Last season the Los Angeles Chargers finished 12-4 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2013. With the Kansas City Chiefs’ star players dropping like flies, the Chargers have a real shot at taking the AFC West crown for the first time since 2009, thanks in large part to a strong Draft. Here are four takewaways from the 2019 class for Los Angeles.
1. Improving the interior defensive line was a priority
Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa are a great defensive end duo, and both should be fully healthy heading into 2019. Brandon Mebane is a fine run stopper, but doesn’t provide much pass rush, as evidenced by his two sacks in three years with the team. Darius Philon finished fourth on the squad with four, but signed with the Arizona Cardinals in free agency. The Chargers needed a defensive tackle who could create consistent pressure inside, and they could not have been more fortunate than to have Notre Dame’s Jerry Tillery fall to them.
Tillery’s basic stats don’t look amazing, as he recorded seven sacks and eight tackles for loss in 2018. But a closer look reveals him to be a great pass rusher, even if he isn’t always the one to land a hit on the QB. Per Pro Football Focus, Tillery rushed the passer 392 times, logging 48 pressures, 33 hurries, and 32 other pass-rush wins. That’s elite production, and the biggest reason why PFF labled Tillery as a top-10 prospect in this class. His combination of size, athleticism, technique, and production should make him an excellent player at the next level.
Los Angeles didn’t stop with Tillery, as they also used their last pick on a DT; Cincinnati’s Cortez Broughton. A good athlete from a smaller school, Broughton totaled 94 pressures and 98 defensive stops in college, the most of any interior defender in this class. As a rotational player Broughton should make a big impact when he is on the field, as his production and athleticism point to him being capable of starting on many teams.
2. Derwin James has a partner in crime
It’s still perplexing as to how Derwin James fell all the way to 17th overall in 2018. He quickly established himself as one of the most dynamic players in the game, showing off a fantastic blend of athleticism, coverage ability, and run stopping. He lines up all over the field, filling multiple roles.
Because of the presence of Jahleel Addae and Adrian Phillips, James played a lot of free safety, where his range and instincts helped him to succeed. However, Addae remains and unsigned free agent, which means James could shift over to strong safety, where he could be even more effective. LA just needed to find a player to fill the FS spot.
And they did just that when they lucked into another steal in the second round, this time with Delaware’s Nasir Adderly. He is a perfect complement to James, as he possesses great range and coverage instincts, and is also an effective run stopper.
The Chargers now have two of the most versatile safeties in the game, to go along with two excellent cornerbacks in Casey Hayward and Desmond King. LA’s front-seven and secondary were already solid, and they both got upgraded with the team’s first two selections.
3. The front office likes Notre Dame players
Two Fighting Irish were selected this year; Tillery and versatile outside linebacker Drue Tranquill, who was a fourth-rounder. They join defensive end Isaac Rochell, a seventh-round pick in 2017 who had five sacks last season. Notre Dame hasn’t generated a great offensive skill player in quite a while, but it’s produced some excellent defenders.
Los Angeles hopes that Tillery and Tranquill will become the next members of a group that includes stars like Harrison Smith, Jaylon Smith, and Stephon Tuitt.
4. The defense is going to be very good
The Chargers’ defense in 2018 was quite solid. They ranked ninth in total yards allowed, passing yards, and rushing yards, and eighth in points given up. And that was without stud pass rusher Joey Bosa for nine games. Add in impact rookies like Tillery, Adderly, Tranquill, and Broughton, along with a healthy roster, and you have the makings of a legitimate top-five unit.
Philip Rivers may be nearing the end of his career, but Los Angeles has done a fantastic job of surrounding him with the talent to make a final run at that elusive Super Bowl berth. With a talented offense and a potentially dominant defense, this could be a season to remember for Chargers fans.