Since it’s still difficult for many Charger fans to talk about the safety position without mentioning Eric Weddle, or at least the lack thereof, I wanted to say that the goal of this article is not to bemoan his absence, or discuss who was at fault or not at fault in his departure. Weddle has moved on, the Chargers have moved on and I think we as fans should move on, as well.
What we will be discussing is some confusion around this position as a whole, who is currently on the roster and how they can help the team get back to the playoffs.
So let’s talk about the draft.
First, allow me to toot my own horn a bit in saying that I was one of the few who was openly advocating on Twitter that the Bolts draft Joey Bosa and not Jalen Ramsey or Laremy Tunsil (honk, honk). Many Bolts fans were not happy, and I sort of understand. Weddle is gone, there is a perceived hole at safety and the alleged best safety in college football was available at pick No. 3.
What the H-E-double-hockey-sticks are the Chargers doing?
Okay, Bosa is cool, whatever, next pick HAS to be a safety, right? This is the best safety class in years, right?
Well seven more picks came in for the Bolts and not one was a safety. Even now, I still see quite a bit of latent angst and confusion over this, and a perception that the safety position for the Chargers has been neglected, or no one knows who’s going to start.
So, let’s clear some of that up.
News came out on Thursday that Jacksonville Jaguars DB Jalen Ramsey tore the meniscus in his right knee — the same knee he had microfracture surgery on in high school. Your heart bleeds for the poor kid, but then came the “Chargers dodged a bullet” posts on social media. It’s unclear, at this time, whether the Bolts dodged an RPG round or an airsoft pellet.
In my opinion, they actually dodged two bullets by passing on Ramsey and Miles Jack at the top of the second round as many Charger fans were calling for. These two athletes may overcome their injuries and be great players in the NFL, but the odds as of today are they won’t. Ramsey’s injury is not the reason I would have passed on him. Ramsey is a natural cornerback, not a safety — he even said that he was more comfortable at corner after the draft. Just because he played safety and did well in college does not mean that would translate to the NFL. The Bolts were not going to draft a cornerback who might be a safety with the third overall pick. Besides, the Chargers already addressed safety in free agency, which is why we later learned that they had actually planned on picking Bosa months before the draft.
The two noteworthy off-season additions to the Chargers’ safety corps were ex-Colts safety Dwight Lowery and CFL standout player Dexter McCoil. In typical Telesco free-agent action, neither of these two initially knocked anyone’s socks off, which is why I believe there was a perceived “need” in some people’s minds going into the draft. Lowery is a serviceable veteran who, last year, managed to rank 3rd among Colts’ defenders in tackles and nabbed four interceptions (one was a pick-six). He’s 30 years old, so definitely not the future, but he should provide some experience and leadership for younger players while adding good depth.
Dexter McCoil is the player I am most excited about. Signed from the Canadian Football League back in January, he stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 220 pounds. In 2014, McCoil had an excellent rookie year in the CFL, totaling four sacks, six interceptions returning three of the interceptions all the way to the house for touchdowns. He is one inch taller and about ten pounds lighter than Seattle Seahawks safety, Kam Chancellor. I have been clamoring for the Bolts to bring in a safety of his size for years now; someone who can cover tight ends and larger wide receivers who have been out-jumping San Diego’s shorter DBs.
The line between inside linebacker and safety appears to be blurring on some teams in the NFL, such as Chancellor with the Seahawks, Deone Bucannon with the Cardinals and now McCoil for the Bolts. McCoil can cover and play the run. He is already turning heads at rookie minicamp. Look for him to challenge for a starting spot on the opening day roster.
Before the draft, many people had Dwight Lowery and Jahleel Addae as the opening day starters, provided both were healthy to start the season. If this somehow plays out, this is a nightmare scenario for the defense mostly because Addae is not a very good NFL safety. He is a crowd- and front-office favorite because he hits like an atom bomb. Unfortunately, about half of the time he blows up his own teammates or knocks himself senseless. He hits his intended target less than fifty percent of the time, en route to missing tackles and committing way too many penalties. Oh, and he can’t really cover that well either.
