Chargers 2016 position grades: Inside Linebackers
By Travis Wakeman
Continuing my 2016 position grades for the Los Angeles Chargers, we will look at the inside linebackers in this edition.
Because there are so many linebackers on the team, and the responsibilities of each are so different in a 3-4 defensive scheme, I have decided to split up the inside linebackers and outside linebackers. In the next edition, you’ll see the grades for the outside linebackers.
As was the theme at just about every position (and a theme in my grading posts), the Chargers suffered a season-ending injury to one of their stars. Manti Te’o suffered a torn ACL early in the year and the Chargers were forced to turn to younger players to make up for his loss.
Denzel Perryman is quite clearly going to be a defensive force in this league. That muchh became clear in just his second season in the league. However, he was limited to just 12 games in his second year.
Perryman is exactly what you’d want out of an inside linebacker. He diagnoses plays well and puts thumping hits on his opponents. He played an incredible game against the eventual NFC champion Atlanta Falcons this past season.
He finished the season with 72 tackles and two sacks. He also recorded his first career interception in that game against Atlanta.
If Perryman can prove to be a durable player, he’ll be one of the best players on this defense for years to come.
Te’o’s fourth season with the Chargers started out strong as he registered 10 tackles in the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs. He only played in two more games after that and wasn’t much of a factor in either.
Te’o’s career in the NFL has been a little underwhelming since he starred at Notre Dame in college. It will be an interesting offseason for him, as he will be an unrestricted free agent and could very likely be suiting up somewhere else next year.
As for the 2016 season, I can’t really give him a letter grade since he appeared in just three games.
Grade: I (Incomplete)
Quite simply, Jatavis Brown was the Chargers’ biggest surprise in 2016.
A fifth-round pick out of Akron, Brown was supposed to sit back and watch for most of the season behind Perryman and Te’o, but he was thrust into action after Te’o was hurt. He performed like anything but a fifth-round choice when he was given that opportunity.
Brown’s 79 tackles ended up leading the team. He also had 3.5 sacks, which was good for third on the team. Only Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram had more. Those guys are supposed to have more.
But Brown also showed he could stand up in pass coverage, finishing the season with six passes defensed. He also had two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery that helped salt away a victory over the Denver Broncos on Thursday Night Football.
There’s was nothing not to like about Brown’s game this season, and fans should be highly encouraged to see what he can do going forward.
Joshua Perry was actually selected one round ahead of Brown in the draft out of Ohio State, but Brown beat him out for playing time. As a result, we didn’t see much out of Perry in 2016.
He finished the season with 22 tackles, although he did force two fumbles. According to Pro Football Reference, he was in on just 114 defensive snaps, compared to 600 for Brown. That translated to just 10.6 percent of the Chargers’ defensive plays.
Perry was just a rookie, so I won’t be too harsh on him. But his future may be just as a backup and special teams player in Los Angeles.
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Speaking of pleasant surprises, Korey Toomer’s 2016 season was nothing short of outstanding. At least if you consider what he did versus what he was expected to do.
Toomer finished the season with 75 tackles, good for second on the team. He also had one quarterback sack, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. For a guy who most figured to be the No. 5 or No. 6 inside linebacker on the team, that’s not bad.
A fifth-round selection of the Seattle Seahawks in 2012, Toomer had a grand total of seven tackles in his entire NFL career prior to 2016. He spent time with the Seahawks, St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders before being signed after the 2016 season had already started by the Chargers.
He only saw 478 defensive snaps, which meant he wasn’t even on the field half the time for the Chargers, and still put up the numbers he did.
Along with Brown, Toomer gets my top grade at this position for that reason alone.
Undrafted in 2015, Nick Dzubnar was never expected to make the Chargers’ roster. But he has now survived roster cuts twice due to his impressive play in the preseason.
Dzubnar is mainly used for special teams, so it’s tough to grade his defensive play as he has seen limited snaps. He was also placed on injured reserve halfway through the season with a knee injury.
Dzubnar will likely face long odds to make the final roster again this coming season.
Overall Grade: B
This was one of the better positional units for the Chargers this season, which is impressive considering the early loss of Te’o. The play of Brown and Toomer was stellar and with guys like them and Perryman in the mix, it should be one of the team’s strong suits going forward.