As per last year, I’ll be sharing projections for every team in the NFL. I use past production in specific roles for each team’s scheme to work out realistic production profiles. You can see how accurate I was in 2017 in my IDP Projection Marking series.
There are few teams that have had as much hype as the Chargers this off-season – especially given they failed to even make the playoffs. There are some great talents on this defense and a handful of potential IDP superstars but there are also some major question marks. Let’s try to unpack them.
This is the biggest single obstacle to declaring the Chargers a great defense. This unit is pretty solid but also workmanlike.
With such strength on the edge, it’s certainly feasible someone emerges from the rotation to be valuable as offensive line coaches panic about the pass rushers. But that’s not a sure thing at all. It’s probably sensible to let it be some else’s problem.
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This is the true strength of the team. Joey Bosa might be the best young pass-rusher in the NFL and Melvin Ingram is also a true impact player. The numbers here are conservative (because there are many ways for edge rushers not to attain elite sack totals) but they both have the potential to record 12 or more sacks and it wouldn’t be a shock at all to see both players be the difference multiple games in 2018.
Bosa should be valued in the top handful of IDPs in the game in most league formats and Ingram treated as a top-12 pass rusher too.
Linebacker is another one of the Chargers’ conundrums. Denzel Perryman should be the first choice for the team here and is the safest pick. He can fill Paul Posluszny’s old role under Gus Bradley in Jacksonville. Perryman is more of a tackler than a big-play machine but he’s extremely reliable when on the field.
The second every-down LB spot is far harder to predict but has a very high ceiling. This is the job that Telvin Smith has ridden to such success after all. Adrian Phillips owned the job for the last portion of 2017 and certainly has a chance to do so again. As a safety (at time of writing he’s still an S on MFL), he certainly has the athleticism and decision-making needed to play the role.
Jatavis Brown was a red-hot property a year ago but he spent a large amount of the season on the bench as Coach Bradley did not appear to trust him as a full-time option. That could change and maybe Brown has a resurgence but it’s more likely the IDP community got overexcited about him and that his frame just isn’t one of an every-down LB.
Uchenna Nwosu was selected in the second round of the NFL draft which obviously bodes well for his chances. But he was mostly an edge player at USC and will likely play more Sam for the Chargers.
And there’s also Hayes Pullard and Kyzir White with an outside chance of winning playing time. Pullard is a journeyman and likely not the answer but worse players have been LB1s. White is a rookie and changing position from safety but a big talent. 2018 might be too early for him but he’s an interesting gamble.
Ultimately, this will be a camp battle to watch. If Phillips is running with the first team and getting positive press, he’ll be a priority. Likewise if Brown seems to be the apple of Bradley’s eye, it might signal he’s back in play.
This is a great strength of the team. Jason Verrett missed the majority of 2017 and the team was still one of the finest in the NFL at the position. With Verrett back healthy he and Casey Hayward should be the starting outside players. Look for them both in leagues that reward big plays (and PDs in particular) but they’re unlikely to be heavy tacklers.
Desmond King was the tackling machine last season with 62 solos and 71 total tackles. Part of this was due to him being good but part of it was also the fact he was picked on next to such good options outside. To put his season into context, King managed a tackle on 9.9% of his snaps. Casey Hayward came in on 4% and Trevor Williams on 5%. This is a figure that will likely fall back and hurt his value. He can still be good but repeating his rookie year is unlikely.
Derwin James was one of the very best players in the NFL draft and walks into a fantastic spot. Gus Bradley’s strong safety spot is tailor-made for James’ skillset. The one worry that is still not put to bed is the fact that Jahleel Addae is a poor fit at free safety (the harder position to fill) which seems to point like an awkward pairing at the position. The team has certainly had Addae practicing at free safety but it’s worth watching for news on this in camp. It’s very likely the team will be searching for a specialist deep safety next off-season and it’s a terrible position to have a weakness at given any mistake can result in conceding a long touchdown.
Joey Bosa. Bosa has 23 sacks from his first two seasons in the NFL and 82 solos tackles. These are awesome numbers. If he can produce similarly in 2018 he’ll start being talked about as a defensive player of the year candidate. There are few players in the league with his combination of power, tenacity, and motor. Not to even mention his elite hands and varied set of moves.
Jahleel Addae. There are still many people in the IDP world who simply look at last year’s stats and assume players will record the same regardless of how their situation has changed. Addae was an excellent option for the team but if he does end up playing deep his value disappears. Tre Boston produced just 56 solo tackles last year from the same spot and was a very poor IDP option.
Adrian Phillips. As above, there are plenty of ways the Chargers’ LB situation could play out and there’s a very real possibility that lots of players see the field (as happened in 2017). But if Phillips can win the job outright in camp he will attain such a high ceiling. If you add in the chance he could do it with an LB designation, he becomes a real lottery ticket.
As per the introduction to this preview, the Chargers have the potential to be beating teams in January on the back of a fierce defense and a well-rounded roster. But to get there, they’ll need to answer questions at inside linebacker and free safety as well as paper over the cracks at defensive tackle. At this time of year, there are maybe ten defenses who could end up being the equivalent of the 2017 Jaguars. The Chargers are one of them but there’s a long way to go first.
Thanks for reading