Two under-the-radar secondary options the Chargers should target
By Matt Pagels
There is plenty of talent in the 2017 NFL draft, which means there are plenty of sleepers. Here are two secondary players the Chargers should take a look at late in the draft.
The Los Angeles Chargers signed safety Jahleel Addae to a four-year deal in the offseason. His partner-in-crime at the safety position? Dwight Lowery, a 31-year-old veteran who is more of a liability than a playmaker. The Chargers need to find a replacement, and even Lowery said he’s willing to mentor a rookie.
As for the cornerbacks, the Chargers have two studs in Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett, but the latter has failed to stay on the field, missing 24 total games in three years. Also, they lack depth at the position and have no sure-fire No. 3 corner–and in a pass-happy league, it’s a starter’s position now.
With that said, let’s take a look at two sleepers in the secondary.
Tedric Thompson, FS, Colorado
If the Chargers want a ball-hawking centerfielder in DC Gus Bradley’s 4-3 scheme, then look no further than safety Tedric Thompson.
The 6-foot, 204-pounder out of Colorado finished with 26 pass deflections, 13 interceptions and 7.5 sacks in his four-year career with the Buffaloes. 16 of those 26 pass deflections and seven of those 13 interceptions came in 2016, which led to first-team All-Pac-12 honors. He’s a durable player who appeared in almost every game since joining the team in 2013 (only missed the final four games his sophomore year due to a concussion).
Thompson is a true free safety with elite ball skills, top-notch instincts and good range.
Bolts From the Blue’s Kyle Posey shows why Thompson could be the steal of the draft here.
his route recognition gets him in position to make plays on the ball. sniffs routes out & thats how you get 7 INTs & 16 PBUs pic.twitter.com/zKGd3QNfXE
— KP (@KP_Show) March 11, 2017
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein also acknowledges Thompson’s ball skills:
“Thompson in an instinctive cover safety with strong ball skills and a history of production during his time at Colorado. Lacks physicality to operate around the box, but his football intelligence and playmaking skills will get him drafted and could give him a shot at eventually starting.”
Like Posey and several scouts noted, Thompson has the versatility to be a playmaker all over the field. And not only was Thompson aggressive when the ball was in the air, but he was rarely a liability in coverage. According to Pro Football Focus, Thompson gave up completions on just 40.3 percent of passes into his area. Also, quarterbacks had a passer rating of 21.3 when targeting him last year (lowest mark in FBS among safeties with at least 25 targets against), per PFF.
Why Thompson will fall: The safety class is very, very deep, which will be one of the main reasons why Thompson could fall all the way to the fifth round. Also, he’s not as athletic as some teams may want in their safety. He ran a 4.6 40-yard dash at the combine and failed to finish as a top performer in any category at the combine. But hey, Giants safety Landon Collins didn’t excel in any of the combine drills either (was a top performer in only the 40 with a 4.53 time), and he turned out to be an All-Pro in only his second year. Also, scouts are skeptical of Thompson’s tackling, which is a bigger concern going forward.
Overall, he is worth the risk later in the draft. Thompson, who had the same number of interceptions last season as Hooker (a potential top-15 pick), could be had in the middle rounds.
Sign me up!
Round projection: 3-5
RELATED: Two under-the-radar linebackers Chargers should target
Damontae Kazee, CB, San Diego State
Meet Damontae Kazee, a two-time Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year (2015-16). Kazee had a ton of experience and production in his four years at San Diego State.
But I’ll let NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger take it away from here..
.@Damontaekazee of @Aztec_Football is an off the ball zone corner with mad production:41 starts,239 tt's, 30 pbu's, and a nation best 17 int pic.twitter.com/razRpPMlx4
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) April 21, 2017
And Baldinger didn’t even mention the two pick-sixes and six forced fumbles he had.
Scouts praise Kazee’s ball skills, footwork and vision. Like Thompson, Kazee was also very good in coverage, as he allowed a passer rating of 43.7 into his coverage, per PFF. Even if the receiver caught the ball, Kazee was right there to make a play. According to PFF, Kazee allowed just 99 yards after the catch (that’s in a combined 14 games; think about that).
Kazee’s also a beast when it comes to tackling. PFF noted that he missed only five tackles on 69 attempts last year.
Why Kazee will fall: Size will be the biggest concern with Kazee, as the 5-foot-10, 184-pounder is likely to get overpowered by bigger receivers. The Chargers may want to get bigger at the position, as both Verrett and Hayward are under 6-feet tall. Also, he’s a small-school player who could struggle adapting to a NFL scheme.
Kazee may be small, but he plays bigger than size. FOX Sports San Diego’s Austin Gayle talked with Kazee about how his size could be a concern, but Kazee’s attitude and passion was what stood out.
“I’m pretty sure I’m going to be playing nickel just because of my size and my weight,” Kazee said. “And, I’m for it. I’m for whatever position they want to put me in. I don’t care if it’s long snapper.”
Despite his small stature, CBS Sports’ Rob Rang sees potential in Kazee.
“Kazee lacks ideal size and speed for the outside, but he’s athletic enough to play man coverage and possesses the awareness, downhill closing speed and competitiveness as an open-field tackling ability to project well inside as a nickel corner. His knack for making his own big plays (15 turnovers caused over his career) is certainly intriguing as well.”
Overall, Kazee is a playmaker. He’s a turnover and tackling machine. His size and speed (5.54 40-yard dash) will make teams look elsewhere, but he’s as competitive as they come.
Maybe the Chargers should keep the former Aztec from leaving the state.
Projection: Round 4-5