Los Angeles Chargers Safety Outlook
The Los Angeles Chargers safety position group is young and eager, primed for a breakout campaign in 2021 under first-year Head Coach Brandon Staley.
Derwin James headlines the position group and is eager to regain his All-Pro form after battling injuries the past two seasons. When fully healthy, James is one of the most polarizing talents in the league. As a rookie in 2018, he led the squad with 105 tackles and three interceptions. He also recorded 13 pass break-ups, six quarterback hits, and 3.5 sacks.
If the season started today, the Chargers starting free safety would be Nasir Adderley. Entering his third professional season, Adderley will look to make a big step in his development. He tallied 69 tackles, recovered a fumble, and intercepted a pass last season but he still struggles slightly in pass coverage. He allowed a 71% (22-for-31) completion rate in 2020 which must improve if he hopes to log quality minutes this year.
Alohi Gilman was a sixth-round draft pick last season who appeared in 15 games and made one start at strong safety as a rookie. The majority of his snaps came on special teams and he still provides some value in that phase of the game.
The Bolts were unable to retain Rayshawn Jenkins who ultimately signed a four-year, $35 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars. A fourth-round selection in 2017, Jenkins finished with impressive numbers in his first season as a full-time starter. He tallied 84 tackles, two interceptions, four pass break-ups, and one sack. Jenkins’ production and ability to line up all over the field will be tough to replace.
The Bolts put together a top-10 passing defense a season ago despite battling through injuries. Here’s a quick look at some of the most relevant passing defense statistics and how Los Angeles compared to the rest of the league:
- 340 completions allowed, T-6th in the NFL
- 3,568 passing yards allowed, 9th in the NFL,
- 29 touchdowns allowed s, T-20th in the NFL
- 12 interceptions, T-14th in the NFL
- 54 passes defended, 26th in the NFL
These numbers are not jaw-dropping by any means but by some team’s standards, this could have meant a fairly successful year. For the Bolts defense, a unit that boasts some of the most impressive defensive talent in the league, last year was a bit underwhelming. If this unit truly wants to take those next steps towards becoming an elite defense, they must do a better job at keeping receivers out of the endzone. 29 touchdowns relinquished is way too high for a team that ranked top-10 in yards allowed.
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So how can the Bolts add to their safety room? Let’s take a look at some potential free agents and draft targets L.A. should have its eyes on moving forward.
Free Agent Options
General manager Tom Telesco has been uncharacteristically busy to start free agency. He revamped the Chargers’ offensive line, bringing in Corey Linsley, Matt Feiler, and Oday Aboushi. Telesco also re-signed starting cornerback Michael Davis and signed tight end Jared Cook to fill the void left by the Hunter Henry departure.
Even with all those moves, LA still has $20.52 million cap space according to Over the Cap, the seventh-most in the league. Given that the incoming rookie class will cost less than $4 million to sign, TT has plenty of money left to land a game-changing free agent, even after accounting for an in-season budget. The problem is there aren’t that many enticing targets left this far into free agency. One cheap option that could make sense is Malik Hooker.
Hooker has struggled to stay healthy in the early part of his career, missing 28 games since entering the league as a first-round selection in 2017. However, when he does touch the field, he is a legitimate impact player. Hooker already has seven career interceptions to his name and has only appeared in 36 games. If he can stay healthy, and that’s a big IF, he could provide Staley with a solid coverage safety who boasts Pro Bowl potential.
The Chargers’ front office has done a commendable job addressing the offensive line and cornerback positions so far this offseason. With that being said, the team still does not have a starting left tackle or outside corner opposite Davis. Filling those two spots must be the priority for the team as they enter the draft and I expect them to do so with their first two selections. In order to get the most out of their draft picks, I don’t think the Bolts should consider taking a safety until the fourth round at the earliest. Here are two prospects that should be available on day 3 of the draft.
Former Texas Longhorn Caden Sterns is a rangy safety who excels in both man and zone coverage. He has the speed to turn and run with speedy receivers as well as the physicality to man up against tight ends. Sterns plays with the kind of fluidity that you don’t often see from a 6-foot-1 player and his ability to mirror receivers is supernatural. He could go as early as the fourth round, but the Chargers could walk away with a steal if he falls to the fifth.
Illinois State product Christian Uphoff is an athletic freak with prototypical size at 6-foot-2 and 213-pounds. One of my favorite things about Uphoff is his readiness to get involved in the run game. He is a physical presence along the line of scrimmage and is always looking to deliver a knock-out blow in run support. Uphoff is no slouch in pass coverage either, using his quick feet and route recognition abilities to his advantage. Concern with the lack of competition he faced in college will most likely push him to the fifth round. A team like the Chargers, who could use a developmental safety prospect, should benefit from that slide.