The beauty of a head coach in the National Football League is the ability to take a star and make him an even bigger star. Former Chargers head coach Bobby Ross acquired a second-year player in Junior Seau, and he did just that in 1992. He was turning the beast of an inside linebacker into the league’s first real defensive hybrid — the first the NFL had ever seen at that time.
First-year head coach Brandon Staley does not have the luxury of a Seau, but he does a rookie that he can use as the shiny toy in the Chargers’ new-look defense, at least scheme-wise. Fourth-round pick Chris Rumph II might be that GI Joe with Kung Fu grip type that can play several spots and excel.
In the 2020 draft, there were a decent number of ‘big downside’ evaluations on Charger’s rookie phenom Justin Herbert. Rumph didn’t have that big of a downside grade. He wasn’t the first-round talent either that some thought he was, but Rumph is a scheme player. Not the type for some teams, but he fits well with many others. The Chargers being the biggest one.
The respected notes on the former Duke and ACC standout were his motor and his ability to stand in two different position rooms. Hand in the dirt, up on the edge, a Mike in a four-man front or an under-sized but quick Mac in a 3-4 scheme. That hybrid look is authentic for Staley and Rumph.
Staley knows what Rumph II will do in his 3-4 scheme, which hopefully replaces Melvin Ingram and be that outside rush threat.
Chris Rumph’s upside for the LA Chargers could be even greater than Melvin Ingram.
“I’m excited to play with somebody who is just relentless to the quarterback as he is (meaning Joey Bosa),” Rumph told the media. “So, I’m ready for that and the competition, because if he’s trying to get there, and I’m trying to get there at the same time, somebody’s got to get there first. So, it’s all going to make all of us better, improve the team, and make a run to the Super Bowl.”
If you as Rumph Jr., what he brings to the league level is his IQ. Rumph’s father, Chris Sr., is the same position coach for the Chicago Bears, so Junior does have a little bit of a head start regarding expectations and understanding the game at the league level.
But to know what this potential star is, to know his numbers. As a Blue Devil, Rumph was team captain in 2020, finished 2nd team All-ACC and started 11 of 36 career games. He grabbed 124 total tackles and two forced fumbles. But what caught the eye of the scouts was his 33 tackles for a loss and 17.5 sacks.
Pro Football Focus reports that he had 346 plays on the defensive line, mainly what they call an LEO or hybrid linebacker/end edge. He also lined up in the box 193 times as the left inside linebacker or Mike. But the best way to explain Rumph coming into the league is that he is one of those ‘tweeners.’
“You gotta have players on the edge who can play on their feet, that can do a lot of different jobs,” Staley told the media. “That’s kind of the style of how we play.”
But there are two dynamics with Rumph II. Every player coming into the league has something that is replacing someone or fighting for the spot with a veteran.
Replacing Melvin Ingram, the Chargers first-round pick at 18th overall in 2012, will be a chore. In Ingram’s first year, he had a total of 55 tackles (solo/assisted) with just one sack. It took four years for Ingram to reach that all-star status with 13 sacks in 2015 and a career of 49 sacks and three interceptions.
Part two of that dynamic is Uchenna Nwosu. A second-round pick out of Southern Cal, Nwosu filled in for Ingram for the last three years and was highly productive. 153 tackles, 13 tackles-for-loss, and ten sacks in his three-year career with the Chargers. His upside was just about the same as Rumph II – Motor, speed, and a tremendous vertical push.
Staley and his new defense are rated one of the top 5 in one poll and the top 12 in another. However, what Staley will have to hope is not what but Anthony Lynn during his tenure as head coach of the Chargers, and that’s injuries.
Barring injuries and Rumph’s ability to compete with Nwosu, the Chargers will have one of the top three talented defenses in the NFL. How they perform and stay healthy is another story.