National Football League
Chargers GM Joe Hortiz looking for more than ‘fair trade’ to deal No. 5 pick
National Football League

Chargers GM Joe Hortiz looking for more than ‘fair trade’ to deal No. 5 pick

Published Apr. 19, 2024 12:32 p.m. ET

COSTA MESA, Calif. — A former high school shortstop and leadoff hitter, Los Angeles Chargers general manager Joe Hortiz put his draft strategy in baseball terms.

"The more at-bats you get, the better," he said. "We want to hit them all. But we understand that it's the draft and there are times that you may not get the same value you anticipate you're drafting."

Translation: The Chargers would like as many picks as they can acquire as new head coach Jim Harbaugh and Hortiz work to build around uber-talented quarterback Justin Herbert.

Hortiz already started the process of creating a new culture by bringing in familiar faces in free agency. The former longtime personnel executive for the Baltimore Ravens signed running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, tight end Hayden Hurst and offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman. All four are former Ravens.


"I think it sends a message to the team that these are the types of players we're going to be building around and adding to our team," Hortiz told FOX Sports. "And that's what we believe the players here are already. But it lets them know this is the type of culture and environment we want to create." 

The Bolts have the No. 5 overall pick in this year's draft, the highest the franchise has selected since taking edge rusher Joey Bosa at No. 3 overall in 2016. After releasing Mike Williams and trading Keenan Allen, the Chargers have an obvious need at receiver in a draft loaded at the top with talented prospects including Marvin Harrison Jr., Malik Nabers and Rome Odunze.

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However, the Bolts have nine picks overall and Hortiz, the baseball guy, sounds like he would like more at-bats. Harbaugh said during the NFL owners meetings last month that he believes the first four picks will be quarterbacks, which means L.A. would have the opportunity to select the first non-QB. That gives the Chargers leverage.

So if a team wants to move up to No. 5, Hortiz did not mince words: Make a strong pitch. 

"Everyone has charts — meaning [what] equals out to a fair trade," he said. "But when you're trading away from the number one player in the draft, I don't know if it's necessarily always going to be a fair trade because you have a chance to pick the number one position player in the draft."

Hortiz is running a draft board for the first time. He acknowledged it will be a collaborative process between everyone in the room — including Chargers president of football operations John Spanos and Harbaugh — but that he'll be the one responsible for evaluating and stacking players. And he'll be the one turning the organization's selection in to the league on draft day. 

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And as was always the case with the Ravens, Hortiz said his team's focus is selecting talent over need. 

"It's best player available," Hortiz said. "We want to add depth. And certainly, there's some positions that we don't ‘need,' but you're one play away from needing a position. So if you look at it based on need, you're never one player away, ever. I've learned that from my predecessors in Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta, and I believe that. 

"So if you get a chance to add a great player, you add them. That's how we're going to approach it." 

Hortiz pointed to the Ravens taking safety Kyle Hamilton at No. 14 in the 2022 draft, even though they did not have a need at the position. The Notre Dame product has developed into an All-Pro and one of the best safeties in the league.

"We signed Marcus [Williams] in free agency that year and paid him," Hortiz said. "Then, we turned around and took Kyle when no one thought we would. We had Chuck Clark starting at the other safety. We had two starting safeties, and we just took the best player on the board."

In terms of the draft, with Harbaugh having spent nine years at Michigan, the Chargers also have an opportunity to take advantage of the information and familiarity he has with college players that he either recruited, coached or coached against. Keep in mind that Michigan sent 18 players to the NFL Scouting Combine this year. 

"He's played against the entire Big Ten plus he knows his whole team," Hortiz said. "He brings a wealth of knowledge about the players that are currently in college. 

"He remembers when they were recruiting them. He knows what positions they played in high school when they recruited them. … You do gain a lot of insight from not only Jim, but the rest of the coaches that came from the college ranks."

How many of those players can the Chargers get? It depends on how many at-bats they have.

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.


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