Over the last two weeks, the folks over at Pro Football Focus have been unveiling a list of their top 101 players from 2010 to 2019. It started with former Chiefs safety Eric Berry at No. 101 and ended with current Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady in the top spot.
The Chargers franchise ended up being well-represented near the top, with three current or former players landing in the top 25. Those three were current standout cornerback Casey Hayward at No. 24, former Bolt safety Eric Weddle at No. 15, and newly-signed corner Chris Harris Jr. who came in at No. 12.
We’ll go player-by-player and present the analysis given by PFF on each of their selections with my own thoughts thrown in there, as well.
No. 24 Casey Hayward
Decade Statistics (2012-2019): 344 total tackles, 10 tackles-for-loss, 22 interceptions, two pick-6s, 92 pass breakups, two forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, one fumble return touchdown
PFF’s Sam Monson: “Hayward just outperformed expectations from Day 1 in the NFL. His rookie season was one of the greatest statistical performances we have ever seen from a corner covering the slot, and he only got better as his play earned him a greater role within defenses and, ultimately, a job with the Chargers as a No. 1 corner. For the decade, he has the highest forced incompletion rate of any cornerback (18.6%) and has been one of the most underrated coverage players of his generation. Hayward doesn’t get remembered as a shutdown corner along with the biggest names at the position, but he should.”
Hayward has been one of the most-underrated players in the league for the last few years and it mostly stems from his lack of interceptions the last two seasons. After joining the Chargers in 2016, he went on to lead the NFL with seven picks. In 2017, he collected four more. But a lone season in 2018, the year the Chargers went 12-4, Hayward didn’t haul in a single interception. In 2019, he snagged another pair. But overall, it’s never been the box score for Hayward. He is just so good at shadowing receivers and not allowing anyone to make clean catches.
Hayward will turn 31 right before the team’s Week 1 matchup with the Bengals and will draw a healthy A.J. Green. Most say that corners fall off pretty steeply following that age 30 season, but I don’t forecast that in Hayward’s future. His game was never predicated on physical ability. He will win with his sharp instincts and keen intuition. Knowing Hayward, he’ll be three steps ahead of whoever gets to lineup opposite of him in 2020.
No. 15 Eric Weddle
Decade Statistics (2010-2019): 916 tackles, 25 tackles-for-loss, six sacks, 25 interceptions, three pick-6s, 80 pass breakups, eight forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries
PFF’s Sam Monson: “The best — and most consistent — safety over the past decade, Eric Weddle retired after last season after never earning a season grade as low as even average. At a position where consistency is incredibly hard to maintain, Weddle was phenomenal year after year in every facet of play. Weddle was a modern-day prototype safety who could do everything that was asked of him at an extremely high level, and he showed later in his career that he could do exactly the same thing in a new team with new requirements. Weddle had three seasons this decade that earned an overall PFF grade above 90.0.”
Weddle’s place on this list makes him the number one safety of the last decade by PFF, and deservedly so. The former second-round pick did just about everything for the Chargers. Weddle’s consistency on the back - something PFF continues to rave about - has been sorely missed from the team since he signed with the Ravens mid-decade but that issue was resolved much sooner than expected when the team landed Derwin James just a couple years later.
At the end of the day, there were a number of great safeties that played during the 2010s, but Weddle’s spot atop them all just speaks volumes about his play, no matter the jersey or team he played for. He was never the most physically-gifted or athletically-blessed, but by golly was he as smart as anyone to roam a secondary. The game is going to miss him, but man did he leave a lasting impression on everyone he had the chance to be around.
No. 12 Chris Harris Jr.
Decade statistics (2011-2019): 518 total tackles, 23 tackles-for-loss, 4.5 sacks, 20 interceptions, four pick-6s, 86 pass breakups, six forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries
PFF’s Sam Monson: “Chris Harris Jr.’s career has been a remarkable thing to behold. An undrafted player out of Kansas, Harris forced his way onto the team as a nickel corner, played so well he earned snaps outside in base and then so well at that that he became a true No.1 cornerback who didn’t even play in the slot anymore. Harris has been targeted over 600 times in the decade, and yet surrendered just 6.3 yards per reception. Over the course of the 2010s, only Richard Sherman allowed fewer receiving yards per snap in coverage than the 0.89 Chris Harris did, and nobody did it with a more varied role within his defense or a tougher path to success than hitting the league as an undrafted free agent.”
Harris made these rankings with zero snaps played as a Chargers, but that doesn’t mean the team who now employs him can’t get excited about it. Even after one bad season where he was forced to play a lop-sided amount of snaps on the outside - compared to splitting snaps down the middle throughout the season - there’s no reason to believe Harris won’t snap right back with some positive regression.
Only two out of Harris’ nine NFL seasons have come and gone without him recording at least one interception: his rookie season and his 2019 campaign. If history is anything to believe, Harris’ play in 2020 wis much more likely to resemble the years from 2012-2018 than his latest rendition.
Behind the Niners’ Richard Sherman, Harris makes this list as the No. 2 cornerback in the entire NFL over the last decade. After seeing how often he terrorized Philip Rivers over that time period, fans should be thanking their lucky stars they don’t have to face him twice a year anymore.