Los Angeles Chargers’ rookie mini-camp is in full swing and the coaches are deep into evaluating the talent the organization brought in either through the draft or the undrafted free-agent process.
James Onwalu, a linebacker from Notre Dame, is next up in our undrafted rookie spotlight, and he is certainly a player to keep an eye on.
Name: James Onwalu
Weight: 232 pounds
School: Notre Dame
Onwalu began his career at wide receiver, going to the same high school and then college that NFL player Michael Floyd did. That wasn’t the spot for him, however, and he switched to linebacker in 2014.
Onwalu finished his career with 145 total tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, five sacks and four forced fumbles. He’ll join a team in Los Angeles that has multiple options at the linebacker spot, so he’ll be buried on the depth chart to start the year.
He’ll be reunited with former Notre Dame teammate, Isaac Rochell, who the Chargers drafted in the seventh round.
Many will see him as too small for the position, so he’ll either need to bulk up over the summer or prove his worth on passing downs in coverage. However, whether or not Onwalu makes the team in any capacity will likely come down to his play on special teams.
He was a standout special teams player in college. In fact, his tackling ability on special teams is what made coaches ask him to switch from wide receiver to the defensive side of the ball.
Below is some footage put together by Draft Breakdown of a game between Notre Dame and Virginia from 2015.
With the Chargers reverting back to a 4-3 defense under Gus Bradley this season, the need for outside linebackers may not be as great, especially since the team already has guys like Jatavis Brown, Josh Perry and Korey Toomer on the roster.
Someone out there likes his chances. Recently, Brent Sobleski of Bleacher Report compiled a list of each team’s best undrafted signing this offseason. For the Chargers, he selected Onwalu, noting that his natural upside makes him the best of the three linebackers the team brought in through the free-agent process following the draft. That list includes Nigel Harris and Charmeachealle Moore.
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I think Onwalu will make a name for himself on special teams this summer, but it will only be good enough for a spot on the team’s practice squad. There’s just too much talent in front of him. However, if he can flash some talent in coverage on third downs, it may make it difficult for the team to leave him off.