Chargers trade to nab Georgia receiver, then draft Jim Harbaugh's Michigan linebacker

Georgia wide receiver Ladd McConkey (84) crosses the goal line in front of Florida linebacker Scooby Williams,

For two months, the Chargers did nothing to bolster the wide receiver position.

When the latest opportunity presented itself Friday, they turned aggressive, trading with New England to move up three spots in the second round and drafting Georgia’s Ladd McConkey.

The smaller but sudden wideout played both outside and inside for the Bulldogs and emerged as a top NFL prospect four years after entering college as a lightly recruited hopeful.

One round later, the Chargers addressed another need when they selected Michigan linebacker Junior Colson at No. 69 overall.

Colson, who played for new Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh the last three years, combines size and speed and possesses a toughness that had Harbaugh’s eyes lighting up later as he discussed the pick.

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McConkey is a 6-foot, 186-pounder whose game is based on quickness off the line of scrimmage and acceleration in the open field. He ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at the combine, pairing that ability with precise route running.

“The quarterback … knows where he’s going to be,” general manager Joe Hortiz said. “That’s an outstanding thing to have and to bring to the Chargers.”

The team began Friday with the fifth pick in the second round, No. 37 overall. One selection into the round, the Chargers slid up to No. 34 to secure McConkey.

The deal also included them giving up the 110th pick (No. 10 in the fourth round) and acquiring the 137th (No. 2 in the fifth round).

“That’s just a little extra motivation,” McConkey said of knowing the Chargers surrendered more to get him. “They want me. They came up and got me. So I’m going to give everything I’ve got to them and make sure that it’s worth it.”

The Chargers probably aren’t done adding receivers after trading Keenan Allen and releasing Mike Williams in March because of salary-cap issues.

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Entering his fourth season, Joshua Palmer remains the only proven performer at the position. The Chargers’ previous regime used the No. 21 overall pick last year to select Quentin Johnston, who had an overwhelming rookie season.

With McConkey now on board, Hortiz still is expected to pursue some veteran help among what remains in free agency.

Describing himself as “a gadget guy that can do a little bit of it all,” McConkey, who also can return punts, had his most productive college season in 2022, when he caught 58 passes for 762 yards and seven touchdowns.

Last year, he suffered a pair of injuries — back and ankle — that limited him to nine games and 30 receptions.

Still, Hortiz dismissed any concerns about McConkey’s durability, explaining that his playing style — spacial awareness and the ability to sense defenders and set them up — allows him to protect himself when working the middle of the field.

“He’s so sudden after the catch, getting upfield,” Hortiz said. “He’s like a little [Brock] Bowers. He’s got a great burst upfield.”

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Bowers, one of McConkey’s teammates at Georgia, was drafted 13th overall Thursday by Las Vegas, the first tight end selected.

After three seasons in the high-profile Southeastern Conference, McConkey now will find himself running routes for a celebrity coach in Harbaugh and celebrity quarterback in Justin Herbert, who surely will welcome an additional target.

“Just watching his game, it comes easy to him,” McConkey said of Herbert. “He can make any and every throw. So excited to get out there and get in rhythm with him and show him what I can do and gain his trust.”

Colson, who led the national champion Wolverines in tackles last season, said he believed he could compete for a starting spot after the Chargers allowed Kenneth Murray Jr. and Eric Kendricks to depart in free agency.

His transition will be aided by the fact Colson played in this same defensive system during his time at Michigan. He already is familiar with the scheme and with coordinator Jesse Minter.

“I believe I can be a starter anywhere I went,” said Colson, who is 6-2, 238 pounds. “I’m ready for it.”

Michigan linebacker Junior Colson plays against Nevada Las Vegas.
Jim Harbaugh drafted one of his former Michigan players, linebacker Junior Colson. (Paul Sancya / Associated Press)

Harbaugh said the Chargers had Colson as the top inside linebacker in the draft. He praised Colson’s athleticism and toughness, saying Colson played through a pair of injured hands “for a good part of the [2023] season.”

Colson expressed his appreciation for Harbaugh — “He picked me again, man!” — and said the coach was the reason he attended Michigan.

He was asked what part of playing for Harbaugh was the greatest over the last three years.

“What part wasn’t great?” Colson said. “He’s the best coach out there. He’s the best coach to play for, I believe. He’s a winner. That’s something you always want to follow. You want to follow winners. … I believe I’m with a winner right now.”

The Chargers have six selections remaining over the draft’s final four rounds Saturday. Their next pick is set for the fifth spot in Round 4, No. 105 overall.

Their most pressing remaining areas of need include cornerback, interior defensive line and center.

Ladd McConkey — wide receiver

6 feet, 186 pounds, Georgia, Round 2, Pick 34

Notable: In 2023, McConkey won the Wuerffel Trophy for community service and was a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which is known as “the Academic Heisman.” He also was named to the AFCA Allstate Good Works Team for his community service work.

Last season: He appeared in nine games with one start, finishing with 30 catches for 478 yards and two touchdowns. McConkey sat out the start of the season because of a back injury and also hurt his ankle late in the season.

Why the Chargers drafted him: After trading Allen and releasing Williams in March because of salary-cap issues, the Chargers had a significant need at wide receiver. Somewhat undersized, McConkey is known for his quickness off the line of scrimmage and open-field speed. He ran a 4.39-second 40 at the combine. His potential was enough that the Chargers traded with New England to move up three spots in the second round to draft him.

Junior Colson — linebacker

6 feet 2, 238 pounds, Michigan, Round 3, Pick 69

Notable: He spent the first nine years of his life in Haiti and entered an orphanage after his father died. He was adopted in 2012 by the Colson family, which spent time in Haiti to help rebuild after a devastating earthquake in 2010.

Last season: Colson led the national champion Wolverines with 95 tackles as a 15-game starter. He also won the Lott IMPACT Trophy.

Why the Chargers drafted him: The team allowed both of its 2023 starting inside linebackers — Kenneth Murray Jr. and Eric Kendricks — to depart in free agency. The Chargers replaced one by bringing back Denzel Perryman but there's a need to fill the other spot. Now, with Colson, the Chargers have a linebacker group that includes veterans Nick Niemann and Troy Dye and second-year player Daiyan Henley. Colson is quite familiar to the new Chargers regime headed by Jim Harbaugh.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.