Over the last week, the fellows at Pro Football Focus slowly unveiled their top-50 players in the NFL for the 2020 season. Among that 50 was three current Chargers which included safety Derwin James, cornerback Casey Hayward, and defensive end Joey Bosa.
To follow up the list, PFF’s Sam Monson wrote in-depthly about each player listed on Wednesday morning. Going player-by-player, let’s see what he had to say about these stud defenders.
#31 S Derwin James
“Only injury kept Derwin James from being higher on this list, but, like Jamal Adams, he is a pioneer of the positionless role within a defense — he has made an impact all over the field for the Chargers. James’ overall PFF grade of 87.8 as a rookie showed how dominant he could be, and while he didn’t quite equal that last season, it was on fewer than 300 snaps before injury shut him down. James can defend the run, cover close to the line and in deeper zones, and even rush the passer at a high level. He could become one of the best defenders in all of football in a hurry.”
Man, what a bummer last year was without the opportunity to watch James play other than five meaningless games. If there was going to be a big buzzkill following his performance as a rookie, that was it.
Although he didn’t wreck a ton of havoc in those final five contests, you could tell the defense was a different unit with him back on the field. He did collect three tackles-for-loss in that span which was just one shy of his total from 2018 so that’s a little silver-lining for you. He finished with 34 total tackles, the three for loss, and a single pass breakup.
With some new defenders added to that side of the ball, James may not have to play so many different positions like he did in ‘18 and likely would have played last year. Chris Harris will command the majority of slot corner snaps and Kenneth Murray has the chance to be the team’s main nickel linebacker which would allow James to roam more in those sub packages instead of worrying about a potential mismatch from the running back on a linebacker.
Overall, I agree with Monson’s prediction of James becoming a defensive superstar sooner rather than later. He’s been made for that type of success ever since he stepped on the field against the Chiefs in week one of 2018. In 2020, he’ll have every chance to take it for himself.
#39 CB Casey Hayward
“Casey Hayward has been one of the game’s best cornerbacks ever since he entered the league — it just took teams a little while to realize it. He began his career with a season covering the slot that produced absurd coverage numbers, but over the past few seasons, he has been a standout as the Chargers’ No. 1 corner. Over the past decade, he has the highest forced incompletion rate of any cornerback to play in the league, and he has never earned a PFF coverage grade below 73.0.”
After posting zero interceptions in 2018, Hayward bounced back a bit with a pair of takeaways, bringing his total to 13 since he joined the Chargers four years ago. He also added 32 tackles and eight pass breakups this past season.
While the usual Pro Bowl and All-Pro voters normally gloss over Hayward and his year-to-year performances, PFF is usually the one driving the Hayward fan club since interceptions aren’t the only stat they use to grade defensive backs.
Some will point to the game against the Broncos in Denver as proof Hayward is on the decline now that he’s over the age-30 threshold, but everyone who watched the game understood that it was more of Courtland Sutton making spectacular plays rather than Hayward not doing his job to the best of his ability.
#47 DE Joey Bosa
“Joey Bosa had arguably his best season last year, but such was the success of his brother in his rookie year, it seemed like few noticed. Bosa the elder notched 72 total pressures and was one of just five edge rushers to finish with a pass-rushing grade of 90.0 or higher. He also notched 49 defensive stops, which led all edge rushers by six, and he was doing this with less help along the defensive front for the Chargers than he has typically had in the past.”
This is the one that might cause fans to disagree and argue for a higher placing on this list. In fact, if you’re of the “Joey is better than his brother Nick” mindset, then you’re going to be even more upset as the little bear was ranked six spots higher at #41.
Like Monson said in the article, I think Bosa had the best all-around year of his young career in 2019, regardless of him not reaching a career-high in sacks. His progression as a run defender from 2018 to 2019 was astounding and it’s even more impressive that he was able to be the quality pass-rusher that he is while stopping the run at such an elite level.
The lack of blitzing by Gus Bradley certainly affected the potential for Bosa last season as he was double-teamed at a much higher rate than previous seasons. With no other threats along the line besides his counterpart Melvin Ingram, offensive lines could focus much more on neutralizing number 97.
Even with the lowest-blitz rate in the NFL as a team, Bosa was still able to finish with 67 total tackles, 18 tackles-for-loss, 11.5 sacks, and a forced fumble.