Here’s how the defense us shaped-up ahead of this year’s draft.
We’re finishing off the Chargers roster overviews with the defense on this fine Draft Day morning.
It’s another long one so start reading now and hopefully you’ll be done by the time the draft starts this evening!
Defensive Linemen: Linval Joseph, Justin Jones, Jerry Tillery, Cortez Broughton, T.J. Smith, Breiden Fehoko
The addition of Joseph in last year’s fee agency period was to solidify a leaky run defense that has burdened the Chargers over the past few seasons. His play did mitigate that issue to a degree, but the team would have liked to see at one tackle-for-loss or sack out of the Big Goon. His non-stop motor and effort was still very apparent on film and he remains a crucial veteran presence in the locker room.
Jones and Tillery will both be looking to continue their progression into their fourth and third seasons, respectively. Jones posted a photo of himself being weighed to his instagram several weeks ago and he was at 288 pounds. That’s almost 30 pounds less than when he entered the NFL. I’m not sure what the goal is there, but hopefully it’s just him attempting to re-shape his body. Look for Tillery to revert back to the interior and focus on minimizing his bone-headed penalties he got way too often in 2020. The talent is still there, he just needs to find more consistency on a down-by-down basis.
Broughton, Smith, and Fehoko round out the depth here. Broughton played in a career-high nine games in 2020 and finished with four tackles. Smith and Fehoko were both free agents signed following last year’s draft. Fehoko saw two games of action late in the year while Smith never made it off the practice squad.
Edge Rushers (5): Joey Bosa, Uchenna Nwosu, Kyler Fackrell, Jessie Lemonier, Joe Gaziano
Bosa struggled with numerous injuries in 2020. His 7.5 sacks in 12 games were the lowest mark of his career since he was limited to 5.5 in seven games back in 2018. If there’s anything Bosa needs to improve on, it’s attempting to be the same game-wreaker on a weekly basis. He recorded three of his sacks against the Bills, meaning he had 4.5 through the other 11 outings. We can still acknowledge injuries while maintaining realistic expectations for the Big Bear.
Despite finishing with the second-most sacks on the team (4.5), Nwosu couldn’t ever convince Gus Bradley to start him over the likes of Tillery and Isaac Rochell. Melvin Ingram missed nine games and Nwosu saw just four starts. Less than half. No wonder the pass rush was so underwhelming. Here’s to hoping Staley can finally use Nwosu in the manner he’s intended.
The Fackrell signing was another underrated move by both Telesco and Staley. Fackrell had his best season (10.5 sacks, 2018) in Green Bay while Staley was still in Chicago which means he got a first-class view of the edge rusher. The former Packer and Giant also adds special teams value which can’t be understated with this team.
Lemonier and Gaziano both got a taste of legitimate game action after going undrafted in 2020. Lemonier can play both as a standup rusher and with his hand in the dirt. Gaziano has more mass to him and should be able to see time at both end and defensive tackle with his skillset.
Linebackers (5): Kenneth Murray Jr., Drue Tranquill, Kyzir White, Emeke Egbule, Cole Christiansen
Murray set the team’s rookie record for tackles in a season with 106, narrowly beating Derwin James’ mark of 105 back in 2018. His elite sideline-to-sideline range was on display for all of 2020 and things finally started to click during the team’s season-ending four-game win streak. He didn’t set the world on fire as a rookie, but his apparent talent is still very promising heading into year two.
Tranquill’s incredibly devastating ankle injury in week one was felt throughout the season. He showed such promise as a rookie on both defense and special teams which made it that much harder to see him last just seven snaps into the 2020 season. I expect him to come back with a vengeance.
White’s 2020 campaign started out fairly rocky. The former college safety struggled to cover just about anyone during the first half of the season. A little after the bye week, White settled down and became a much steadier presence. One more year removed from the knee injury that wrecked his rookie season is also a good thing.
Egbule was a sixth-round pick in 2019 who could do several things for the Bolts. He stuffed the stat sheet while at Houston and gave the Chargers a player who could contribute on special teams and be emergency depth as an off-ball linebacker or even on the edge at LEO. Where he fits in Staley’s new defense still remains to be seen, but he’s been a consistent contributor wherever he’s been asked to play.
Christiansen, another 2020 UDFA, got his shot to be on the active game day roster late in the season in an attempt by Anthony Lynn to fix the ongoing special teams issues. He was promoted for two games but otherwise spent the season mainly on the practice squad.
Cornerbacks (7): Chris Harris Jr., Michael Davis, Ryan Smith, Brandon Facyson, Tevaughn Campbell, John Brannon, Donte Vaughn
Harris and Davis are your penciled-in starting corners entering the 2021 draft. Smith, the former Buc, was signed as a special teams ace but supposedly will get a chance to battle for some snaps at corner alongside Facyson and Campbell. Harris missed a career-high seven games due to injury but history says he’ll play much closer to 16 games in 2021. He’s not what he once was, but he’s still someone the Bolts will rely on this year with a young corner room. Davis was rightfully re-signed and will be a staple of this defense for the foreseeable future. He led the team with three picks in 2020 and hopefully his new deal gives the confidence to take his game to another level.
Facyson and Campbell are depth pieces from the Lynn era and I don’t think their immediate future with the team can be for certain. I believe the only thing that will keep them in L.A. is the lack of overall depth at the position. Both have flashed at times, though.
Brannon and Vaughn are 2020 UDFAs with ideal length and measureables. Brannon saw minimal snaps on the active roster when the position was hit badly with injuries late in the year but otherwise spent the entire season on the PS. Vaughn never left the PS.
Safeties (3): Derwin James, Nasir Adderley, Alohi Gilman
James was so incredibly good during his First-Team All-Pro season as a rookie that the man has barely played in two years and he’s still being regarded as one of the best players at the position. He has 23 total games to his name since entering the league in 2018 and that hasn’t stopped his highlight tape from being played on repeat by analysts who discuss the best young players in the NFL. Everyone who is a fan of football, not just Chargers fans, will be hoping Derwin is back on the field in 2021.
Adderley finally got his shot as the team’s starting free safety after missing the majority of his rookie year with a lingering hamstring issue. Unfortunately, the year was rather forgettable for the former FCS All-American. He did pick off Drew Brees for his first-career interception, but his 2020 was marked by bad decision-making as the defense’s single-high safety. He often chose wrong when forced to commit to multiple deep routes and couldn’t often make the cleanup tackles when coming down from up high. The hope is that Staley’s guidance will paint a much clearer picture of the game for Nas which will lead to a more confident, heady player.
Gilman was the team’s sixth-round pick last season out of — who else — Notre Dame. He fits best as a strong safety in the NFL who was lauded by teammate Drue Tranquill as someone the Bolts needed to draft last year. As of now, he’s the only depth piece at safety for the entire team.