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Chargers 2021 Pre-Free Agency Overview: Secondary

We’re rounding out the positional overviews with the boys on the back end.

Los Angeles Chargers v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

We got out last piece of the positional overviews today and we’re talking about that oh-so important group of players in the secondary.

“But Michael, why aren’t you talking about the special teams players at all?”

Well, Champ, I don’t want to. We know what’s happening there and it’s not worth an article. Also, free agency starts later today and I didn’t get these done soon enough to give that one a whirl.

Moving on.

This position group was held at the BEST in the NFL ahead of the 2020 season. The Bolts were going to trot out FOUR former All-Pro players in at the same time. Casey Hayward, Chris Harris Jr., Desmond King, and Derwin James were going to take the NFL by storm this season. That was, until the injury bug reared its’ fat, ugly head.

James was lost for the season before it began, King was traded for a sixth because he was disgruntled and Anthony Lynn didn’t want to put up with it, Harris missed half the season, and Hayward was shell of his former self.

It was just so, so bad.

But where does the unit stand right now and where do they go from here? Let’s find out.

On Roster: S Derwin James, CB Michael Davis, CB Chris Harris, S Nasir Adderley, S Alohi Gilman, CB John Brannon, CB Donte Vaughn

After missing 27 of the past 32 possible games, James is expected back in 2021, ready to reclaim his spot as one of the NFL’s top safeties in the NFL with the help of new head coach and defensive savant, Brandon Staley. Even though it’s been two years since James was named a First-Team All-Pro as a rookie, he’s still held in high regard around NFL circles. Despite the time missed, no one has lost confidence in his abilities to do it all for a defense. Until Week 1 of the 2021 season gets here, Chargers fans will be holding their breaths every single time they see DJ running around on a practice field.

Davis was re-signed by the Chargers on Monday to a three-year deal with $15 million guaranteed. According to Overthecap.com, Davis’ cap hit is just $6.4 million in 2021, allowing the Chargers to have around $33 million left to work with this offseason.

The move to retain Davis is huge. For a time after the recent release of Casey Hayward, the Bolts’ cornerback room was simply Chris Harris Jr. and a handful of unproven UDFAs. Davis returning means the Chargers won’t be forced to reach for a cornerback in the first round of this year’s draft and gives the team a young, promising player at the position for the near future.

In his first year with the Chargers, Harris missed a career-high seven games. In fact, he missed more games in 2020 than he has in his previous nine seasons with the Broncos, only adding to this idea of an “injury curse” that the Bolts can’t seem to shake. In those seven games he did play, Harris recorded 37 total tackles, a tackle-for-loss, a half sack, two pass breakups, and an interception. Unsurprisingly, his lone INT was the least he’s snagged since his rookie season and his pair of PBUs were a career-low by a wide margin. History says he’ll bounce back and play most of, if not, all of next season while also continuing to offer his veteran presence to Davis and a potential rookie from this year’s draft.

After missing his entire rookie season with a hamstring injury, Adderley stepped in as the team’s starting free safety following Rayshawn Jenkins’ transition to strong safety in place of the injured James. In his first real season in the NFL, Adderley struggled quite a bit. His tackling ability as the team’s last line of defense was very spotty and his decision-making as the team’s single-high defender also left a lot to be desired. Gus Bradley’s defense put a ton of stress on the pseudo-rookie. As naturally talented as we all thought Nas to be, those assumptions were wrong at the time. In light of his struggles, Adderley picked off Drew Brees for his first NFL interception and finished the year with 60 tackles and three pass breakups.

There’s plenty of reason to believe Adderley will improve and become a much better player in the Chargers’ new defense in 2021, especially with Staley making the assertion that the team will be playing a lot more cover two going forward. This gives Nas less responsibility and shrinks his area to cover by a good bit. With Jenkins now in Jacksonville, expect Nas to be right back in the starting lineup next season.

Gilman was the Chargers’ sixth-round pick in last year’s draft out of South Bend. At the time of his selection, the Bolts had six different Notre Dame defenders on the roster, which was just right, for some reason. Gilman didn’t see much time on defense until later in the season, spending most of his time on special teams. He did eventually see time at strong safety near the end of the season, recording a pair of tackles in his lone start during the team’s Week 17 victory over the Chiefs. He’s been held as a smart player with high marks in leadership qualities which will help him as the team transitions into a new staff.

Brannon and Vaughn were both signed as UDFAs following last year’s draft. Brannon came via FCS Western Carolina while Vaughn played his ball at Chargers East Univer— I mean, Notre Dame. Vaughn never saw time on the active roster but Brannon recorded just five snaps in a single game, recording zero statistics. Brannon and Vaughn are both lengthy 6’2 corners that offer intriguing physical profiles, but it will be up to Staley and his staff to deem them worthy of sticking around past this offseason.

Free Agent(s): CB Tevaughn Campbell, S Jahleel Addae, S Jaylen Watkins, CB Brandon Facyson

Campbell was a project player Lynn and his staff invested in after seeing his potential during his time in the CFL. Due to injuries ahead of him, he got his shot to start four games, finishing the year with 22 total tackles, three pass breakups, and a huge pick-six that helped the team overcome a pesky Jets team. Campbell proved to be fine depth at the bottom of the roster, but him being 28 years old is a bit of a concern for his prospects of returning. It’s likely be gets passed over for the younger players at the position.

Addae made his return to the Chargers in 2021 following a string of injuries to the safety position. In his 11 games played this past season, he recorded 21 tackles, two PBUs, and an interceptions, providing some needed reinforcements as the season wore on. He’s not likely to return but he’ll likely remain on the team’s radar should injuries pop up once more.

Watkins was another former Charger who returned to the team to provide some depth to the position. He saw one start and in thee games total, finishing with eight tackles. At 29 years old, he’s the younger of him and Addae, so I could see the Chargers potentially retaining him as depth should they decide it’s not a position they wish to address in this year’s draft. As of right now, James, Adderley, and Gilman are the only safeties currently on the roster.

Facyson was originally signed as an undrafted free agent out of Virginia Tech University following the 2018 draft. His 6’2 size was exactly what former defensive coordinator Gus Bradley coveted in his corners and his eagerness to stick his pads into opposing ball-carriers made him an easy player to commit to as a developmental project.