CARSON, CA-When the Los Angeles Chargers went into the 2018 NFL Draft, they were looking for playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. That was evident by the Chargers taking four defensive players with their first four draft selections-Derwin James, Justin Jones, Kyzir White, and Uchenna Nwosu.
The need was obvious with a defense coming off of a No. 31 ranking in the stopping-the-run department.
And if the Chargers were looking for immediate impact, James, White and Nwosu are beginning to stand out. All three players are expected to be heavy in the mix as far as playing time during the regular season. James and White are battling for starting time.
After the Chargers engaged the New Orleans Saints in the first of two scrimmages between the ballclubs before they entertained a StubHub Center crowd on Saturday in a preseason game, quarterback Philip Rivers had effusive praise for the rookies.
“They all seem to have great instincts,” Rivers said. “I can’t speak performance like (defensive coordinator) Gus (Bradley) can and coach Lynn, but they all have great instincts. You tell that, and they really can accelerate and attack the football.”
Saints quarterback Drew Brees got a taste of what James can do on the opening series of New Orleans’ 367 road win. On third-and-five, Brees attempted to squeeze in a throw on a seam route downfield. James, the Chargers’ top draft pick (1st round, No. 17 overall), rolled downhill on the play, went over the top of the intended wide receiver Brees was attempting to get the ball to and picked off the pass for an interception.
“I forced it,” Brees said. “I got a little aggressive to start the game.”
The play James made is indicative of the playmaking abilities that enticed the Chargers to go after the former Florida State All-American.
“He just made a good play,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “We’ve been working him in the middle of the field and line of scrimmage. He just showed his range in the middle of the field on that play.”
For James, who was playing with the team’s first defensive unit, the pick was surreal.
“It felt great,” James said. “Came out and trusted in what my coaches have been telling me. They put me in position. The play was there for me to make and I made it.”
As the Chargers wrap up their preseason stint on the road against the San Francisco 49ers, James, who finished his Game 3 stint with three combined tackles to go along with his interception, talked about the need to do more film study and continue to improve. Looking a bit ahead, James seemed pretty excited about the prospect of taking the field on opening day of the regular season when the Chargers line up against AFC West rival Kansas City Chiefs.
“I feel like I will be ready come Week 1,” said James. “I feel like there is always room for me to grow. Especially coming in as a young guy, I still want to learn and continue to learn every day. There is still a lot I don’t know as a player right now. I’m just going to learn as much as I can and hopefully come Week 1, I’ll be ready to go.”
James was not the only star to shine on the defensive side of the ball for the Chargers during a defeat that Lynn and the team would just as well put behind them as quickly as possible.
“Let me tell you, I’ve never played a game where I’ve lost by that margin and feel so good about it,” Lynn said. “I love the way the first unit went out and played against one of the top rush teams in the league, and they held them to under four-yards a carry the whole first half.”
Part of that effort was White, who has fluid run support skills and is fast enough to make for a great cover linebacker. Lynn likes what White, who finished the game against the Saints with three tackles, has been able to show him and the coaching staff thus far.
“He’s an explosive young man,” said Lynn. “He can make plays. He’s had a great camp and he’s competing for that starting lineup.”
The 119th overall selection in this year’s draft, White got the starting nod against the Saints. However, White is keeping his temperament muted.
“I was excited but it’s still football at the end of the day,” White said. “I still have to go out there and do my job and perform. Try to stay even keel and not get too excited.”