LA Chargers News

LA Chargers: Ranking the defenses in the AFC West by position

CARSON, CA - DECEMBER 22: Defensive end Joey Bosa #97 flexes for defensive end Melvin Ingram #54 of the Los Angeles Chargers after a sack of quarterback Derek Carr #4 of the Oakland Raiderss in the first half of the game at Dignity Health Sports Park on December 22, 2019 in Carson, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
CARSON, CA - DECEMBER 22: Defensive end Joey Bosa #97 flexes for defensive end Melvin Ingram #54 of the Los Angeles Chargers after a sack of quarterback Derek Carr #4 of the Oakland Raiderss in the first half of the game at Dignity Health Sports Park on December 22, 2019 in Carson, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
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(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) – LA Chargers
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) – LA Chargers

Linebacker

  1. Raiders: Cory Littleton, Nick Kwiatkoski, Nicholas Morrow
  2. Chargers: Kenneth Murray, Drue Tranquill, Denzel Perryman
  3. Broncos: Alexander Johnson, Todd Davis, Josey Jewell
  4. Chiefs: Willie Gay Jr., Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson

Linebacker groups haven’t been particularly strong in the AFC West in recent years. The Broncos would have the best players that are technically linebackers, but Miller and Chubb are edge defenders.

Getting Littleton and Kwiatkoski without having to break the bank was great for Las Vegas in the offseason. In 2019, Littleton was one of the best coverage linebackers in the league. 2020 showed the complete player Littleton really is.

He was the highest-graded tackler in the NFL, per PFF. Kwiatkoski is a solid coverage linebacker who can make plays in the middle of the field. Tanner Muse is someone to watch out for as the season progresses at weakside.

The LA Chargers went all-in on linebacker during the draft. Despite Tom Telesco saying the team felt OK at linebacker, they traded up for Murray in the first round. Murray is an incredibly athletic linebacker who’s going to be a force at and behind the line of scrimmage from day one.

Pass coverage is where he’ll need to develop, but not for lack of skill. Oklahoma simply didn’t use him on defense in that way, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Chargers use him at full potential. Tranquill is also a name to watch as the season progresses with Perryman heading into the final year of his contract.

Johnson had a breakout year for Denver in 2020 and that’s what nudged them over the Chiefs for me. While Davis hadn’t progressed as much as the Broncos wanted initially, he’s really rounded himself into a more complete player in recent years. He’s an experienced, electric tackler on the defense.

Kansas City’s linebacker group is the most underwhelming. Hitchens really regressed in 2019, especially when it came to man coverage. Wilson improved somewhat against the run. Gay will be the key to the future of the Chiefs’ defense. If he can replace Hitchens as the number one linebacker fairly quickly, this unit could move up the rankings. He has the speed and athleticism to be a game-changer.

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