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LA Chargers: Grading the 2020 linebacker position

DENVER, COLORADO - DECEMBER 01: Denzel Perryman #52 of the Los Angeles Chargers celebrates with Kyzir White #44 and Derwin James #33 after making an interception against the Denver Broncos in the fourth quarter at Empower Field at Mile High on December 01, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
DENVER, COLORADO - DECEMBER 01: Denzel Perryman #52 of the Los Angeles Chargers celebrates with Kyzir White #44 and Derwin James #33 after making an interception against the Denver Broncos in the fourth quarter at Empower Field at Mile High on December 01, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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(Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images) – LA Chargers
(Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images) – LA Chargers

The LA Chargers have a slightly different linebacker group in 2020.

After having Thomas Davis for a stop-gap year, the LA Chargers are looking to the future in rebuilding their linebacker group with youth. How good will the unit be in 2020?

Drafting Kenneth Murray was a surprising move from the LA Chargers, especially when it came to giving up their third-rounder in trading up. The Chargers have been aggressive in the draft before, but most fans probably didn’t expect the team to take a linebacker until day two or day three.

The draft followed the team releasing veteran Thomas Davis. While he was good in his time here, it was time for someone younger with more potential for the future to take the role. It’s up to Drue Tranquill and some of the other young talent to make up for the hole left by him, as well as the aforementioned Murray.

Today we’ll be talking about the top six linebackers on the team and what they might each bring to the team in 2020. Before starting that, this is the final positional group review as I’ve graded all of the other positions. Here are some links to check out all of those:

Kenneth Murray

The LA Chargers were willing to give up their Day 2 draft picks to go up and grab Murray, as mentioned earlier. It was a lot to give up, but it was also totally worth it. Murray is able to diagnose and respond to offensive plays very quickly. His tackling form is great as well.

High motor is an overused term when it comes to evaluating football players, but it applies to Murray. He never lets up when it comes to his intensity on the field and has great sideline to sideline speed. In a way, he’s really the main piece at the linebacker position that Gus Bradley and Anthony Lynn have been missing on defense all these years.

Are there negatives? Sure. Murray’s high motor nature sometimes makes him impatient when it comes to reading plays. He also wasn’t asked to play much pass coverage at Oklahoma, and that’s something he’ll need to do in the NFL. Those are things that really can be rectified pretty easily through training and practice though.

Murray was the first or second-best linebacker in the draft depending on how one views Patrick Queen. As a downhill thumper off of the line of scrimmage, Murray fits what the Chargers desperately needed in a linebacker. Hopefully, this draft selection finally kicks off a youth movement for the Chargers’ linebacker group.

Uchenna Nwosu

While Uchenna Nwosu is listed as a linebacker, he’s effectively an edge defender. That’s still a very important position though, especially considering what the situation was last season. Melvin Ingram missed about a month of the season last year, which resulted in Nwosu playing about 100 more snaps than he did in 2018.

That experiment came to somewhat mixed results. Nwosu had two pretty solid games vs. Denver and Tennessee, and one so-so outing vs. Pittsburgh. The Denver game in particular was really impressive, as Nwosu managed to put up a 90.8 defensive grade on 56 snaps.

Nwosu will likely revert back to his depth/substitution role for Joey Bosa and Ingram on certain snaps, barring injury. With Ingram in a contract year, it’s possible this year is crucial for both of them. Would the Chargers consider replacing Ingram with Nwosu at some point?

It doesn’t sound likely, but it’s also not impossible. Without going too far into the future, Nwosu is a solid substitute for the starting edge defenders who has become a quality pass rusher.

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