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Chargers 2021 Pre-Free Agency Overview: Linebackers

One of the youngest position groups on the team will look to take huge steps forward in 2021.

NFL: New England Patriots at Los Angeles Chargers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

We’re coming up on the end of the positional overviews as we head into this year’s free agency period, which starts in a little over 24 hours from the moment I’m currently typing this.

This position isn’t seeing a ton of change at the top, but the players we’ll likely see backing up Kenneth Murray, Drue Tranquill, and Kyzir White in 2021 are all going to be fresh new faces.

Let’s get into it, shall we?

On Roster: Kenneth Murray Jr., Drue Tranquill, Kyzir White, Uchenna Nwosu, Emeke Egbule

The Chargers shocked the fan base and the rest of the NFL when they traded back into the first round of last year’s draft to select Murray with the 23rd-overall pick. At the time, the Bolts were still in dire need of help along the offensive line but Tom Telesco and Anthony Lynn had other plans.

The uber-athletic Murray went to start all 16 games for the Chargers in 2020. He was given the green dot to call plays from the outset as well, but actually had the responsibility taken away for a few games after he struggled to remain on top of his duties. He later gained the coaches’ trust back and enjoyed much improved play during the second half of the season. Murray finished with a Chargers rookie record for single-season tackles with 106, breaking Derwin James’ record that he set back in 2018. He also added in five behind the line and three pass breakups.

Murray’s speed and range is apparent when you watch him play. He most often got caught up in traffic inside the box and was taken advantage of in coverage early on in the season. He did buckle down and minimize YAC later in the year, but he still needs to better the nuances of coverage after not being asked to defend tight ends and slot receivers while at Oklahoma. He’s got all the God-given talent in the world, he just to needs to refine his game and the sky will be the limit for him.

What an absolute tragedy it was when Tranquill went down with a severe ankle injury in Week 1 of this past season. I can still see the play as clear as day in my head. In fact, it felt like it happened in slow motion. If I could go back and stop that offensive lineman from falling on top of his ankle, I would.

But that’s all useless hindsight now. In 2019, Tranquill impressed as a rookie not only on defense, but on special teams as well. The first-year Golden Domer blocked not one, but two separate punts, including one against Aaron Rodgers and the Packer in that absolutely shellacking they gave to Green Bay. He ended up finishing with 75 total tackles, four tackle-for-loss, and one pass breakup across 15 games played with three starts.

Tranquill is set to return as the team’s starting WILL linebacker in 2021, should Brandon Staley keep him at the same position he started at this past season. (He should)

White overcame some early injuries in his career to start a career-high 10 games this past, matching his precious 10 starts combined over the previous two seasons. Unsurprisingly, White set new high marks across aboard, including tackles (77), tackles-for-loss (four), and pass breakups (three). He also recorded his first career sack. It’s yet to be seen if the Chargers will use a base defense that utilizes two or three linebackers in the middle, but if they do trot our three, White has earned a spot next to both Murray and Tranquill. He needs to sure-up his skills in coverage, but I believe this past allowed him to get his feet under him after so much missed time during the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

Despite being the second-best edge rusher on the Chargers this past season, Nwosu was never given the chance to fully step in for Melvin Ingram during the nine games that he missed. He ended up starting just four games, playing in 13 total, and finishing the year with 33 total tackles, five tackles-for-loss, and a career-high 4.5 sacks.

Looking forward to the 2021 season, Nwosu is an easy replacement for Melvin Ingram on the edge. His TFL and sack numbers were second on the team behind only Joey Bosa and they become even more impressive given his limited snap count.

After the Chargers failed to sign Leonard Floyd or another top free agent at edge rusher, I’d expect either Nwosu to have the inside track on a starting job and/or the Bolts will spend a third or fourth-round pick on an edge player in this year’s draft.

Egbule was selected in the sixth round by the Chargers back in 2019. During his time with the Bolts, he’s seen snaps at off-ball linebacker and edge rusher. At 6’2 and 245, he’s built similarly to Nwosu and sees time the same spots, but Egbule’s skillset is best as a strongside outside linebacker. Egbule is a solid depth piece and special teams player and that’s likely his ceiling with the Chargers.

Free Agent(s): Denzel Perryman

Perryman came out of the University of Miami with the reputation as a hard-hitting headhunter. Despite being undersized, he could, and still can, lay the wood with the best of them. Unfortunately, injuries have been the root of all his problems at the NFL, keeping him from ever playing an entire 16-game thus far in his career.

Despite playing in a rotational role, Perryman started six games and finished with 48 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, a sack, and a forced fumble. He often took advantage of his limited snaps by making impact plays that often went unnoticed, unless it was that time he knocked a Chiefs player into a new time zone. That was pretty sweet.

Perryman is also a fan favorite. His personality is one of the more infectious on the team and it shows whenever he reminds the fan base to “stay hydrated.”

As of now, Perryman looks to be on his way out and into a fresh start somewhere else. A possible return isn’t entirely out of question, but I doubt he wants to return to play backup once more.