COSTA MESA — The Chargers’ decision to run it back after the 2022 season, after their 10-7 record and second-place finish in the AFC West and their first playoff appearance since the 2018 season, meant they would rely largely on their 2023 draft class for their next infusion of talented players.
The results were mixed, obviously, with some players standing out in their rookie seasons and others barely seeing the field. Or not seeing it at all, in at least one case. Some were counted on more than others, carving out significant roles as the season unfolded with unexpected results.
No question, the Chargers’ 5-11 record and their failure to advance to the playoffs this season should not be pinned on their draft picks. There was far more going on to place the blame for a season that failed to meet expectations on seven young men playing their first seasons in the NFL.
But they should not escape from a late-season evaluation, either. So, here is a closer look at the Chargers’ 2023 draft class going into Week 18:
Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
Johnston was thrust into a larger role than initially anticipated in the final games of the season because of injuries to Keenan Allen, Joshua Palmer and Mike Williams. The Denver Broncos stuck top cornerback Patrick Surtain II on him for this past Sunday’s game, an honor of sorts.
“I think Patrick is, if not the best, you’re not getting off one hand,” Chargers interim coach Giff Smith said. “I think Quentin is making strides. He showed up with some big catches in the fourth quarter. That’s stuff, as a rookie, that you can build on. That’s a tough matchup against Patrick and I thought he held his own.”
Johnston has 36 receptions for 414 yards and two touchdowns this season, including three catches for 29 yards against the Broncos. He has had a number of drops, too, including one glaring muff that could have resulted in a game-winning touchdown Nov. 19 against the Green Bay Packers.
Tuli Tuipulotu, OLB, USC
Tuipulotu looked like a pro from the first day of training camp even as he addressed multiple Pro Bowl selections Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack as “sir or mister.” Tuipulotu earned his playing time and was given a larger role after Bosa suffered a season-ending foot injury Nov. 19.
“It’s always good when you can see young guys come in and help the team, especially the way Tuli has all year,” Mack said. “To see his growth over the year, to see the knowledge that he’s gained from being in the room with Giff and Joey and myself, the sky’s the limit for that guy.”
Daiyan Henley, LB, Washington State
Henley played almost exclusively on special teams, but he did get a few snaps as a linebacker this past Sunday against the Broncos because of injuries. He might also get more action in the season-finale against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday if he can recover fully from a nagging groin injury.
Derius Davis, WR, TCU
Davis found a role as a punt and kickoff returner, with an 87-yard touchdown return against the New York Jets highlighting his ability to change the course of a game. He also played a limited role at wide receiver.
Jordan McFadden, DL, Clemson
McFadden got his first start in the NFL this past Sunday against the Broncos and, as Smith said, “I think he proved he’s an NFL player and, obviously, a good draft pick for us, so we’re excited about him.”
Scott Matlock, DL, Boise State
Matlock played mostly as a substitute behind veterans such as Sebastian Joseph-Day (before he was waived and then signed with the San Francisco 49ers). But he also was a special teams player, too.
Max Duggan, QB, TCU
Duggan was on the active roster only once this season, after Justin Herbert underwent season-ending finger surgery and Easton Stick inherited the starting quarterback’s job with four games to play. Will Grier was then signed to be Stick’s backup.