The deed is done. The Los Angeles Chargers won NFL 2020 Free Agency and they didn’t do too bad in the NFL 2020 Draft either.
But what if?
The Chargers defense was supposed to be elite in the 2019 season. Instead, they stumbled through the season, mostly due to injuries. But the Chargers went to work during free agency and the draft to add depth and key personnel. But what if? Did they make the correct decisions?
Los Angeles Chargers 2019 Secondary
The 2019 secondary consisted of the following players:
- Nasir Adderley: rookie drafted in the second round 2019 NFL Draft
- Derwin James: drafted by the Chargers in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft
- Rayshawn Jenkins: drafted by the Chargers in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft
- Adrian Phillips: signed with Chargers in 2014 after going undrafted in the 2014 NFL Draft
- Michael Davis: signed with Chargers in 2017 as an undrafted free agent
- Brandon Facyson: signed with Chargers in 2018 as an undrafted free agent
- Casey Hayward: drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft; signed by the Chargers in 2016
- Desmond King: drafted by the Chargers in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft
- Trevor Williams: signed by the Chargers in 2016 after going undrafted in the 2016 NFL Draft
Injuries Derailed The Season
And that is the story of the 2019 season for the Chargers. Injuries sustained by pivotal players helped derail the season.
- Adderley sustained a hamstring injury, after four games he landed on the injured reserve.
- James missed three months because of a stress fracture in his foot.
- Phillips broke his arm in week two.
- Davis missed two games at the start of the season because of injury and two games late in the season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
- Hayward was injured in week three against the Tennessee Titans. He left the game but returned.
- Williams was released.
What Went Wrong?
Besides the injuries, there was the issue of turnovers, or lack thereof. The Chargers ranked last in takeaways with 14. They also forced a league-low six fumbles while only recovering three of those.
But what about that secondary? Is Harris Jr. the right choice?
Los Angeles Chargers 2020 Free Agency Acquisitions
While it is true the Chargers nailed free agency, could they have done better? Maybe a younger, better cornerback?
Case For Darqueze Dennard
Dennard and the Jacksonville Jaguars were supposed to have an agreement on a three-year, $13.5 million contract that included $6 million guaranteed. Although he played most of his career in the slot he was supposed to move to the outside corner in Jacksonville.
But as most things go with the Jaguars, that deal fell through and Dennard is still a free agent.
But what if…the Chargers signed him instead of Harris?
Dennard is 28 years old, stands 5’11” and weighs in at 196 pounds. He was drafted 24th overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2014 NFL Draft.
For the first three seasons, Dennard started in only four games. Two main reasons: one, the Bengals were deep at the position and the second, Dennard suffered injuries that didn’t allow him on the field.
But when he did get on the field he excelled. His best season was in 2017 when he had two interceptions, two sacks, two passes defended, 85 combined tackles, and played in 16 games.
In the 2018 season, he had an 82.4 tackling grade which led the Bengals. He played primarily slot corner but appeared in only 13 games. He missed three games in the middle of the season because of a shoulder injury.
In the 2019 season, he started on the PUP list, due to off-season arthroscopic knee surgery. His first game was in week seven against the Jacksonville Jaguars. When he got on the field he demonstrated why he was Pro Football Focus’ 22nd highest-graded corner for 2019.
Dennard allowed a completion percentage of only 48.6. In 235 snaps that he played from the slot, he was targeted 26 times. In those 26 targets, he allowed a QBR of 64.4 percent. That was first among slot corners.
His total stats for 2019: five passes defended, 37 combined tackles, one tackle for loss, two quarterback hits, 18 receptions allowed, targeted a total of 33 times, leading the team with a 16.3 percent catch rate.
His overall grade from Pro Football Focus was 72.2.
Case For Chris Harris Jr.
Harris reportedly turned down a three-year deal with the Las Vegas Raiders to sign a two-year $17 million deal with the Chargers.
Harris was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Denver Broncos in 2011. The Broncos would acquire his services for nine years. In those nine years, he has been to the Pro Bowl four times. He is also a Super Bowl Champion, winning Super Bowl 50 with the Broncos in 2016. The Broncos won that Super Bowl on the back of the “No Fly Zone” defense, which Harris was a pivotal part.
Harris is 31 years old, 5’9″ and 194 pounds. This will be his 10th year in the NFL, all previous years spent as a Denver Bronco.
In nine seasons, Harris has only missed five games. He is not only durable but is a consensus top slot corner. Doug Farrar listed Harris as the 10th best slot corner in the NFL.
And here is where it gets a little crazy. If you have an All-Pro slot defender you would play him in the slot…right?
But that didn’t happen, last season. In 2019 under Vic Fangio’s defense Harris was on the field for 94.8 percent of the defensive snaps. Yet he only played in the slot 3.1 percent of those snaps. Harris finished the season allowing 51 receptions, with a 64.6 percent catch rate allowing quarterbacks targeting him to have a 128 passer rating.
Compare that to the 2018 season where Harris played 58 percent of his snaps in the slot. In the 12 games he played in 2018, he finished the regular season with the fifth-highest coverage grade (86). Among the league’s cornerbacks, he had the fourth-highest overall grade (85.1). He allowed only 9.1 yards per reception and a passer rating of 63.6.
It is also worth noting that the Chargers’ defensive backs coach Ron Milus was Harris’ first position coach in the NFL.
For his career, Harris has averaged 3.7 tackles per game. He has picked off 20 passes in 139 games.
According to NFL.com, the Chargers allowed nine yards per slot target last season. That was the fifth-highest average in the league. The secondary also ranked 30th in completion percentage to slot targets.
Harris is durable. He is also a consensus All-Pro when allowed to play the majority of his snaps in the slot.
Dennard is good when he is on the field. He is the man who completely shuts the opposing player down. When he is on the field. But his career has been plagued by injuries.
The Chargers already have too much experience with players who have trouble staying on the field. They managed to sign a consensus top-10 slot defender who not only stays on the field but excels when he is put in the right position.
Harris has stated one of the reasons he chose the Chargers was that they will play him in the slot.
Yes, there is no second-guessing. No what if…the Chargers nailed it in free agency.
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