Chargers: Making sense of Jerry Tillery’s rookie season

By Steven Haglund

The Los Angeles Chargers surprised many when they took Jerry Tillery in the first round last year. So how does he stack up when compared with his peers?

While some fans are rushing to label defensive tackle Jerry Tillery a bust after just one season, let’s take a step back and actually look at the facts by comparing Tillery to his peers as rookies.

He was drafted for one simple goal, add more consistent interior pressure to a defense with two star outside pass rushers. What actually happened is he played more on the initial downs and split obvious passing down plays with Justin Jones, Isaac Rochell and Uchenna Nwosu.

For the most part, there was no way Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram were coming off the field in those situations, and the Chargers often put the two on the same side as a way to avoid double teams. This left Jones, Rochell, Nwosu and Tillery essentially fighting for the leftover scraps. This put Tillery behind the eight ball since he was the rookie. He only played more than 50 percent of the snaps in two games this season.

That’s part of the reason for his modest numbers on the season. The other part is that defensive tackle is one of the hardest positions to adjust to as an NFL player. While it’s true he was only able to tally two sacks, nine solo tackles, and three additional quarterback hits and that is disappointing it’s also important to understand the broad picture here.

It’s nearly impossible to pin down who an NFL player is going to be in three or five years based on what they did as a rookie. Yes, some players like Joey and Nick Bosa make immediate impacts as pass rushers. That can’t always be the expectation though.

More often than not, there is an adjustment period for players. It can also take a few years for players to truly break out. Devante Parker was drafted in the first round by the Miami Dolphins in 2015, and he just barely broke out in his FIFTH season. The point is, most of the time it takes time for players to develop in the NFL.

Chargers fans can look to Tillery’s teammate Jones to see further proof of this. Jones showed flashes as a rookie two seasons ago but barely saw the field. This past season there were stretches of some games in which he dominated.

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There is obviously still room for improvement but he did total 30 tackles this season and make a slight jump forward. Do you know who also had an adjustment period as an NFL defensive tackle? Chris Jones of the Kansas City Chiefs, who only registered 28 tackles and two sacks his rookie season.

Now he’s one of the best defensive tackles in the league. Gerald McCoy has been considered one of the best in the business over the last few years. He only played in 18 of a possible 32 games his first two seasons and recorded four total sacks.

Kawann Short, a former all-pro defensive tackle for the Carolina Panthers who had 11 sacks the year they made the Super Bowl only had 1.5 sacks as a rookie. Geno Atkins is another one who really struggled as a rookie, only starting a single game for the Cincinnati Bengals and he seems to have made a nice career for himself.

You can even look to Tillery’s own draft class where the third overall pick in Quinnen Williams, who was considered the best player in the draft by many. He battled injuries and really struggled to produce on a consistent basis, finishing with only 2.5 sacks and 15 solo tackles.

Christian Wilkins was the 13th overall pick and did have 30 tackles but only notched two sacks while playing the majority of snaps for the Dolphins. Ed Oliver was the most productive of the bunch and had five sacks this year for the Buffalo Bills.

Hopefully, you get the overall point here, be patient Chargers fans. It’s way too early to label Tillery as anything really. He has plenty of time to develop and not to mention he didn’t even have a full offseason this past year as he was recovering from injury.

Yes, it would have been nice to have gotten a high level of production out of him this season. It’s also totally fine that it didn’t turn out that way. He’s got a very good coaching staff and cast of mentors around him. He’ll get there.