How Chargers’ WR remake reveals Jim Harbaugh’s organizational shift

Even though the Los Angeles Chargers had an obvious need at receiver, it wasn’t surprising when the team selected Notre Dame offensive tackle Joe Alt No. 5 overall on Day 1 of the 2024 NFL Draft.

After the pick, new head coach Jim Harbaugh notably said: “I know the question is gonna come up about weapons. We look at offensive linemen as weapons.”

Heading into the draft, the Chargers only had four receivers on the roster in Quentin Johnston, Josh Palmer, Derius Davis and Simi Fehoko. The Chargers drafted three receivers: Georgia’s Ladd McConkey in the second round, and USC’s Brenden Rice and Michigan product Cornelius Johnson in the seventh. The team has subsequently added three undrafted receivers, signed DJ Chark in free agency and had Marquez Valdez-Scantling in for a visit this week.

And while the numbers are now there, Harbaugh seems to have gone garage-sale shopping to fill one of the premium positions in the league instead of perusing the high-end retail stores on Rodeo Drive.

Last season, with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, the Chargers were No. 7 in spending at receiver with $31.3 million allocated to that position group, according to Spotrac.com. This year, with Allen traded to the Bears and Williams released and now with the Jets, the Chargers are currently last in the league in spending at the receiver position at $8.87 million. 

That decrease may be another sign of Harbaugh’s organizational shift from a team known for throwing the football to one that will lean on running the ball.

[READ MORE: Can Jim Harbaugh turn the Chargers into winners? He’s done it everywhere else]

However, the Chargers still have one of the best throwers in the league in Justin Herbert. And like his AFC West counterpart Patrick Mahomes, Herbert will have to learn how to do more with less. In 2023, the Chiefs had $17.4 million in cash allotted to the receiver group, No. 21 in the league. That didn’t stop Kansas City from winning its second straight Super Bowl.

“The group that exists is going to go out and compete and challenge each other and try to win for the Chargers,” GM Joe Hortiz said. “If we feel like we can add a player to any group on this team that helps us do those things, we’re going to add them. It doesn’t matter the position.”

The Chargers will have to replace a significant amount of production with Allen and Williams gone. Allen led the team in 2023 with 108 receptions for 1,243 yards and seven scores. Williams accounted for 2,290 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns over the past three seasons for the Bolts.

Herd Hierarchy: Chargers take a big leap in Colin’s post-draft top 10

Herd Hierarchy: Chargers take a big leap in Colin's post-draft top 10

Palmer is the team’s leading receiver returning from last season, when he posted 61 receptions for 581 receiving yards and two scores. 

Johnston, the No. 21 overall pick in the 2023 draft, had an uneven performance his rookie year, finishing with 38 receptions for 431 yards and two scores. However, Williams struggled with injuries and the transition to the NFL in his rookie season after being selected No. 7 overall in the 2017 draft. But he totaled 10 touchdowns in his second year, so perhaps Johnston could see a similar uptick in production.

McConkey has the most similar skill set to Allen and should develop into a reliable security blanket for Herbert on third down as someone who can consistently get open in the middle of the field. And the Bolts signed Chark as another big-bodied receiver who can stretch the field vertically.

The addition of experienced receiver coach Sanjay Lal should also help speed up the development of this young group.

But make no mistake, the Chargers will be a running team.

Chargers rookie OT Joe Alt shares how his QB days helped him at O-line

Chargers rookie OT Joe Alt shares how his QB days helped him at O-line

New offensive coordinator Greg Roman was Harbaugh’s OC in San Francisco, and the 49ers controlled tempo by creating balance on offense, taking pressure off the quarterback by running the football. San Francisco finished in the top 10 in rushing yards all four years Roman led the offense. 

Last season, even though then-OC Kellen Moore vowed to fix the team’s running game, the Bolts averaged just 97 yards per game, No. 25 in the NFL.

It will be Roman’s task to help Herbert find balance between the run and the pass game. They’ll both have to develop a rapport with the young receiving group, so the Chargers have consistent production in the passing game with two major contributors gone. 

“You want to be able to do both at a high level,” Roman said. “So we’re really going to push the envelope in both areas to have as balanced of an attack as we can have. … If you’re a one-trick pony, they can zero in on that — the great coaches do — and make you fight left-handed. We don’t want to do that. We want to be ambidextrous.” 

But with this receiver group, are the Chargers starting out with one hand tied behind their back?

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.

[Want great stories delivered right to your inbox? Create or log in to your FOX Sports account, follow leagues, teams and players to receive a personalized newsletter daily.]


National Football League

Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more