL coaching.
With the 85th pick the Chargers select Tyler Scott, WR, Cincinnati
Tyler Scott did not run as fast of a 40-yard dash time as many were expecting at the NFL Combine as he ran a 4.44 40-yard dash. While that may not seem like groundbreaking speed, this is a receiver that has game speed and can take the top off of the defense.
Scott is a similar prospect to Jalin Hyatt, who Chargers fans have been clamoring over for weeks. With the Bolts not getting Hyatt in the first round, they instead pivot to Scott in the third. Scott testing lower on the 40-yard dash might be a blessing if he can fall to 85.
With the 124th pick the Chargers select Jakorian Bennett, CB, Maryland
Jakorian Bennet has day 3 Brandon Staley prospect written all over him. He is insanely athletic — posting the second-fastest 40-yard dash for a CB (4.30), third-fastest 10-yard split (1.48), fourth-highest vertical (40.50"), and fourth-longest broad jump (11'1") — and has the ability to move around the secondary as a versatile defensive back.
However, Bennett is also a bit raw in his technique, oftentimes relying on his athleticism at the collegiate level. Staley loves taking physically gifted defensive backs later in the draft with the intent of developing them and that is exactly what this pick would represent.
With the 158 pick the Chargers select Eric Gray, RB, Oklahoma
This is a bit of a reach for Eric Gray and personally, I do not love the selection as the Chargers have been pretty bad at taking running backs in recent drafts. That being said, the team needs more running back depth and will likely do the same thing that they have done the last three years.
Isaiah Spiller still might not be NFL-ready in year two and the Chargers need a contingency option for Joshua Kelley. They cannot fully rely on another Sony Michel. For that reason, they take a back with real value as a running and receiving threat in Eric Gray.
With the 199th pick the Chargers select Zach Kuntz, TE, Old Dominion
Zach Kuntz is naturally going to become everyone's favorite tight end sleeper because of how well he tested at the NFL Combine. Kuntz ran a 4.55 40-yard dash, which was the second among all tight ends. For a six-seven tight end with decent hands, that is really promising.
Kuntz would only be a receiving threat for the Chargers and could be a Donald Parham replacement if the team cannot re-sign him in free agency. It might not be the early-round tight end that fans want but it could be a way to quell the storm for now with Gerald Everett having one more year under contract.
With the 241st pick the Chargers select Devonnsha Maxwell, DL, Chattanooga
Devonnsha Maxwell is my favorite late-round, small-school prospect for the Chargers and is going to live on my Chargers mock drafts for the time being. He is a pass-rushing specialist that is built to play defensive end in a 3-4 defense.
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His woes against the run limit him as a prospect right away but the Chargers are actually in a place where they need a rotational interior pass rusher. They get that in Maxwell, who could exclusively play third downs in his rookie season and still make a difference.