Perhaps the best part of the LA Chargers heading into the 2020 season is the defensive side of the ball, and if we hone that down even further, we can pinpoint the secondary as the team’s most exciting area.
Casey Hayward and new signing Chris Harris headline the cornerback group and both Hayward and Harris have been two of the best corners in the league. Young safety, Derwin James, is the most exciting defensive player the Chargers have had since Shawn Merriman and the duo of Rayshawn Jenkins and Nasir Adderley provide good safety depth.
It seems like a foregone conclusion that even if the LA Chargers are not as successful as fans hope they are, that the secondary will be great in 2020. However, I would reserve the expectation that the secondary is going to outright be great in 2020.
The LA Chargers’ secondary succeeding in 2020 is not a foregone conclusion, here is why:
Now, this is not to say that I think the secondary is bad. It is more likely than not that they are, at the very worst, around league-average next season. There is a good chance they are above-average and could even be one of the best in the NFL.
However, I do think there is a greater chance that the secondary deals with struggles next season than most other Charger fans would like to admit, and it all has to do with age.
Hayward and Harris are great cornerbacks, no question. What concerns me about them being the two best corners in the league is where they are in their careers. Both Harris and Hayward will be 31 during the 2020 season, which in football terms, is quite old.
We can look back at recent great cornerbacks and when they started to decline to get a better picture.
Darrelle Revis was one of the best cornerbacks of the 2010s and in his prime was one of the best in the last quarter-century. From 2008 to 2014, Revis never posted below an 80 pass coverage grade on Pro Football Focus, crossing the 90 threshold twice.
In 2015 his coverage rating fell to 66.3, in 2016 it was 62.3 and in his last season, 2017, it was 59.4. Revis turned 30 before the 2015 season, 2016 was his age 31 season.
There are exceptions to this, of course. Richard Sherman was the top-rated cornerback on PFF last season in his age 31 season. However, this was after two mediocre seasons that could easily happen to both Hayward and Harris.
Harris has more reason for concern than Hayward as he could already be on a downhill slope. As mentioned in a previous article here on Bolt Beat, Harris posted a 68.8 coverage rating on PFF last season, which was the worst of his career. He also allowed the second-highest reception rate on targets of his career (trailing his rookie season) at 69.1 percent.
Yes, he will benefit from getting more snaps at slot corner, where he has been his best throughout his career, but was an average cornerback at best last season.
There are not as many concerning signs with Casey Hayward but as we have seen in the past, football players can fall out of their prime relatively quickly. He posted an 84.4 coverage rating last season, but again, is 31 years old.
It is still more likely based on his track record that Hayward will be a solid corner in 2020, but it is far from a lock.
Then we look at the rest of the secondary. Michael Davis and Brandon Facyson will share snaps at the other outside cornerback position and while I am much higher on Davis than most, his success is far from a guarantee and I really do not like the idea of Facyson getting a share of the snaps.
Desmond King had a really bad season in coverage last year as well. Of any cornerback that played in at least 20 percent of the defensive snaps, King allowed the second-highest reception rate, allowing a reception in 87.2 percent of passes targeted at him.
Charger fans are hopeful he can bounce back and in a different role in a contract year that certainly is a possibility, but we have to value King more closely to his 2019 self than his 2018 self, it is only fair.
The safeties should not be a problem. James is arguably the best young safety in the game, Jenkins is sneaky good and I am still really high on Adderley as a ball hawk. However, if the cornerbacks are not producing at the level the team expects then the safeties’ play could be a moot point.
Overall, I am hopeful that the LA Chargers’ secondary succeeds and I think it is more likely than not that they are solid in 2020. The threat of a bad season is looming over the secondary’s head, though, and that should not be ignored.