Even with a blown 27-0 lead in the playoffs in the rear-view mirror, there was hope that the 2023 season could be a good one for the Chargers. After all, the team was running back essentially the same roster and made additions in the 2023 NFL Draft that seemed great at the time.
While the Chargers got instant contributions out of the likes of Tuli Tuipulotu and Derius Davis, the team did not get what is was expecting out of first-round pick Quentin Johnston. Starting the season as the WR4 on the depth chart, Johnston was quickly forced into a prominent role due to injuries in the wide receiver room.
And that is when Johnston's flaws really stuck out. Johnston's drops were a real issue and he could not generate separation at all regardless of who was covering him. The rookie receiver finished with 431 yards on 38 catches with one touchdown. Those numbers look worse when you consider he had 67 targets and three recorded drops (although the real number is likely higher and one of the drops lost the Chargers a game).
Making the Johnston selection worse is the fact that the two receivers taken directly after him — Zay Flowers and Jordan Addison — were both instant contributors. Then you have guys like Puka Nacua, who set the rookie record in receptions and yards this season. If that was not bad enough, Chargers fans were reminded yet again how much a rookie receiver could make a difference during Wild Card Weekend as Trey Palmer played a huge role in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' upset win.
Trey Palmer's big touchdown reminds Chargers fans how bad the Quentin Johnston whiff is
To be fair, Trey Palmer didn't dominate the game by any stretch of the imagination as this was his only reception in the entire game. But it still hurts to see a rookie sixth-round pick have a huge play in a big moment like this when Johnston really had no moment like this in the regular season. See what happens when a team utilizes a rookie and their skill set!
Statistically, Johnston had a better season than Palmer but Bucs fans probably feel a whole lot better about Palmer moving forward than Chargers fans do with Johnston. Palmer was buried on a deep wide receiver depth chart but when he got his chances he shined. Palmer certainly didn't have the chances (or quarterback play) that Johnston had.
If we really want to expand the scope of the pain, we can also look at the Buffalo Bills game and see who the top pass-catcher was against the Steelers. Dalton Kincaid led all Bills with 59 receiving yards. He hauled in three catches and one touchdown.
The Chargers desperately needed a tight end and Kincaid was right there for the taking at 21. Instead, the Chargers went with Johnston. Kincaid already looks like one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league while Johnston may not even make it his entire rookie contract in LA.
Taking Johnston with the 21st overall pick was a whiff of epic proportions by the Chargers and fans are reminded of it every time another team steps on the field. That is why the two people who made that decision are no longer with the team.