RB Joshua Kelley
Through the first two preseason games, only UDFA Elijah Dotson was able to find the end zone for the Chargers. That changed Friday night when Kelley broke loose for a massive 75-yard touchdown in the first quarter that saw him cut back and make a safety miss before outracing one final defender in the open field. It was by far the longest run by Kelley in his professional career and he showed notable burst to break away. That play also likely helped Kelley take sole possession of the backup job behind Austin Ekeler.
LB Daiyan Henley
It seemed like an interesting choice to start the game with Amen Ogbongbemiga and Nick Neimann, and waiting to pair Daiyan Henley with the third stringers. Despite not having a top-notch supporting cast around him, and only 10 snaps to put on a show, Henley ended the day with an impressive pass break-up and interception.
the ranger reporting for duty— Los Angeles Chargers (@chargers) August 26, 2023
| CBS LA + ESTRELLA + NFLN pic.twitter.com/2BIQDh3rmC
The linebacker room is looking similar to 2021, when Kyzir White, Drue Tranquill, and Kenneth Murray were in a frequent rotation with one another and often deployed situationally. In 2022, Drue Tranquill led the snap share for inside linebackers at 93.41%, with Kenneth Murray in tow at 68.67%. Kyle Van Noy would have commanded a stronger rotation in the middle if Bosa’s injury hadn’t flexxed him to the edge, but this made Troy Reeder “next man up” on the inside. As the third inside linebacker for the majority of the season, Reeder only saw a 5.92% defensive snap share.
Staley was a little more creative with his linebacker usage in 2021, deploying the top snap-shareholder Kyzir White only 84.35% of the snaps, and featuring Tranquill and Murray more evenly at 48.24% and 31.30% respectively. Even Amen Ogbongbemiga and Nick Neimann saw more snaps in 2021 as injuries created opportunities, wth snap shares of 9.46% and 5.67% between the two of them. These shares dropped to 1.34% and .76% in 2022.
Don’t be shocked if we see Daiyan Henley’s snap share hover between 35-50%, with Kenneth Murray’s likely dropping to around 50-55%, returning to a fluid package-specific deployment like we saw in 2021.
Bailey ends the preseason with a PFF grade of 88.5, a monumental leap from his prior grades of 70.0, 58.0, and 57.5 in his prior three preseasons. His pass blocking efficiency rating was 98.1, and in 86 pass blocking snaps, he only allowed one sack that came off a late stunt in week two. Perhaps most importantly, Bailey moved from right guard to right tackle this week and didn’t miss a beat. With Zack’s improvement, and rookie Jordan McFadden only allowing one pressure in his 80 pass blocks this preseason, the Chargers offensive line depth appears both serviceable and versatile.
Doss didn’t break out in week three by any means, but his cumulative work in the preseason may have earned him a spot on the active roster, or at the very least made him a priority add on the Chargers’ practice squad. Despite playing with shaky quarterback play, Doss displayed sharp route running and reliable hands, often looking like Easton Stick’s go-to guy. That said, he doesn’t bring Jalen Guyton’s speed, likely meaning a healthy receiver room will flex him back to the practice squad.
Woods has made a strong case all preseason that he’s ready to play on Sundays. That is not to say there aren’t still concerns, but posting the team-high in tackles in the final preseason matchup was a great way to bounce back after a rough 2022 campaign.
(To note, this isn’t meant to roast the fans posting these concerns, all of these comments were justified at the time. Woods was ABSOLUTELY a liability last year with his poor tackling, and it contributed to him barely seeing the field)
JT Woods cannot be trusted to tackle NFL players. He will be a liability. #BoltUp— HopeUpBoltUp (@AdroitAyers) August 27, 2022
Watching JT Woods try to tackle is like watching someone covered in butter try to pick up a bar of wet soap— ChargersMemes (@ChargersMemes) August 27, 2022
JT Woods read this play well but could not finish the tackle for loss on Mark Ingram. pic.twitter.com/WDFWGSSs4K— Gavino Borquez (@GavinoBorquez) August 27, 2022
Let’s see how his improvement can be quantified.
In the 2022 preseason, JT Woods missed four tackles en route to collecting eight solo and one assisted tackle, for a terrible missed tackle rate of 30.8%. One of these tackles was considered a defensive stop. He was also targeted four times in 58 coverage snaps, all four of which were caught for a total of 47 yards.
In 2023, JT finished with eight solo tackles, two assists, and only one missed tackle, lowering his missed tackle percentage to 9.1%. Four of these tackles were considered defensive stops. He was targeted eight times on 57 coverage snaps, but only allowed four completions for 51 yards, while adding a pass break-up.
His tackling is far from polished, but it’s improved. His quick run reads and ability to come downhill fast will be an asset once he improves his angles and continues to progress his ability to bring down ball carriers.
Sorry for this terrible video... but I’m losing faith that the NFL will make our All-22 footage accessible, so here’s you go.
JT Woods has turned a big corner. He's diagnosing the run so quick, and comes downhill with speed to assist the play.— Kyle DeDiminicantanio (@TheKyleDe) August 26, 2023
Cutting off the running lanes and forcing a redirect is the role of the DI/Edges in Staley's scheme... JT is showing the chops for arriving on time to clean up. pic.twitter.com/m7aaBLvY0K
Many of these winners are categorized as such because they deserve to take a spot away from an active squad member. Sarell may very well survive the cuts, but it’s very hard to make an argument that he’s a better fit at swing tackle than Zack Bailey. While Bailey impressed all preseason by only allowing two total pressures, Sarell averaged two per game, including three total sacks throughout the preseason. While he fared decently against third and second string units, when 49ers chose to play many of their starters, he was immediately exposed as a liability. Of the four pressures PFF assigned to the Chargers’ offensive lineman, Sarell allowed two of them, both which were sacks. Matt Kaskey and Austin Pleasants were the only other two to allow a pressure, who are likely a better representation of Sarell’s peers than Zack Bailey, Jordan McFadden, or Will Clapp.
WR John Hightower
John Hightower made some noise in camp, but his preseason performances made little noise. While Doss may have played his way onto the active roster, Hightower only managed to snag one reception all preseason, despite being targeted six times.
It’s extremely fair to point out that Stick and Duggan weren’t exactly throwing dimes or staying on-schedule, but Hightower didn’t rise to the challenge and give Staley or Kellen Moore a tough decision comes cuts.
Friday night was a small loss for Isaiah Spiller amongst an overall encouraging preseason campaign. Had Spiller been the back to break out on a 75-yard scamper, he might have found himself in an open battle to spell Austin Ekeler. As it currently stands, Kelley planted his flag in the turf, and will open the season as the number two back in an offense that previously allowed both Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliot to post respectable numbers.
The good news for Spiller is he did enough to get Larry Rountree punted. He’s solidified as the third back on the roster, and will enter the season as the only running back signed through 2024... so expect opportunities to come his way.
Duggan did some things well on Friday night. He calmed down after a very rough first drive, and managed to throw an off-schedule touchdown to Hunter Kampmoyer and displayed some running ability, adding 51 yards on six rushing attempts.
However, running a read-option or tucking and running against backups isn’t a confidence-inspiring performance. If the Chargers are going to give Duggan a roster spot, you’d like to see a passing line better than 4/9 completed passes for 15 yards.
In a perfect world, Staley doesn’t waste a roster spot on a player that has zero risk of being poached off the practice squad, and Duggan can work on developing at his own pace.
Who was a Winner or Loser in your eyes, Bolts From the Blue? Keep the analysis going below!