Jim Harbaugh: Chargers could get top non-quarterback in NFL draft


The buzz has grown only louder with each passing day, the idea that next month quarterbacks could be selected with the first four picks in the NFL draft.

On Monday, Chargers coach Jim Harbaugh, whose team selects fifth, added to the volume — and with good reason.

“If four quarterbacks go in the first four picks, that’s not like the fifth pick anymore,” he said at the annual owners’ meetings. “That’s like the No. 1 pick in the draft for teams that have a great quarterback already.”

Yes, the Chargers sit in a position of power as Harbaugh and general manager Joe Hortiz rebuild a roster that helped produce a five-win 2023 season.

Still in need of talent at multiple spots, the Chargers could use the fifth selection on an instant- and high-impact prospect or trade back to acquire additional draft capital and go for both quality and quantity.

Either way, they like the potential offered by the next four-plus weeks, the stock they’re holding going nowhere but — perhaps — up.

“It doesn’t take a lot to understand that there’s some real possibilities,” Harbaugh said. “We’re super excited about that pick. So we’ll see how it plays out.”

The teams with the first three selections on April 25 — Chicago, Washington and New England — all need quarterbacks. Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels and Drake Maye are widely considered to be the top three coming out of college.

Arizona, at No. 4, has invested in Kyler Murray, meaning the Cardinals could trade out of that spot to another team that wants a quarterback. That would arm Hortiz with Harbaugh’s de facto top selection.

Adding to the intrigue, the next quarterback in line is J.J. McCarthy.

Harbaugh coached McCarthy at Michigan, where the two teamed to win a national championship. All of which leaves Harbaugh in an interesting place where praising McCarthy can benefit both his former player and his current team.

And, believe it, Harbaugh might be the young quarterback’s No. 1 fan.

He called McCarthy’s performance last week in Ann Arbor “the best I’ve ever seen a quarterback do at a pro day.” He labeled McCarthy “incredible” and repeated his belief that McCarthy is “the best quarterback in the draft.”

With Justin Herbert, the Chargers don’t need a quarterback. Around him, however, they need to construct a team that gives Herbert the chance to prove he can be a postseason winner.

That building continued last week with some tearing down, the Chargers parting ways with Herbert’s top two wide receivers because of salary cap issues that limited their flexibility,. They traded Keenan Allen and cut Mike Williams.

Harbaugh called the moves “the business part of the NFL” and said he was happy that Allen (with the Chicago Bears) and Williams (the New York Jets) ended in good situations.

The Chargers were able to retain their two premier edge rushers with Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa both accepting 2024 pay cuts in exchange for future assurances.

“Thrilled to be coaching Khalil Mack,” Harbaugh said. “You watch what Khalil did. The kind of year that he had, playing every game. Joey … Joey was having a better year than Khalil through that stretch until he got hurt.

“I’ll tell a guy who’s really thrilled — [defensive coordinator] Jesse Minter. What Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa and Tuli [Tuipulotu] are going to be in this system … really excited about that. Can’t wait to see that come to life.”

Multiple times Monday, Harbaugh referenced his anticipation for April 2, the date the Chargers open their offseason program in Costa Mesa. At one point, he said he was “just sitting on a spring waiting for April 2 to get here.”

The upcoming workouts will mark the first time Harbaugh will gather en masse with his new players as he tries to extend his reputation of turning around teams and doing so quickly.

“There are all kind of possibilities you think about and anticipate,” he said. “But, hey, we all gotta get together here in the same room and, au naturel, we’ll go about it.”

Harbaugh played quarterback in the NFL for 14 years, made a Pro Bowl and is such a part of Indianapolis Colts history that the franchise inducted him into its ring of honor.

He is expected to greatly assist in Herbert’s development, Harbaugh saying he’s “definitely going to chip in there” while also noting all the other coaches who will have a role.

What Harbaugh won’t be doing, however, is showing Herbert how a quarterback should play.

“I’m not going to be doing any demonstrations anymore…” Harbaugh said. “There’s been an evolution there. Twenty years ago, when I first started, I could really demonstrate stuff. I could hop in there and do it and show ’em.

“Somewhere between then and now, I caught myself on film a few times and go, ‘That’s not what I want them seeing.’ I’ve had to learn to, like, verbalize things and teach the game … through verbalization.”

Just a week away from his first real work with his players, Harbaugh is convinced the future is bright and now.

“We just believe,” he said. “High expectations. Right now, my expectations are high for April 2. I can’t wait for that. Like anything, you just chip away at it. You just chip away at it and find a way. We think we can.”



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