James was sorely missed on defense before the last month of the season year. He became such a crucial part of Gus Bradley’s defense in 2018 that it was just a wreck for the secondary when he went down. Phillips breaking his arm against the Lions added to the sting the LA Chargers felt at the safety position.
The versatility of James is what makes him so special. He can line up at linebacker, safety, cornerback, as well as the defensive line. While Rayshawn Jenkins, Teamer, and others tried to fill the strong safety role in James’ absence, there’s no safety in the league that is as dynamic as James is, aside from perhaps Jamal Adams.
The Chargers simply don’t have another defender of James’ caliber at all three levels. His alignment in all formations and schemes is spectacular. Defensive player of the year might be tough to win, but it’s not out of reach with how much of an impact he has on the defense. Comeback player of the year is even more in reach.
The secondary will go as far as James takes them. His tenacity and leadership really raises the play of everyone else on the field. James elevates the defense, not just the secondary, from the OK ranking it had last year to the potential they have this year.
One thing that will be interesting to watch with James is how he pairs with a new starting free safety. Jenkins will likely take over that role, with Nasir Adderley lurking around as a dark horse if he can do well in training camp or practice in general. Another possibility with King in the dimebacker role is a potential pairing with James.