The Los Angeles Chargers have one of the more dominant cornerback tandems in the NFL with two Pro Bowlers in Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett, but the players behind them don’t inspire much confidence. The Chargers can fix that in free agency.
These days in the NFL, you can never have enough pass-rushers. The Chargers know it, and that’s why placing the franchise tag on linebacker Melvin Ingram was a no-brainer. You can also never have enough cornerbacks, especially in an era where the passing game is the focal point.
The Chargers have two playmakers on the outside. Casey Hayward, who was signed to a friendly three-year, $15.3 million deal last offseason, turned in a Pro Bowl performance and became one of the elite cornerbacks in the league. Jason Verrett, a 2016 Pro Bowl selection, missed majority of the year with a torn ACL, but he already earned the label of a shutdown corner.
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But what about the depth at the cornerback position? Brandon Flowers, who was looking to bounce back from a self-acknowledged poor 2015 season, struggled to stay healthy. He missed all but six games last year and was one of a league-high 21 players placed on injured reserve. His concussion history, as well as money obligations, could lead to the 31-year-old’s release.
Craig Mager hasn’t shown much of anything since being drafted in the third round of the 2015 draft. Trevor Williams, a 2016 undrafted free agent out of Penn State, had his ups and downs as well. Unless he learns to play better in coverage, Williams will likely start the year on the practice squad.
Trovon Reed was a surprise. The 2015 undrafted free agent, who was a member of the Seattle Seahawks in training camp, joined the Chargers’ practice squad in October 2016 and was promoted to the active roster a month later. He played in six games (one start) and finished the year with two interceptions and 14 solo tackles despite playing just 11.5 percent of snaps on defense, per ProFootballReference.com. The wide receiver-turned corner is the biggest corner on the team at 6-foot. He’s a player general manager Tom Telesco is excited to see in 2017.
Despite two proven stars and the potential of another player, the Chargers need help in the secondary, especially in the slot. Two seasons ago, Telesco signed former first-rounder Patrick Robinson to a one-year deal. Prior to his release by the New Orleans Saints, Robinson struggled to live up to his first-round billing, but a change of scenery worked. He finished the 2015 season as one of the top slot corners.
Can Telesco do it again? Well, the Buffalo Bills just released one of the better slot cornerbacks in the game.
Nickell Robey-Coleman was signed by the Bills as an undrafted free agent in 2013. He was given a two-year, $4.1 million extension prior to the start of the 2015 season, and Bills fans were more than happy with the re-signing.
Despite making an impact in Buffalo’s defense, he’s been inconsistent over the last two years. According to Pro Football Focus, Robey-Coleman graded out as the 90th-best cornerback in the league in 2015. He surrendered a 102.4 passer rating into his coverage and allowed the fourth-most yards (482) from the slot, per PFF.
A year later, Nickell shined as a nickel corner.
Nickell Robey-Coleman cut by the Bills. He allowed a passer rating of 74.86 in the slot; 2nd best for slot CBs just behind Chris Harris Jr. pic.twitter.com/w00w9KfauW
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) March 6, 2017
Robey-Coleman has the speed and playmaking ability that teams crave. He finished the season with 35 combined tackles and two interceptions. He returned one of those interceptions for a touchdown, the second time in his career in which he recorded a pick-six. He also recovered a Jets’ fumble and took it 36 yards to the house.
Also, we know injuries have killed the Chargers in recent years (especially at corner), and Robey-Coleman’s durability stands out. He has yet to miss a game over his four-year career (16 games player every year).
But will Robey-Coleman fit in new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s scheme? He has experience in the 4-3 after playing under former Bills head coach Rex Ryan. We know Bradley used bigger corners in the past, and Robey-Coleman is quite undersized at 5-foot-8, 165 pounds. He’s physical but has struggled against big tight ends.
Regardless, the Chargers need a corner to man the slot. New Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn, who was part of the Bills’ coaching staff from 2015-16, could lure Robey-Coleman over to the West Coast. He just turned 25 years old, and adding him to the mix on a one-year deal can only help the Chargers.