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Why the Chargers drafted safety JT Woods

The Bolts love Woods’ versatility as another chess piece on the back end.

Allstate Sugar Bowl - Baylor v Ole Miss Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The Chargers could have taken a number of different positions when they were on the board at #79. A deep-threat wide receiver is a big need, as well as help at linebacker and along the interior of the defensive line. However, the Bolts decided to reach for free safety JT Woods out of Baylor.

Immediately, you’re likely asking yourself, “Why did they use a pick on a safety this early?” That’s a very understandable question. They already have Derwin James, Nasir Adderley, Alohi Gilman, and Mark Webb. That’s four whole safeties they’ve drafted over the previous three seasons. So what is it about Woods that compelled the Chargers to use their third-round pick to acquire his services?

For starters, it’s tough to be legitimate production. In 2021, Woods tied for the league lead with six interceptions. In 2020, he had three more. That’s nine interceptions over the past two seasons, and that’s compared to just a single touchdown allowed in coverage as the nearest defender.

Jumping off from his notable production, let’s take a look at his insane testing numbers.

At this year’s NFL combine, Woods posted an eye-popping 4.36 in the forty-yard dash. If my memory serves, that immediately makes him the fastest defender on the Chargers. You add in a 39.5-inch vertical and a 10’8 broad jump and you’ve got yourself one of the most-athletic defensive backs in this draft class.

According to Kent Lee Platte and his Relative Athletic Score model, Woods’ RAS ended up at a 9.43. For context, anything above 9.00 is considered “elite.” Dating back to 1987, Woods’ athletic profile would rank him 50th among 863 safeties over the past 35 years.

That’s pretty insane if you ask me.

Like so many other Telesco picks over the past decade, JT Woods was a Senior Bowl invite, joining the team’s first-round pick Zion Johnson. Woods wound up securing the game-sealing interception for his squad during that week’s exhibition, as well, which likely did him a solid in helping solidifying his “ball-hawk” status.

Woods saw 94 percent of his snaps in 2021 on the back end while also seeing some time at slot corner and in the box. Due to his slender frame, I highly doubt he sees time in the box at the NFL but being able to rotate him into the slot allows for the type of flexibility Brandon Staley wants in his secondary. With Adderley set to be a free agent following this upcoming season, Woods is likely being viewed as his eventual replacement. In 2022, adding that third safety to play back with Nas in nickel and dime packages would free up James to roam throughout the box and keep him in the best position to affect opposing offenses.

In an ideal world, Woods would develop into a rangy, versatile, and athletic free safety with sideline-to-sideline range that would allow the Chargers to use a variety of defensive alignments without giving up too much in any one area. But as it stands, Woods needs to polish up his tackling technique to make sure he doesn’t become the next running joke in a long line of Chargers defenders who have made it into a number of highlight reels for opposing offenses in recent years. If he can become a competent tackler, this pick will look a lot better. If he can’t, this would add to an already-frustratingly long list of third-round busts by Telesco.