Jahleel Addae is reckless. He plays football dangerously, and there's a genuine argument to be made that he shouldn't be allowed onto the field, due to the damage he causes - not only to his opponents, but also to himself with his tendency to launch into tackles head-first. When he is on the field, though? He's the best safety on the San Diego Chargers roster.
I know you're already going to the comments section to angrily write about how stupid I am, and the various things I get up to with animals in my spare time. But hear me out. I'm not saying that Jahleel Addae is the best safety in the league, but rather the best safety that the San Diego Chargers currently have at their disposal. To make that claim, we need to look at his competition.
I’m not counting Adrian McDonald, because he's currently still on the practice squad and so doesn't actually count as part of the Chargers 53 man roster. Also, as much as I like McDonald's potential, there’s a reason he's on the practice squad.
Darrell Stuckey barely even counts as a safety, anymore. He's being used as strictly a STs player, which is the right thing to do. Stuckey might be a great athlete, but that doesn't make him a great safety. He's never put it together on defense, and, as much as it hurts to say, he's somewhat of a liability when he's forced into playtime there.
Adrian Phillips has been inactive throughout the first two weeks of the season, and while Addae's injury probably means that will change, I wouldn't expect Phillips to see a huge amount of playing time. He's not exactly a bad safety - he's just not exactly a good one, either. To me, Phillips is the definition of 'JAG' - just another guy. He's ok athletically but doesn't stand out, and his tackling and coverage are passable, but by no means fantastic. Phillips isn't a bad role player, but you could easily pick up a FA off the street and expect the same level of play.
I love Dexter McCoil as much as the next man. No, really. I do. There's no doubt in my mind that McCoil will go on to become better than Addae is now (hopefully, he can be a lot better). But that doesn't mean he's the better player currently. He isn't. As a project, McCoil is as good as you'll find. He's big, he's fast, he's young (he only just turned 25), and he's talented. He's also far from the finished product.
For someone McCoil's size, he misses a lot of tackles. It's not always a case of him going for the big hit and not wrapping up, either. He'll go low and attempt to wrap up, but the ballcarrier often is able to squirm through his grasp and carry on running. When you're the last line of defense, that's a problem you can't afford to have.
As for McCoil in coverage - well, we don't really know. He didn't look bad in preseason, but he was playing against second and third stringers - and he wasn't always winning those matchups. He could turn out to be a good coverage safety, but I'm hesitant to call him anything above average for now - and even that’s a stretch.
At the end of the day, there's every chance that Dexter McCoil plays well in Addae's absence and keeps hold of the starting job. Believe me, I desperately want that to happen. But I'm being realistic. Right now, McCoil is just an extremely promising player. He's yet to convert that to tangible results in a meaningful NFL game. Until he does, it's impossible to claim that he's definitely going to be an upgrade over Addae. I will call him an upgrade over Dwight Lowery, though.
The Chargers have been starting Lowery alongside Addae. I think Lowery is actually making Addae look worse. People see a player with dreads in the secondary give up a big play, instantly rule off Verrett (because he's perfect, and will never give up a big play - just ask Allen Robinson) and subconsciously assign blame to 'those goddamn useless safeties.' Except, most of the time, it's Lowery's fault.
Dwight Lowery was sold to Chargers fans as a 'serviceable veteran' - someone that isn't spectacular, but will do a job for you. Yeah. No. The only way Dwight Lowery is 'serviceable' is if you're used to having Richard Marshall and Derek Cox at DB (hey, wait a minute...).
My first (more minor) gripe with Lowery is that he isn't a great tackler. It's not so much that he misses tackles (which he does), but it's the way that he goes about making them. He'll stand his ground, letting the ballcarrier charge forward until they meet each other, at which point he'll attempt to make the tackle. Not only does that allow the runner to get an extra couple of yards every time, but letting your opponent have all the momentum before the collision is a great way to make sure you don't complete the tackle.
Second problem - he's slow. Since joining the Chargers, he's consistently been a second or two behind where he needs to be, and making a big hit doesn't make up for giving up the catch in the first place. I don't have any stats to back me up, but after watching back the tape from the first two games, it seems like Lowery has been involved in most of the big plays the Chargers have given up.
All of which leads us onto the main focus of this article - Jahleel Addae. Right now, you're probably thinking something along the lines of "how can he say McCoil isn't better than Addae because he hasn't proven it yet, when Addae has already proven that he's bad?" If that's you, congratulations! You're wrong. Addae is a lot better than given credit for.
The main problem with Addae is pretty blatant - he can't tackle. He launches into tackles head first, causing penalties, concussions, and missed tackles. Right? Well... no. Not really. Addae does have a tendency to recklessly lunge into tackles, but it happens a lot less frequently than people think. It's fair enough - you remember the one time he dove in head first rather than the ten times he made a textbook tackle. It's more memorable. That doesn't make it true. I quickly flicked through the two games so far this season to find some tape to back me up.
Pretty simple tackle. Addae hits the man low and brings him down.
More of the same. Addae doesn't go for the big hit, but goes low to make sure he brings down the ballcarrier.
"But wait. These are normal plays. This isn't anything special. I'd expect my safety to make these kind of tackles routinely."
These tackles aren't a crazy anomaly. Believe it or not, the majority of the time, Addae does actually tackle like a football player rather than a kickboxer. He's not the best tackler in the world (and the ones where he does go headfirst are absolutely unacceptable), but the myth that Addae doesn't know what he's doing when he tackles needs to be dispelled. He knows exactly what he's doing.
Just for good measure, here's his best play over the two games:
Addae recognises that it's a screen, uses his speed to completely blow past the block attempt and makes a textbook tackle to wrap up T.J Yeldon and end the half.
By far the biggest criticism on Addae is his tackling, but there are some people that dislike his coverage as well. The Chargers have been using Addae as the lone deep safety for the majority of his snaps, with Lowery playing in the box. You'd expect a forceful player like Addae to be the box safety, wouldn't you? God damnit John Pagano, why are you trusting Addae to roam the field and cover deep? You're the worst coach ever.
Wait, what? He's good at it?
The consistent head trauma may change this, but for now, Jahleel Addae has a high football IQ. His instincts are sound. I don't have much tape to prove his coverage abilities, because he's not really being tested. Unlike Lowery, you won't see Addae desperately sprinting to catch up with a threat that he didn't recognise. Addae diagnoses the threat, and teams up with the cornerback (or sometimes on his own) to eliminate them from the play.
Beautiful. On third down, Addae sees the danger coming out of the backfield, takes the correct angle to meet him and brings him down perfectly to hold the Chiefs to a FG.
According to PFF, Jahleel Addae is the 24th best safety so far this season. Considering each team starts two (even John Pagano defenses), that would make him a good starter for any team. He's also the 12th best safety in coverage so far.
At the end of the day, Jahleel Addae is a good football player. If you don't want him on the field because he's dangerous, that's completely fine. I actually agree with you. But if you don't want him on the field because you think he's not good enough, that's where I stop agreeing with you. In my mind, he's pretty clearly the best safety on the roster. If you disagree, that's fine. But if you don't think he's good enough to start, go and watch the tape. You'll soon change your mind. If you don't, you may have been on the receiving end of one of his headshots.