Looking at the Los Angeles Chargers defense going into 2023, here are my picks for the players who will be at the top of the stat sheets with the most sacks, STOPs, interceptions, and solo tackles:
Chargers Defense Sack Leader: Edge Rusher- Joey Bosa
Before his injury last year, Joey Bosa held the highest number of quarterback sacks on the team in 2021 (10) and 2020 (8). Bosa will definitely have his work cut out for him to get back to the same caliber of play, but during his press conference at Chargers OTAs, he said he’s in shape and feeling good. So that’s definitely a positive sign. He already has competition on the Chargers roster, given Khalil Mack held the highest number (9) for the team last year, in addition to the top spot for the Bears in 2020 (10). It’s going to be a battle and it’ll be entertaining to watch.
Most STOPs: Linebacker- Eric Kendricks
PFF defines STOPs as “defensive STOPs– tackles that constitute a ‘failure’ for the offense.” Before Eric Kendricks joined the Chargers defense, I thought that either safety Derwin James or Bosa would be at the top of this category. But you just can’t count out Kendricks. He had the most STOPs of the Vikings in 2021 (44) and the third most in 2022 (42). Kendricks is big, physical, and had the second-highest PFF run defense grade (79.5) last year of the Vikings for a reason. He’s going to be that wall that literally STOPs offenses in their tracks while providing vital communication to help everyone on the field operate at a higher level.
Most Interceptions: Cornerback- Asante Samuel Jr.
Asante Samuel Jr. had the most interceptions last season with five, and three of those occurred in the Wild Card game. He also tied with James and linebacker Kyzir White for the most in 2021 with two. His receiver coverage grade throughout the majority of games was in the 50s and above, and he’s so reliable, that it’s hard to believe he’s only entering his third season. I do see him exceeding his interception number if he can stay healthy and improves his coverage on the edge.
Most Solo Tackles: Safety- Derwin James
Derwin James had the second most solo tackles (82) last year and in 2021 (76) of the Chargers defense. He’s just a consistent player, and the constant movement in his position on the field allows the opportunity to have more tackles than most. Because of his versatility, he could actually be number one in all of these categories, but tackles seem like the most likely area for him to excel.
Honorable Mention- Sacks and STOPs: Edge Rusher- Tuli Tuipulotu
Tuli Tuipulotu could make a run for second place in quarterback sacks and STOPs. In 2022 (13) he had the most sacks on his USC team, and in 2021 he was tied with edge rusher Drake Jackson for the most with six. In 2022 he had the second most STOPs (29) and third most in 2021(34). Tuipulotu is quick and doesn’t give up until he’s right in the pocket. Given who is making up the Chargers depth chart at edge, he’s sure to see a good amount of playing time and may cut into the stats of some of these top players.
Honorable Mention in All Categories: Linebacker Daiyan Henley
Depending upon playing time, Daiyan Henley may be third in any of these categories. Last season at Washington State, Henley had the most solo tackles of the team (74), the second most sacks (five) tied with edge rusher Quinn Roff, and the most STOPs (40). And at Nevada, in 2021, he had the most tackles (79) tied with safety Jordan Lee, the most STOPs (40), and the most interceptions (four). Much like Tuipulotu, given the lack of depth at linebacker, he will likely see some playing time outside of special teams, but it remains to be seen if his college numbers can be replicated on the Chargers defense.