One of the Los Angeles Chargers‘ biggest moves last offseason was to sign a safety, bringing veteran Dwight Lowery into the fold. Still, many fans would agree that safety is still this team’s biggest weakness.
As I continue my series grading each positional unit from last season, it’s time to look at the safeties.
To do so, I will look at a player’s contributions to the team including statistics, snap counts (which come from Pro Football Reference) and overall effectiveness while on the field. To clear up any confusion, these players will be graded on the performance they gave when given an opportunity. In other words, I’m not going to give a player a D just because he only saw action on five percent of the team’s total snaps.
It takes all 53 players to win in the NFL, so if for example, a player was only on the field for 50 total snaps but had a sack, interception or forced a turnover in that time, I see that as somewhere around a high B grade. In other words, that player made an impact when given an opportunity.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at last year’s safeties.
In his first year with the Chargers, Dwight Lowery was on the field for nearly 94 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. He was tied for fourth on the team with 60 tackles, and he held his own in pass coverage.
Lowery only had one interception on the year, to go along with nine passes defensed. He also had one fumble recovery which he returned 36 yards for a touchdown.
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Brought in to replace arguably the best safety in team history in Eric Weddle, Lowery actually played better than most likely expected him to. You would have liked to see him get more than one interception, but the nine passes defensed tied for the second most in his career. That said, at 31 years old, the Chargers may not stay committed to him much past this coming season.
For playing in just eight games, Jahleel Addae made a difference.
He started the season with a 90-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs, but was injured early in the year, missing half the season. Addae returned in late November and ended up collecting 50 tackles for the season. He was a terrific run defender from the safety position as well.
It would have been interesting to see how well he would have played if he were able to suit up in every game, but he would have almost certainly led the team in tackles.
The Chargers will have a tough decision facing them this offseason as Addae is an unrestricted free agent and will likely garner interest from other teams. With the lack of depth behind him, the Chargers should go out of their way to retain him. With new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley on the sideline, Addae could become an even more well-rounded safety, one that is still only 27 years old.
Undrafted out of Texas in 2014, Adrian Phillips has been released and signed back to the team’s practice squad more times than most can remember. In 2016, he was finally given his chance to make some plays after Addae went down with an injury. In fact, he saw more total snaps on the season than Addae did.
He finished the year with just 38 tackles in 14 games. He did have one interception, but just three passes defensed. The drop-off from Addae to him was quite noticeable.
The Chargers aren’t deep at the safety position, but depending on what they do this offseason to shore it up, Phillips may have a tough time making the roster next season.
Dexter McCoil came to the Chargers after a stint in the CFL, and made the final roster after an impressive preseason. He actually suited up in every game for the team, but saw action on just 23 percent of the team’s defensive snaps.
He finished the year with 25 tackles and an interception, as well as five passes defensed.
Clearly, McCoil needs to refine his game, and maybe Bradley’s scheme will be a better fit for him. He didn’t play terrific football while he was on the field, but he does show flashes of being a solid player. Personally, I feel he has much more upside than Phillips.
Designated as a safety, Darrell Stuckey is almost exclusively a special teams player. Certain players hang around and carve out lengthy NFL careers based solely off their ability to play special teams, and Stuckey is certainly one of those players.
Stuckey was in on just three percent of the team’s defensive snaps, but he saw far more special teams snaps than any other player on the team.
He finished the year with 11 tackles—all on special teams—and he also recovered a fumble.
He’ll likely never be asked to step in and play safety regularly, unless the team is in dire straits, but he’ll likely stick around for his special teams ability for years to come.
Overall Grade: B-
Though Addae’s season was cut short, his play was promising. Even if the Chargers choose to re-sign him, expect the team to use a high pick in the draft on a safety.
Phillips was a disappointment and McCoil appears to be an experiment, but is he one the Chargers can wait on?
Plenty of questions to answer at this position this offseason, but how the team chooses to handle them will be among the biggest keys for the defense going into next year.