Dec 16, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers free safety Eric Weddle (32) runs out of the smoke during pregame introduction before a game against the Carolina Panthers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Why Is Eric Weddle Still Underrated?

On Football Night in America last Sunday, NBC analyst Rodney Harrison was visibly upset with how his former team gave away a game they should’ve won against the Tennessee Titans.

On 3rd and 10 with 21 seconds left in a four point game, the Chargers decided to isolate their cornerbacks in one-on-one coverage in a situation where Tennessee needed 34 yards to score a touchdown. What? Why? How?

On national television, in front of millions watching at home, Harrison begged Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano to “give his players a chance to win.” The criticism was damning but spot on.

Two things make this end-game sequence extra painful for fans of San Diego football: 1) On the previous play, Titans quarterback Jake Locker had a man wide open deep down the middle of the field, but over threw him by a yard or two—for whatever reason, San Diego had man coverage on the outside, 2) on both that play and the final touchdown pass, the Chargers had Eric Weddle, unquestionably the best safety in football, playing underneath near the line of scrimmage.

Weddle is undersized, but his instincts are unparalleled. Why, with 20 seconds left to go, the Titans in need of a touchdown and with no timeouts, would San Diego not have their best overall player in zone coverage, playing center field?

It’s a question Pagano should be asking himself over and over again this week, but it also brings up another interesting discussion. Why, still, is Weddle overlooked as one of football’s true supernovas?

A few of the NFL’s smartest scribes showered appreciative rose pedals on Weddle earlier this summer, and rightfully so. Nobody argues his place as one of the best safeties in football, but still, relative to the one-time elite players who were previously regarded as being the best safeties in the league (Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu, Bob Sanders, etc.) Weddle hasn’t been certified as a star.

It’s an odd development, especially during a season where the Chargers appear to have re-established themselves as a competent football team.

Apologies to J.J. Watt, Luke Kuechly, Clay Matthews, Vince Wilfork, Justin Houston, Richard Sherman, and a long list of other deserving defenders who more than belong in this company, but Weddle’s under-the-radar play so far this season places him near the top of that group as perhaps the league’s most consistently great defensive player.

Statistically his numbers don’t stand out. Part of that is because we’re only three games into the season, and also, the numbers we have to gauge the play of a safety aren’t deep enough to measure the position’s play-to-play impact.

Weddle rarely makes mistakes, though. He’s either shadowing a receiver step for step, rushing through the line (often untouched) on a blitz to make the quarterback hurry his throw, or gliding over the field to make an incredible tackle. Weddle doesn’t get juked out. He doesn’t blow assignments. Playing a position that’s of vital importance more and more each year, as the league continues to evolve and become more and more pass happy, he’s as close to overall perfection as the league’s seen in quite some time.

Weddle regularly makes plays that might not look spectacular, but they’re extremely meaningful. For example, in Week 2’s road victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, Weddle made one of the finest open field tackles you’ll ever see, near the goal line, stopping football’s most elusive running back in his tracks and saving what looked like an obvious touchdown.

It’s more difficult to appreciate a play like this than, say, a sack or interception. But how many players in the league make that tackle, closing like a flawless missile. Not many, if any. Weddle makes plays like this look easy, which is perhaps why he’s often overlooked. He’s not diving to tip passes away from receivers because he’s step for step with his man and quarterbacks aren’t even thinking about throwing the ball in that area.

His tackles and overall impact are fundamentally sound and, at this point, perhaps taken for granted. It’s about time all that stops, especially by those who know him better than anyone else.

Michael Pina is a writer for ESPN’s TrueHoop Network. He also writes for ScoreBig. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelVPina.

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Tags: San Diego Chargers

  • arnie

    Somebody is paying attention. Weedle is also the leading tackler for the last 4 seasons, so that may have something to do with it. he needs to be playing over the top, and let the front 7 do their jobs, which they are not. So Weddle isn’t allowed to do what he does best, snatch balls away from receivers.

    • tubbs45

      Spot on…

  • davacho

    love that you posted that vid- i jumped out of my seat on replay!

    • boltingindiego

      that was a great play but his tackle on walker the te on 3rd down in the goaline was just as good.

  • boltingindiego

    unless their trying to convert him into a ss he should be playing his more natural position fs. I hope he switches to fs when taylor comesback from his acl and plays ss.

    • Nick in PB

      I know! I don’t get it. He is the best tackler on the team but he is also the best player we have against the pass. I don’t get the secondary strategy the past 2 games.

      • Tyreece Kaete Sr.

        Agree they should have went prevent D they had noooo timeouts

  • phobos57

    That’s an easy one. He’s so busy trying to do other peoples’ jobs, b/c they suck so bad and can’t be trusted, that it doesn’t look like he’s doing his job very well. All a function of the other players in that secondary, none of which could start for any other team.

  • adrian

    I know this is random but have any of you heard of the trade rumors of josh gordon browns wide reciever to the chargers? If its true thats definitely a trade I would like to see happen!!!:) true #1 reciever

    • Tyreece Kaete Sr.

      Haven’t heard that one but ima check up on it

  • MachoMenos

    Sorry, but apart for the plays you mention, and a few others you didn’t, Weddle is having a dismal year. PFF has him as the third worst safety in the entire league. He isn’t getting any help from Addae or Gilchrist. The poor guy is simply trying to do too much. I hope Brandon Taylor is getting healthy because neither Gilchrist Addae or Stuckey are ready for the job.

    • Tyreece Kaete Sr.

      What have you been watching Addae has been making tackles & fumbles dudes been hitting :/

  • Nick in PB

    It was a mystery to me why Gilchrist was playing, what seems to be the free safety position, last line of pass defense, and Weddle was playing the strong safety position, supporting the run in the Philly game. But then in the Tennessee game, it seemed like the same thing? If Gilchrist isn’t to be trusted in the box then why not start Taylor? Weddle needs to be roaming the secondary, period!

  • jonpviv

    Can the multiple people here propping up Brandon Taylor please list the criteria they are using? The guy couldn’t break 2nd string even when he was healthy…….

  • C.Steele

    Damn! I love me some Weddle, but your rose peddle glasses are bifocals!! I have watched plenty of games that Weddle has missed tackles and gotten roasted in man coverage (I’m pretty sure Shady McCoy’s 70 yard reception was on Weddle)! But, with that being said. Weddle is a monster, and I wouldn’t trade him for any other S in the league. As for being underrated, that’s easy, look at the team he’s been playing on for the last 3-4 years. Most pundits don’t seem like they want to cover the chargers from jump street (other than to talk about how terrible they are). The fact they are not good really leaves them off the radar. Until the team starts performing Weddle’s greatness will continue to be lost in the muck of mediocrity!

    Flashback, it took about 3 seasons before the league and the country began to recognize LT greatness, about the same time the team and it’s record started to improved. #GoBolts!