Desmond King was far and away the most exciting rookie the team had during the 2017 season. In a draft haul that included Mike Williams, Forrest Lamp, and Dan Feeney, who would have thought that the team’s fifth-round pick out of Iowa would be the one making the most noise?
After working his way into the starting lineup as the team’s slot corner, King has done nothing but expand his presence on the field and show the coaching staff just how versatile he can be. Whether it is covering the opposing team’s tight end (who usually towers over King) or being tasked with bringing some heat off the edge, King has excelled at just about everything asked of him.
He finished his rookie year with 71 total tackles, four sacks, six tackles-for-loss, five passes defensed, and a single interception which he returned 90 yards for a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day.
That’s not too shabby for a rookie defensive back that was deemed “too slow” prior to the draft. It’s not like he was only a year removed from winning the Jim Thorpe Award or anything, which is give to college football’s top defensive back.
The ramifications of Joey Bosa’s absence have been felt throughout the defense but it has been especially tough on the secondary through the first month of the season. With no apparent pass rush, opposing quarterbacks such as Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff have had all the time in the world to pick apart coverages while guys like King, Casey Hayward, and Trevor Williams struggle to cling to receivers for a prolonged period of time.
Fortunately for the guys on the back-end, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has done wonders to create a consistent pass rush by moving players around where they can utilize their skill-set and maximize production, i.e., moving the stronger Damion Square to the “big end” spot in place of Bosa while using the quicker defensive end Isaac Rochell at more of an inside alignment.
All of the benefits were reaped against the Browns this past Sunday as the team took down Baker Mayfield five times. Besides the defensive line, no one benefited more than King who snagged a pair of interceptions off plays where Mayfield was rushed to get the ball out as quick as possible.
The first interception was a thing of beauty as the pass-rush and coverage worked in sync to allow for the pick.
Starting in the slot on the right side of the formation, King was linked up with Jarvis Landry on a intermediate crossing route. Jahleel Addae was tasked with flying off the edge and he did a phenomenal job of forcing Mayfield out of the pocket. Obviously flustered, Mayfield looked downfield for his most-seasoned target. At the time, Landry had half of a step on King but #20 showed incredible hustle to get back in position and undercut the pass before taking it back inside the Browns’ 20-yard line.
The second interception was much easier for King as all he needed to do was sit in his zone coverage and read the quarterback’s eyes. King bolted in front of a pass intended for tight end David Njoku in the middle of the field and was able to out-wrestle him for his team-leading second interception of the season.
King’s impact on the team’s recent success doesn’t start and end with the defensive side of the ball, however.
In the last few weeks, King finally got the nod to take over return duties and has done nothing but raise the level of play throughout the third phase of the game.
King has returned 10 punts this season for an average of 15.3 yards. He has only returned three kickoffs but has averaged an even 26 yards per return.
Andre Roberts has been the best kick and punt returner in the NFL so far this season. pic.twitter.com/VbUjMpwkPx— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 18, 2018
Through six games, King has amassed 17 total tackles, two tackles-for-loss, and the aforementioned pair of interceptions. He also currently sits as the #4 cornerback in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus.
Byron Jones has been the NFL's best cornerback through six weeks. pic.twitter.com/GciLKwWLx9— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 17, 2018
If the second-year product out of Iowa can continue to create a spark alongside the likes of rookie-phenom Derwin James, the Chargers will have a pair of young game-breakers to work with for the foreseeable future.