With an NFL-leading seven Los Angeles Chargers selected to the 2019 Pro-Bowl, one player in particular stands out the most.
Standing at an 11-3 record with a chance to overcome the Kansas City Chiefs for the AFC West crown, the Los Angeles Chargers boast seven selected Pro-Bowl players and three alternates. All the usual suspects are there:
REPRESENT. Seven Bolts have been named to the 2019 #ProBowl!
— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) December 19, 2018
But blink, and you’ll miss it; along with superstar safety Derwin James, the only other starting Pro-Bowl player to come from the Chargers is safety/special teams ace Adrian Phillips. Not Philip Rivers, not Melvin Gordon, but Phillips, the undrafted rookie from the 2014 NFL season.
Phillips’ selection marks the first undrafted free agent player to be selected to the Pro Bowl under Tom Telesco. The sixth-year general manager has a bevy of late-round and undrafted gems to boast, but No. 31 is his first to be nationally recognized in this way. The former Texas Longhorn leads the NFL in special teams tackles (15), six and two tackles shy of Nick Dzubnar and Austin Ekeler’s league-leading numbers from 2017, respectively, with two games remaining.
Phillips as a safety, linebacker, do-it-all player on defense has 73 combined tackles, eight passes defended and an interception this season. That’s better than any season he’s had thus far and far more productive than his first three seasons combined.
Here’s how the f-foot-11, 210-pound defensive back opened his career:
- Signed with the Chargers in 2014 as an UDFA
- Released Sep. 23
- Re-signed Sep. 29
- Released on Oct. 1
- Signed to practice squad Oct. 7
- Promoted to the active roster and played in first game Nov. 2
- Released Nov. 3
- Signed to practice squad Nov. 4
- Released Nov. 29
- Re-signed Dec. 2
- Released by Chargers Sep. 5, 2015
- Signed to practice squad Sep. 6
- Released Oct. 12
- Signed to practice squad Oct. 14
- Promoted to the active roster Oct. 20
If you felt that was tough and tedious to read through, imagine how Phillips felt during his first two years in the league. Did the tumultuous years make him a tougher player? Because in 2018, being third on the team in total tackles and leading the NFL in special teams tackles, he’s making plays like this:
plays like this are why it's easy to root for adrian phillips. 205 lbs soaking wet and plays in the box against guys 100 lbs heavier than him quite a bit pic.twitter.com/YPQhwHVfTj
— KP (@KP_Show) December 4, 2018
It’s about as “Adrian Phillips” of a play as he could make. No. 31 cuts through the trash of the opposing offensive line and meets Pro-Bowl running back James Conner at the hole, who at 6’1″, and 233 pounds should steamroll Phillips. Instead, it’s maybe a one-yard gain. There’s a former undrafted defensive back, making “just” $1.5 million this season, on the biggest stage making a run stop.
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Phillips represents all that is successful for the Chargers under Telesco: Development of late-round picks or undrafted players, playing well above contract value and playing your heart out for the ten guys around you. He deserves the starting Pro Bowl special teamer position, and fans couldn’t be happier for a guy who has earned his way to the spot more than any player on the roster.
Here’s to hoping we never see him play in the Pro-Bowl, as the Chargers prepare to make a Super Bowl run.