I am not a fluff writer. When a player isn’t playing well I am going to tell you. When a player plays well, I will tell you. This undrafted fourth-year player from Central Michigan is not playing well. However, the Chargers placed a second-round tender on him (basically a one-year contract) back in March. This tells me they like him enough to give him one more year to clean up the penalties, hits and learn how to cover so he can provide some quality depth. I would never wish anything bad on any player. I hope Addae can clean up his play and contribute in a positive way this season.
Special teams stud Darrell Stuckey also plays safety. He has a nose for the football and seems to always make plays, however, he rarely gets an opportunity to show what he can do unless there is an injury. This is puzzling to me –maybe he is so valuable on special teams the Bolts don’t want to lose him playing safety. Who knows?
Multiple post-draft reports pointed to Chargers fifth-round draft pick ILB Jatavis Brown getting a shot at safety. The speedster from Akron ran a 4.47 40-yard dash at the combine and is pegged as hybrid player between a linebacker and safety. He’s faster than half the wide receivers drafted in 2016. I would love a starting safety combination of McCoil and Brown with Addae and Lowery as depth. The men lightning bolts also brought in undrafted safety Adrian McDonald, who had 17 career college interceptions at Houston. He is someone to watch in training camp who will put pressure on the other defensive backs to perform.
As long as the starters on opening day are not Addae and Lowery, but rather some combination of the other names listed above, I believe the secondary as a whole, with players like Verrett and Casey Hayward on the outside, will be much improved. I believe they can stop giving up big plays in the passing game, get some key interceptions and start to come downhill and make a difference in the run game.
I am excited about the competition this safety group will have in training camp and the preseason.
How about you?
Let us know in the comments section below! Thanks for reading!
It is said in football that depth is a must. After all, it is the nature of the beast. Injuries can happen at any time, from mini-camp and training camp, to practice and games. A team HAS to be prepared for that eventuality.
While the San Diego Chargers were bitten by that bug, most often on the offensive side of the ball (particularly the last two seasons), there were stretches where the defense was banged up, as well. The offseason has seen the Bolts part ways with Donald Butler and Kavell Conner. Of the linebackers currently on the roster, half will be second-year players and at least three of them had limited playing time due to injury.
So, what do you do if you are in Tom Telesco’s shoes?
Maybe you look for someone who can fill the bill in the form of Su’a Cravens.
Weight: 225 pounds
40-yard Dash: 4.65 seconds*
Arm size: 32 1/8 inches”**
Hand size: 9 1/2″ inches**
Vertical jump: 30 1/2 inches”*
Broad jump: 114″ inches**
*Pro Day **Combine
The former USC Trojan converted from linebacker to safety late in his college career. Has room to fill out his frame. A natural playmaker, he is instinctive, tough and smart. Aggressive and athletic, a blitzer. Will not hesitate to jump into the mix. Very physical dropping back and does a great job in press coverage. Would be able to hold his own in man coverage against tight ends and wide receivers. Outstanding with his hands. Ability to engage and quickly disengage his blocker.
What could possible be a weakness for Cravens? Well, the fact that many people aren’t sure where to place him on their D could be considered a problem. Being tagged as a tweener could be tough. Linebacker or safety? His speed is not impressive, at all, and his size for the linebacker position may be a problem at the NFL level. Additionally, he struggles to finish plays while defending the run, occasionally taking poor angles. Knowing that he is still learning the linebacker position, it will take him time to adjust to the power and quickness of the pros, especially when thinking about his ability to shed the blocks of NFL offensive lineman.
Su’a Cravens has a great deal of positional flexibility to offer any defense. The rub will be that he would need to go to a team that can take advantage of his ability to shift back and forth between linebacker and safety. Putting in reps on special teams while adjusting to the speed of the NFL — plus having distant cousin Manti Te’o to learn from and encourage him — would be something for the potential draftee to look forward to.
Hearing Su’a Cravens’ name called as the next citizen of San Diego this week during the draft would certainly help the Chargers’ defense.
Thanks for reading!