Jim Harbaugh's draft history reveals what Chargers will do with fifth pick

Los Angeles Chargers Introduce Jim Harbaugh As Head Coach
Los Angeles Chargers Introduce Jim Harbaugh As Head Coach / Ronald Martinez/GettyImages

The 2024 NFL Combine has officially wrapped and there are now even more draft rumors and scenarios for the LA Chargers and the rest of the league to consider.

Head coaches and general managers evaluated the prospects; they visualized what position groups they could improve via the draft, and which ones would be better off with veteran players. One of the most popular rumors is that the Cardinals could trade down from the fourth pick with a quarterback-needy franchise.

Consequently, the Chargers would be able to take WR Marvin Harrison Jr. with the 5th pick. The Chargers should address the wide receiver room in 2024, alongside the tight end, defensive tackle and cornerback positions. They could also trade down and obtain additional picks.

For example, ESPN's Jordan Reid has Los Angeles exchanging picks with the Chicago Bears, and selecting TE Brock Bowers (Georgia) 9th overall. However, Jim Harbaugh's rationale and history makes it seem impossible for the Chargers to trade down.

Jim Harbaugh's history of trading in the NFL Draft is revealing for the Chargers

Head coach Jim Harbaugh never traded down in the first round during his 49ers tenure from 2011-14, even when having the 7th overall pick in 2011. On the other hand, he moved up five times throughout various rounds to select players like Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid.

Though the Ravens constantly traded down when current Chargers GM Joe Hortiz was there, he said this in the Combine:

"“You take the best player available because you're never ever one player away. That's what Ozzie [Newsome] told me a long time ago. The games don't start being played until September. So if you get a chance to take a special player at five, you take that player, and then you work from there.”"

Joe Hortiz at the PFT Live show

Harbaugh and Hortiz seem to be on the same page in terms of staying put with the 5th pick, as there is no indication they would trade up for anyone, and taking the best player available. Now, who would they choose?

Chargers will likely draft Marvin Harrison Jr. or Malik Nabers

Harrison Jr. is undoubtedly the best non-QB prospect this year. He even ranks as the best overall prospect in some of the post-Combine (which he didn't take part of) "big boards", such as Bleacher Report's and Josh Edwards' (CBS).

He had a fantastic career with the Buckeyes. For example, he is the only receiver in program history to have two 1,000+ yard seasons. In 2023, he was awarded the Biletnikoff Award (best wide receiver in college football), and was a Heisman Trophy finalist. As Mike Williams might be cut or traded away to fix the cap situation, and both Keenan Allen and Joshua Palmer's contracts expire after the 2024 season, there's no doubt the Chargers would select "MHJ" if at hand.

However, it would be a more intriguing decision if Harrison Jr. is no longer available. Brock Bowers, WR Malik Nabers (LSU), and T Joe Alt (Notre Dame) are very even in the rookie rankings. Joe Alt would be ruled out since Harbaugh has never selected an offensive lineman on day 1 with the 49ers. For the offense, he only selected skill positions (quarterback, wide receiver and running backs). Additionally, Joe Alt's is mainly a left tackle, and Rashawn Slater currently owns that role.

Nabers and Bowers are very evenly matched, and the Bolts need to bolster both positions. However, the Chargers would likely select Nabers over Bowers since there are better free-agent tight ends (e.g., Hunter Henry, Mike Gesicki, Gerald Everett) and at a better price–than wide receivers this year. Nabers would be the ideal Mike Williams replacement, as according to Draft analyst Lance Zierlein, he excels in contested catches. Additionally, he flies on the field, and the Chargers have lacked speed in recent years.

Given Jim Harbaugh's track record in San Francisco, and Joe Hortiz's philosophy of drafting the best player available at the top of the Draft, the Chargers would select one of the top two receivers. However, the upcoming cut and trade decisions could have an influence on the player selected based on the team's roster needs.