The LA Chargers training camp is finally underway, along with plenty of battles for roles on the offense and defense in 2021. One heavily undersold battle for playing time is the competition for the second outside cornerback position between Asante Samuel Jr. and Brandon Facyson.
Despite reports that Facyson impressed in Spring training and reports that Facyson was taking first team reps ahead of Asante Samuel Jr., most have considered it to be a nearly foregone conclusion that Asante Samuel Jr. will win the CB2 job.
While that certainly could happen, it is far from a foregone conclusion for a multitude of reasons.
Why Brandon Facyson could be a starter for the LA Chargers:
To begin with, Brandon Facyson gives Brandon Staley an extremely consistent player with a known floor. While Facyson has not shown many starting traits at the NFL level yet, he has shown that he has an excellent ability to keep receivers from beating him deep. When Facyson concedes a catch (which admittedly happens frequently), he quickly gets to the receiver and makes a sound tackle, preventing large gains.
In the 2021 Brandon Staley scheme, that type of safe player may be exactly what is desired in the absence of a second high-level man-cover option like Michael Davis. Chunk plays are what kill defenses, and Staley's 2020 Los Angeles Rams defense gave up the fewest 20+ yard plays.
The most efficient way to score points is to hit a home run, and Staley's defensive scheme is designed to prevent those plays. Brandon Facyson is a player that fits that philosophy well.
An important part of avoiding large plays from the cornerback position is avoiding pass interference penalties. Facyson clearly has a leg up in this category over Asante Samuel Jr., who is known for his tight press coverage and occasional grabbiness.
That tendency to grab receivers is likely to get him into trouble in the NFL until he learns what levels of hand usage are acceptable in the NFL. Pass interference penalties are more important in the NFL since the penalty is a spot foul instead of the 15 yard penalty that exists in college. By avoiding penalties, Facyson has another way of avoiding giving up chunk plays.
This point about penalties brings up another reason why Facyson is more likely to start early in 2021. Cornerback is one of the most difficult positions for rookies to play well in coming out of college, and we should not expect starting level play from Asante Samuel Jr. out of the gate.
If you look at PFWA's 2020 all-rookie team, you will see stars all over the place, but certainly not at corner. 2020's all-rookie team corners were Cameron Dantzler and L'Jarius Snead who played just above average at best. This result is not due to a lack of draftable talent either. In 2020, there were six corners taken in the first round of the NFL Draft.
It is no knock on Asante Samuel Jr. to say that he is unlikely to play at an NFL-average level in the first several weeks of 2021. The cornerback position is simply incredibly difficult to learn how to play at the NFL level coming out of college.
For all of these reasons, it is absolutely right for Brandon Staley and the Los Angeles Chargers coaches to give Brandon Facyson the starting job in training camp until Asante Samuel Jr. proves that he is ready to play. To this point in his career, Facyson is a reliable though unspectacular corner who gives up a high percentage of passes but also does not allow players to get by him.
Also, it is not unreasonable to expect that Facyson can take a step forward in 2021 in coverage. Facyson has the ideal length for a corner at 6'2" and reasonable speed and athleticism, demonstrated by his Relative Athletic Score of 7.13. While a jump forward should not be expected, we have seen corners with raw, untapped potential jump to new heights before (see: Michael Davis in 2020).
Given his potential for improvement in coverage, his ability to prevent big plays, and the history of struggling rookies at the cornerback position in recent years, Brandon Facyson has a legitimate shot to start at the second outside cornerback spot in 2021.
If I had to give percentages on likelihood to start in Week 1 at this point, I would give a slight edge to Brandon Facyson at a 60% chance with Asante Samuel Jr. having a 40% chance.
This, of course, is subject to change depending on camp performance. Regardless, both players should see the field plenty in Week 1 in dime packages, and their performance in real game situations should determine who plays more going into the later weeks of 2021.