Have you ever gotten a great deal on a brand new T.V. because it was not one of the top brands? And when you finally put it together and witnessed that crystal-clear picture, it ended up being one heck of a steal?
Well, for general manager Tom Telesco, he potentially did that by taking a chance on Darius Philon when few believed he was ready for the NFL.
He was the definition of raw coming out of college. Philon, who turned 22 years old in January, committed to Alabama but wound up signing with the Arkansas Razorbacks. After redshirting in 2012, he played in 12 games (five starts) in 2013 and recorded three sacks and 46 total tackles including nine for loss. He also forced two fumbles. As a sophomore, Philon started every game (13) and finished with the same amount of tackles (46) including 11 for loss. He also racked up 4.5 sacks, recovered three fumbles, batted down two passes and forced one fumble.
It was a bit of a surprise when the defensive lineman declared for the 2015 NFL Draft, but it was quite the accomplishment when he heard his name called on Day 3. CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler saw big potential in Philon leading up to the draft.
“Philon is still filling out his frame and will likely need a redshirt year as a rookie in the NFL because of his youth, but he has potential to be a mid-round pick and should at worst be a sub-package penetrating three-technique in a 4-3 scheme,” Brugler stated.
If Philon didn’t forgo his final two years at Arkansas, he likely would have been a mid-round pick. Regardless, the Chargers obviously liked what they saw from him. He didn’t put up a ton of sacks, but he made his mark after playing all over the line for the Razorbacks. Let’s take a look at two plays involving Philon when Arkansas took on Northern Illinois in 2014.
On the second play in the video, Philon is aligned over the guard and rushes the B-gap. He uses his quickness to beat the left guard and outmuscles the left tackle as he gets in the quarterback’s face, ultimately leading to a fumble recovery for a touchdown. On the third play, Philon penetrates the A-gap and bullies his way through to bring down the ball carrier.
According to his profile on NFL.com, Philon is a “one-gap penetrator with serious juice off the snap.” He’s a speed rusher whose job is to pressure the quarterback and break up plays in the backfield. That’s exactly what he did at Arkansas.
And that’s exactly what he did for the Chargers in last year’s preseason and regular season.
In the preseason, Philon displayed the talent that got him selected in the sixth round. The Chargers first took on the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1, and Philon showcased his speed by beating La’el Collins, one of the top offensive lineman prospects in the 2015 draft, and tackling the runner for no gain. He also pulled his own version of a D.J. Fluker:
— GoChargers (@TheWolfMUT) August 17, 2015
Philon did get swallowed up by Collins at times; but hey, Collins finished the first week of preseason as Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded rookie. So for Philon to make some nice plays against him was a huge plus.
In the second week of the preseason, Philon notched his first sack against the Arizona Cardinals. The Bolts’ defensive tackle rushed inside and made a lightning-like hit on Drew Stanton.
— Ryan Bridges (@RyanBridgesCFB) August 23, 2015
The Chargers played the Seattle Seahawks in Week 3 of the preseason, and Philon made yet another play in the backfield. He came off the edge this time and stopped running back Christine Michael for a five-yard loss.
Philon made the 53-man roster and performed well as a backup in the regular season. He only played 14 snaps on defense in the season opener against the Detroit Lions, but he beat 2015 first-round guard Laken Tomlinson and hit quarterback Matthew Stafford to force an incompletion. In Week 2 against the Cincinnati Bengals, he beat six-year veteran Clint Boling and met Giovani Bernard in the backfield for a loss, which forced the Bengals to kick a field goal.
Unfortunately, Philon was placed on short-term injured reserve with a hip injury, which caused him to miss 10 games. He was activated for the final four contests and played at least 19 snaps in each game. On Dec. 13 against the Kansas City Chiefs, Philon almost recorded his first career sack, but it was wiped away by a defensive penalty. He finished the year with five total tackles including four solo stops.
Why he will thrive
It’s truly hard to predict how a player will develop. We’ve seen ex-Charger defensive end Kendall Reyes flash potential in a rotaional role his rookie year, only to unimpress as a starter over the last three years.
As for Philon’s style of play, one-gap penetrators are more common in 4-3 defenses; but the Chargers, who run a base 3-4 scheme, play in sub-packages roughly 70 percent of the time. He is listed at 6-foot-1 and 300 pounds, which is considered to be a bit undersized for a defensive tackle. A few scouts have said that he needed to up his weight in order to fit as a five-tech defensive end, but why change his game when he’s already a threat as an interior rusher?
A defense’s success stems on the ability to get to the quarterback. If you have talent up front, the secondary can do its job with ease. We’ve seen it with the dominant front seven of the Carolina Panthers last year, whose secondary consisted of no-names aside from Josh Norman.
You want a player who can push the pocket on the field more often than not. Philon is that guy. He also happens to be very fast for a defensive tackle (4.88 40-yard dash). Whether he can be the true backup to defensive end Corey Liuget or get a ton of playing time in a different position remains in question. With that said, he reminds me of two players: Jaguars’ Sen’Derrick Marks and Bengals’ Geno Atkins.
Marks, who played for the Tennessee Titans for the first four years of his career, took some time to develop after dealing with injuries. But he stood out in 2014 after tallying 17 quarterbacks hits and nine sacks, which led his team. Overall, he doesn’t put up huge sack totals, which is likely the reason why he doesn’t get a ton of love, but he’s one of the best interior defenders at rushing the quarterback. According to PFF, he was one of three defensive tackles to be graded as a top-10 pass rusher in both 2013 and 2014. The 6-foot-2, 316-pounder has a bigger frame than Philon, but Philon’s game is the same.
A player who resembles Philon size-wise (and speed-wise) is the All-Pro Atkins. The 6-foot-1, 300-pounder is undersized like Philon, but as a 4-3 tackle in the Bengals’ defense, he racked up 14 sacks and finished as PFF’s No. 2 overall defensive tackle behind Ram’s Aaron Donald last season. He also recorded the second-highest pass-rushing productivity amongs DTs that year. His high motor and combination of speed, strength and leverage is a sight to see.
I’m not saying Philon will ever be able to control the line of scrimmage like Atkins does, but he could provide a solid pass rush from the interior.
The upside is there to rack up sacks. If he’s just there to take pressure off his teammates, that works, too.
Philon’s partner at Arkansas and 2015 fourth-rounder Trey Flowers had one of the most productive seasons as an edge defender his final season. According to PFF, Flowers ranked in the top five in pass-rushing productivity (second), third-down PRP (second) and run-stop percentage (fourth). Not taking anything away from Flowers’ big year, but Philon’s presence affected Flowers in a positive way.
As for the Chargers, the addition of Brandon Mebane might their most underrated move in the offseason because of the value he brings. He’s a space-eater who will make his teammates around him better and allow players like Philon, Liuget and 2016 first-round pick Joey Bosa to wreak havoc in the backfield. We’ve seen the impact he’s made when playing for Seattle. While he only tallied 1.5 sacks last season, defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril combined for 19 sacks. With Mebane manning the nose tackle position on early downs, Philon can play as a three-tech next to Liuget in sub-packages.
Realistically, it comes down to defensive coordinator John Pagano. He needs to put his players in the right position to succeed. With the talent he has on the defensive line, there are plenty of formations he could use to confuse opposing offenses.
So let’s go Pagano. Like Deadpool said, it’s time to go out there and make a difference.