Let’s get it out of the way first shall we? Gus Bradley was out of his depth as head coach in Jacksonville. Going 14-48 in his nearly four seasons there was pretty bad. However it doesn’t necessarily follow that he’s not going to be very effective in his new role as defensive coordinator in Los Angeles. And given the general belief that Chargers players are to be avoided, you owe it to yourself to consider if there’s value to be had.
We’ve already mentioned that his Jaguars teams were awful but it’s worth noting they finished sixth, seventh and ninth in total yards allowed from 2013 to 2015 before collapsing down to 27th in 2016. This is partially because the offence was so bad they habitually gave opponents short fields, but all IDP players know there were some very productive Jaguars players in those seasons. Bradley famously comes from Pete Carroll’s coaching tree in Seattle and used a similar scheme in Jacksonville – a four man front with heavy use of the LEO position and heavy use of cover 3 as a primary coverage system. In contrast, the Chargers under Mike McCoy and John Pagano last year used a 3-4 base which featured the inside linebackers heavily. Changes are coming, but how can we take advantage of them?
Let’s take a closer look at the 2016 Jags compared to the Chargers, shall we? The best predictor of IDP production is volume, so by analyzing snap distribution we can get a great idea of how things will change.
(NB: In this article I’m comparing them for the whole season. Bradley was fired before the last two games of the season but it was the team he built.)
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Firstly there was only a small discrepancy in total snap volume. The Jaguars finished 17th in snaps with the Chargers surprisingly low at 27th. There were only two extra snaps per player per game difference.
That however is not to say the two teams were similar defensively. Here are their total snaps by MFL position in 2016:
The Jaguars used a predominantly 4-3 scheme and the Chargers a 3-4 base. So Chargers linebackers as a group logged over 1,000 more snaps than their Jaguars counterparts. Meanwhile the Jags defensive tackles logged over 1,300 more than their Chargers equivalents. This indicates a significant shift in usage going forward for Chargers IDPs. Let’s look at each position group to see what we can learn about 2017.
This is how those DTs broke down across both teams:
Three separate Jags tackles logged more snaps than any single Charger. And Malik Jackson alone played more snaps than Damion Square and Brandon Mebane combined. Assuming Bradley installs his scheme, Square, Mebane and anyone the Chargers add (I expect them to draft or sign a 3-technique) are likely to see a big uptick in time spent on the field. It is worth noting that only Jackson was a productive IDP player for Jacksonville along the interior in 2016.
On the other hand the defensive end situation is less clear:
There are of course generally two ends on the field in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme. They’re different types of players but the sheer volume doesn’t change much. The interesting thing here is the distribution. Note the big drop-off from Corey Liuget to Joey Bosa and then to Tenny Palepoi. Bosa of course only played in 12 games but if he’d played in the other four at his snaps per game rate he’d have played 758 snaps. Clearly the Chargers wanted to keep their top ends on the field.
On the other hand, Coach Bradley and the Jags used much more of a platoon approach. Yannick Ngakoue led the team but Dante Fowler Jr, Tyson Alualu and Jared Odrick (when fit) all also played significant snaps.
Bosa looks like a budding star but in terms of fantasy he was one of the most efficient players in all IDP last season. It’s going to be tough for him to get better as many people seem to think. He’ll be doing very well not to get worse as a fantasy points scorer.
Here’s how the teams compare at linebacker:
Clearly the opposite is true here. The Jaguars have had one of the better inside linebacker duos in football for the last couple of years and it’s clear they trusted them to remain on the field all game long. Myles Jack was heralded as a great young talent but even he played fewer snaps than journeyman Dan Skuta.
In San Diego of course we’ve seen there were plenty more linebacker snaps to go around because in a 3-4 scheme outside players are of course included. Even so Jatavis Brown, Denzel Perryman, and Korey Toomer all received significant snaps due to injury, form and rotation. And Manti Te’o started the season before getting hurt. Quite frankly the situation was a mess, but this is a clear opportunity. Assuming Bradley tags a full-time starter or two, whoever wins the job is set for a big increase in playing time and value.
On the outside, Melvin Ingram is a free agent. He was clearly embedded as one full time starter and had a fine 2016 with eight sacks. The Chargers will be very keen to retain his services and could well end up franchising him. At around 250 lbs he certainly has a chance to become a full time DE but will need to add some weight.
The overall situation at corner was actually remarkable similar. The Chargers of course had injury problems with Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett missing significant time but usage was similar enough not to make any predictions here. And of course, predicting IDP production by cornerbacks in January is a fool’s errand.
This graph actually looks a little misleading. On first glance it seems coach Bradley again relied on his starters in Jacksonville with the Chargers using a rotation. In reality both teams used similar pairings. The Jags used Jonathan Cyprien as a box safety and Tashaun Gipson deep (where he was a poor IDP option). The Chargers used Jahleel Addae in the box when he was fit and moved Adrian Phillips around a bit more. Addae is out of contract so I imagine Bradley will be on the hunt for a new starting strong safety. Whoever that is could be a breakout player.
So all told what does this mean for key Chargers players?
Brandon Mebane is likely to take the starting 1-technique role, however he is unlikely to be worthy of a roster spot for IDP purposes. Whoever becomes the starter next to him at 3-technique has a good chance of being a solid option. Corey Liuget could probably play there if given the chance, but keep an eye on this situation going forwards.
Melvin Ingram (assuming he is re-signed) and Joey Bosa will likely become full-time defensive ends. If you happen to own Ingram this is great news for you. Bosa will likely have a good year again but I warn against expecting big improvements. Ingram may be available at a discount now but there is the chance he leaves and goes to another 3-4 team.
The situation is a bit messy but I like Jatavis Brown to slot into the spot Telvin Smith held down so successfully in Jacksonville. If you can attain him at a decent value it’s a good move. Next to him Korey Toomer and Denzel Perryman will battle it out for the other starting spot. Whoever claims it has a strong chance of becoming a LB2.
Jahleel Addae is the only player I want here and he’s out of contract. Ignore him until free agency at least and preferably the draft. If the Chargers select a strong safety in the first four rounds I’ll be very interested in him.
Gus Bradley is an excellent appointment for the Chargers and this unit has every chance of being successful. Many people will only associate him with the abysmal Jaguars overall records and with the move to LA, there are bargains to be had on Chargers players. Good luck.