COSTA MESA, CA-There was a time when the Los Angeles Chargers would just try to outscore people to win ballgames. Judging by the way the team improved on the other side of the ball last season under defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, that isn’t the case anymore.
The Chargers don’t have to do that as much. Don’t worry, the Chargers, with quarterback Philip Rivers slinging the ball all over the field, are still a feared offensive opponent to line up against. But in head coach Anthony Lynn’s quest to create a well-balanced team, the Chargers have gotten stealthier better on defense thanks to moves they made in the 2018 NFL Draft.
It was defense, defense, defense, and a little bit more defense for the Chargers as they exercised their options on their first four picks. Good move. The Chargers are set on offense with running back Melvin Gordon. Wide receiver Keenan Allen, the league’s comeback player of the year, has re-emerged among the NFL’s elite. Tight end Hunter Henry is establishing himself as a premier offensive target.
Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams can both stretch the field with their speed. So the Chargers are good on that front. They’re also good on defense, but the unit could and needed some shoring up to do. And that is why the Chargers went into the direction they took when it came to drafting the players they wanted.
Starting with former Florida State star Derwin James, the Chargers hit all the right tunes over the three-day draft marathon. The picks came in this order: Big hitter. Speed rusher. A one-man defensive line wrecking ball. Athleticism. James is the big hitter in the defensive backfield that just about every team craves for. Everyone seems to want the next Kam Chancellor, the Seattle Seahawks’ ball-hawking enforcer.
Well, the Chargers got their man in James. James, the No. 17 overall pick, measures out to be 6-foot-3 inches in height and is listed as weighing 232 pounds. Yeah, that’s a big man. And he can hit, too. James is known for laying the wood on offensive players at the collegiate level, so now NFL wideouts are going to have to deal with that reality.
“I feel like I can do a lot of things well,” James said during his introductory press conference at the Chargers training facility in Costa Mesa, California. “I feel like I can cover really well. I can play free safety, strong safety. I can rush the passer. Whatever you need me to do, I feel like I have the experience doing it at a high-level, I just have to bring that Alpha Dog mentality.”
Coming into the draft, the Chargers already had one of the best secondary units around. Last season, the Chargers pass defense ranked No. 3 in the entire NFL. That’s pretty darn good. With Desmond King, Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward already roaming around in the secondary, adding James to the mix makes this unit lethal.
When the dust had cleared and the draft smoke had all but evaporated, the Chargers made their No. 15 overall defense a whole lot better altogether. James was the beginning piece of this draft puzzle process for the Chargers. Not satisfied where they are on defense, the Chargers went all in on the defensive front, scooping up USC linebacker Uchenna Nwosu in the second round with the 48th pick.
The Chargers went on to take North Carolina State defensive lineman Justin Jones in the third round (No. 84). The team also added West Virginia linebacker Kyzir White to their selection haul.
“What the draft prospects are going to add is another level of intensity to this defense that’s already on a high level,” Nwosu said. “If we keep improving, we’re going to be unstoppable.”
At 6-foot-3, 309 pounds, Jones look to be the disruptive force that could boost the defensive prowess of the Chargers. Jones recorded 34 tackles his senior season. Being part of a defensive line that includes pass rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram has Jones excited.
“I need to work what they’re working,” Jones said.