With three picks in top 69 of NFL draft, Chargers could be a big deal in Detroit

He repeatedly has described himself as “a baseball guy,” and, as such, Joe Hortiz is now just hours away from finally stepping to the plate.

After more than a quarter century as a deputy in the front office of the Baltimore Ravens, the new Chargers general manager soon will make the first draft pick that goes on his record.

“I think I’ll be excited,” Hortiz, 48, said. “I think there’ll be some anxiety. But pressure? I think there’s pressure every draft. I’ve felt it before. But if you have everything prepared … I don’t think the pressure should be there.”

The Chargers possess the No. 5 overall selection in the first round Thursday, and there’s a chance Hortiz’s long wait to make that maiden pick will go on a little longer still.

Trading back to accumulate more draft capital remains something Hortiz could do as he and head coach Jim Harbaugh revamp the Chargers’ roster with an emphasis on physicality.

The team has immediate needs at wide receiver, defensive line and cornerback. The Chargers also could upgrade along the offensive front and at tight end. Depth issues remain throughout, but particularly at linebacker and safety.

“That’s a big issue [and] concern for us,” Hortiz explained last week, “to really develop a deep, talented team at all positions.”

By moving back from No. 5, the Chargers could collect additional picks for this year and perhaps 2025. As of now, Hortiz is armed with nine selections in this draft, including three in the top 69.

Soon after he was hired in late January, Hortiz discussed the importance of the draft in his team-building strategy, even emphasizing the value of compensatory picks, something not all general managers prioritize.

When meeting with reporters last week, he revisited his love of baseball when detailing what he suggested will be an annual desire to accrue selections.

“The more at-bats you get, the more chances you have hits,” Hortiz said. “We want to hit them all. But we understand it’s the draft. There are times you may not get the same value you anticipate you’re drafting.”

During the ramp up to Thursday, the most popular potential trade partner for the Chargers has been Minnesota, which has a need at quarterback and holds two first-round picks — Nos. 11 and 23.

A deal with the Vikings almost certainly would keep the Chargers from selecting one of the draft’s bigger talents, such as Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., who would arrive as the new No. 1 target for quarterback Justin Herbert.

At No. 11, the Chargers still could find a top-tier offensive lineman and then look for a promising wide receiver later, especially given the depth at the position in this incoming rookie class.

Still, the difference between Nos. 5 and 11 can be significant in a process such as the draft, where every descending pick invites less confidence.

“It’s like going against an ace,” Hortiz said, continuing the baseball theme. “But you still got a shot, you know. That’s what you do the work for.”

Despite the rampant outside speculation, the Chargers could always stay at No. 5, something Hortiz suggested would happen if another team is unable to match his asking price.

Either way, the Chargers believe they’re in position to notably improve coming off a 5-12 finish that resulted in sweeping changes in leadership.

Amid all the unpredictability, Hortiz has made it clear that his drafting philosophy — in general terms — is to select the best available player, something he said he learned with the Ravens.

He also said he will have the final call with each pick, while emphasizing that the Chargers’ approach will be a collaboration.

Still, Harbaugh’s influence should be significant. He’s the one with the more proven background, the one who’ll be coaching the roster, the one in whom the Chargers have invested — according to Pro Football Talk — $80 million.

Having just spent nine seasons at Michigan, Harbaugh can offer Hortiz and the rest of the front office another layer of perspective on the prospects Chargers’ scouts have been dissecting for months.

Hortiz said Harbaugh “brings a wealth of knowledge” about the draftees, adding that the Chargers can “gain a lot of insight not only from Jim [but also] the rest of the coaches that came from the college ranks.”

Among Harbaugh’s 29 assistants, 15 worked in college in 2023.

The pool of available players includes several former Wolverines, many of whom have been understandably linked to the Chargers in the ever-expanding world of mock drafts.

Cornerback Mike Sainristil, defensive lineman Kris Jenkins and linebacker Junior Colson all have been popular Chargers’ targets among those making projections.

“Why wouldn’t you?” Hortiz said of having interest in Michigan’s players. “They’re national champs for a reason. They had a bunch of great players on that team.”

Following his hiring, Hortiz said several peers asked him if he had begun losing sleep yet because of the job. It wasn’t until after the NFL combine in late February that he understood what they were talking about.

“Something pops in your head,” he said, “and you start thinking early in the morning, and you’re rolling.”

Many of those thoughts will culminate at some point Thursday when Hortiz, noted baseball guy, takes his first swing.

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