Do The Los Angeles Chargers Have The Best Secondary In The AFC West?

Los Angeles Chargers Safety Derwin James. Photo Credit: Ryan Dyrud | LAFB Network
Los Angeles Chargers Safety Derwin James. Photo Credit: Ryan Dyrud | LAFB Network

The AFC West is wild. It is clear after the 2020 NFL Draft that every team in the AFC West is trying to keep up with Patrick Mahomes and the firepower of the Kansas City Chiefs.

The defenses have been built to stop the pass, and what secondary is up for the task?

Do The Los Angeles Chargers Have The Best Secondary In the AFC West?

2019 NFL Team’s Passing Play Percentage

These rankings are from the 2019 season. For a quick comparison, the Atlanta Falcons were the number one ranked passing team with 66.97 percent of plays being passing plays. The Baltimore Ravens ranked last, passing on 45.93 percent of their plays.

The Los Angeles Chargers passed on 63.29 percent of their plays, good enough for 6th in the NFL.

The Kansas City Chiefs passed on 61.43 percent of their plays, ranking 10th.

The Denver Broncos passed on 57.13 percent of their plays, good enough for 24th.

And the Oakland Raiders (now Las Vegas) passed on 55.81 percent of their plays, sitting at 25th in the league.

Quarterbacks Passing Numbers

Let’s look at the number of times the quarterback passed the ball. This is for quarterbacks who played in at least 12 games or more.

In comparison, Jared Goff and Jameis Winston led all quarterbacks with 626 passing attempts. Ryan Tannehill finished 12 games with 286 passing attempts, the least.

Derek Carr finished 16 games with 513 passing attempts.

Patrick Mahomes finished 14 games with 489 passing attempts.

Philip Rivers finished 7th overall with 591 attempts.

The Denver Broncos saw three different quarterbacks start in 2019, so none of them net the 12-game criteria.

Pro Football Focus’ 2019 Secondary Rankings

10th – Denver Broncos (up from 23rd in 2018)

  • Played 18.5 percent of their snaps in Cover-3 or Cover-6 where they played 19 percent of their snaps.
  • Cornerbacks and Safeties forced an incompletion on 12.4 percent of their targets, which was 11th ranked for league’s secondary groups.
  • Safety Justin Simmons earned the third-highest coverage grade in 2019 (91.1).

11th – Los Angeles Chargers (down eight spots from 2019)

  • Played 316 snaps in a Cover-3 shell (just under 60 percent of their total snaps).
  • Allowed 75.3 percent completion percentage (third-highest completion percentage).
  • Ranked ninth in the league in the percentage of targets (35.3) that resulted in a first down or a touchdown.

18th – Kansas City Chiefs

  • Ninth-lowest forced incompletion rate at 10.3 percent.
  • Dropped seven interceptions which tied for the sixth-most in the NFL.
  • Tyrann Mathieu had the highest coverage grade on Chiefs (81.5).

29th – Oakland Raiders

  • Allowed a successful play on 50.8 percent of their coverage snaps which ranked 31st in NFL/
  • Gave up a quarterback passer rating of 111.3, the second-highest in 2019.

Los Angeles Chargers Secondary 2019

At the beginning of the 2019 season the Chargers defense and especially their secondary was touted as being one of the best in the NFL. But that was the beginning of the season.

The Players
  • Trevor Williams: injured did not play.
  • Nasir Adderley: played 10 defensive snaps in four games before being sidelined the remainder of the season with a hamstring injury suffered before training camp.
  • Derwin James: missed all but the final month of the 2019 season with a stress fracture in his right foot; even so Pro Football Focus graded him 82.5 overall for the 2019 season.
  • Adrian Phillips: suffered a broken arm and played in only seven games; GONE TO NEW ENGLAND.
  • Michael Davisplayed in 12 games; Pro Football Focus graded Davis as the league’s #96 ranked cornerback among 127 qualified players; his overall grade from PFF was 58.4.
    • Davis had career-best nine pass deflections and two interceptions.
  • Desmond King: PFF gave King an overall grade of 69.4; they also stated that no corner targeted more than 20 times has allowed a worse reception percentage.
  • Rayshawn Jenkins: led the team in interceptions with three;  PFF graded him 63.1 overall.
  • Casey Hayward: PFF gave Hayward an 84.4 overall grade for the 2019 season; Hayward gave up only 329 receiving yards for the season.
  • Brandon Facyson: was in the starting line up week 1-3, due to injuries of Davis and Williams.
  • Jaylen Watkins: PFF graded Watkins as the 79th overall safety among 90 qualified players: GONE TO HOUSTON.

Los Angeles Chargers Secondary 2020

Once again the Chargers secondary is being touted as the best. Not just in the AFC West, but in the entire NFL. Brent Sobleski writing for BleacherReport has named the Chargers secondary as the “Best Secondary 2020”.

So here we go again?

The Losses

Watkins has gone to Houston. Phillips has gone to New England. The most notable loss of Phillips will be his tremendous contributions on Special Teams.

Staying Power

What the Chargers kept far outweighs what they lost in free agency.

James graded out an 82.5 while making his season debut in week 13. James can line up as an overhand defender, deep safety, or edge rusher.

Hayward played in 11 games in which he allowed 25 or fewer yards.

King although graded out poorly in PFF, finished the season with 51 tackles, four forced fumbles, and four quarterback hits.

Davis did have his problems last season, as he was tied for the second-most past interference calls (4) and two holding calls. However, he also allowed the second-fewest yards per reception (8.4) and the fifth-lowest yards per target.

Facyson played limited times in reserve for injured players. He still managed to accumulate 41 tackles, two tackles for loss, and one pass defended.

And Adderley played 10 defensive snaps before missing the remainder of the season. He showed flashes including his first NFL interception.

The Gains

The Draft

The Chargers acquired safety Alohi Gilman, in the sixth round of the NFL 2020 draft. According to Sports Illustrated, “Gilman lacks the ideal speed and range to serve as a primary deep safety, but he possesses the tools to develop into a useful player closer to the line of scrimmage.” Gilman will also be a great Special Teamer, filling the void that Phillips left.

Free Agency

And then there is the piece that will bring it all together. His name is Chris Harris Jr.

Harris came to the Chargers presumably on the stipulation he will move back to the slot. PFF has stated, “Since entering the league, Harris has the second-best overall PFF grade among all corners.”

To see all that CHR brings to the secondary and defense, we put together a film study and breakdown here! We also spoke to him on the Bleav In LA Football podcast; check out that interview as you can tell he is extremely excited to be a Charger!

Do The Chargers Have The Best Secondary In AFC West?

PFFT? Yes the Chargers have the best secondary in the AFC West. That simply is not enough.

The Chargers have the best secondary in the NFL. Period. Now it’s time to get on the field and prove it!

What do you think? Heading into 2020, do the Chargers have the best secondary?