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Which Chargers Defender Is in a Make or Break Year?

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NFL: San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Last week we went over which starter on defense is the most expendable. This time around we’re sticking with the same side of the ball, but changing it up a little. Which player in the Chargers “2 deep” is in for a make or break season. The ultimate put up or shut up season. With so many injuries it really is tough. But when you look at the depth chart the answer is obvious. It’s Jerry Attaochu. Another one of Tom Telesco’s gems that he traded up for in the 2nd round in the 2014 NFL draft. Attaochu was a 1-trick pony coming out of school and really hasn’t developed as a pass rusher.

In October of 2015, I wrote that Attaochu was turning into the pass rusher the Chargers needed. By now you know how I feel about the word pressures. At that point in the season, Attaochu was winning. In 84 fewer snaps than Melvin Ingram, Jerry had more tackles, none missed, the same amount of “wins” & QB hits, and 2.5 more sacks. I did mention how 2 of his sacks were what you’d call hustle sacks. But it’s still finishing. Attaochu didn’t have a signature move then, and he doesn’t now. The odds he ever develops one are slim to none. He’s pure speed. I think I jinxed him. Ingram blew up the 2nd half and over the next 10 games, Attaochu finished with 2 sacks.

Last year there were obvious injuries affecting his play. He appeared in 8 games but only played 177 snaps. For comparison’s sake when I wrote that piece in 2015 he had played 217 in 6 games. Like most Chargers players, health is a must.

Let’s look at both Attaochu’s sacks from this year. This 1st one is the first game of the season. It’s the 2nd quarter and it’s 3rd & 14. This sack took 4.6 seconds to get.

Yes, I understand he was chipped. Yes, that happens to a lot of pass rushers in this situation. What separates 99 from the rest of the rushers on the team is that he has a plan. Attaochu has none right here. He just runs full speed into the tackle. There’s no counter. No sort of hand usage. Just run full speed and see what happens. Luckily, the quarterback holds the ball, drifts in the pocket and gifts Attaochu a sack.

The result is there but the process is bad. The next sack is a great process and a great result. Watch this rush.

Right away you notice that there’s a plan. He takes 2 hard steps upfield. Then there’s a little jab step to make the tackle think he’s going inside. That’s enough to get him to hesitate and Attaochu explodes to the outside, dips and comes flat for a sack. That’s an NFL rush right there. With Jerry, they’re just too few and far between. Not being on the field obviously hurts this. But the Chargers need to improve their pass rush. Attaochu can be that 3rd rusher. 2017 is a contract year for Attaochu. He has a lot to prove as an actual football player. His energy is great, but now he’ll need to put it all together or else this will be his last year as a Charger.