Is CB the Chargers’ strongest position group on defense?
By Matt Pagels
Remember the days when Chargers’ cornerbacks couldn’t cover to save their lives? Well, you should, because that was only a few years ago.
If I had a nickel for every time Derek Cox, Shareece Wright and Marcus Gilchrist gave up a big play, I’d have enough money to play multiple games of Pac-Man. Gone are the days of Cox, Wright and Gilchrist. Enter in Jason Verrett, Casey Hayward and Brandon Flowers.
It’s a dynamic trio that Ben Stockwell of Pro Football Focus believes is one of the top cornerback groups heading into the 2016 NFL season. In fact, Stockwell ranked this group No. 6 overall. Here’s what he had to say:
“As one of the few strengths on this Chargers’ roster, a full season from Verrett would only push this unit higher; a combined 965 snaps over his first two seasons was bettered by 26 corners in 2015 alone. The addition of Hayward ensures that Brandon Flowers will see less action in the slot this season, which could push him back to his best form that we last saw in 2014 after his arrival from Kansas City.”
It makes sense. Verrett, who some scouts deemed to small to play on the outside, is coming off a Pro Bowl-year and is on his way to becoming one of the top lockdown corners in the league. Hayward, 26, was given above-average coverage grades by PFF in each of his last four seasons with the Packers and led last year’s squad with an 80.5 overall rating. Flowers had a down year last season, but it was only two seasons ago where he was a top-20 corner.
The only knock on this group is that they’ve all suffered injuries over their careers. Verrett has only played in 20 games over two seasons. Hayward missed 13 games in 2013 due to a hamstring injury. Flowers hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2011.
Also, the addition of Hayward doesn’t necessarily ensure that Flowers will see less action in the slot. Hayward, who has the versatility to play both positions, could potentially replace Flowers on the outside in San Diego’s base 3-4 scheme and move to the slot in sub-packages with Flowers manning the outside in that situation. But with a revamped front seven, a bounce-back year for Flowers could be in store, which will only make this group more dominant.
What Stockwell didn’t mention was that the Chargers have good depth at the position, too. 2015 third-round pick Craig Mager and 2014 fifth-round pick Steve Williams have shown promise in minimal snaps.
Mager, a four-year starter at Texas State, was the definition of raw coming out of college, but he’s a player who will bring much-needed toughness to the Chargers’ defense. Williams ended the year on a positive note, forcing three of the Chargers’ five turnovers in the season finale against the Denver Broncos.
And the Chargers need to create turnovers. They ranked 24th in the league with only 20 takeaways last season. The addition of 2016 first-round pick Joey Bosa will help change that. Not only will Bosa rack up sacks, but he’ll force opposing quarterbacks to make bad throws, which will result in interceptions.
That said, is there another position group on defense that could surpass these cornerbacks as the most feared group? The Chargers’ linebacker corps could do just that. Melvin Ingram, Jerry Attaochu, Denzel Perryman, Manti Te’o, Joshua Perry, Kyle Emanuel, Tourek Williams and even safety-linebacker hybrid Jatavis Brown form a solid group.
It’s a nice preview, so let’s just hope they turn out to be fun to watch like “Deadpool” and not “Batman v Superman.”