Los Angeles Chargers Depth Chart: Who will start at running back?

Chargers Analysis | Defense

With a talented defense, what spots on the depth chart are available, and which have starters already in place?

Nose Tackle

It was a mixed first season for Linval Joseph with the Chargers. He recorded 62 tackles, the third-most of his career, but failed to register anything in the sack column, something he had done every year since 2011. He played on 70% of the Chargers’ snaps, splitting time between the nose tackle and defensive tackle positions.

Frederick Smith will have the opportunity to compete for the reserve role at nose tackle as well as the rotation at defensive tackle when the Chargers line up in 4-3. He spent the entire season on the practice squad in 2020. He will compete with Jared Goldwire and Forrest Merrill, who were both added as undrafted free agents.

Defensive Line

Jerry Tillery demonstrated his versatility in 2021. He lined up both inside and on the edge. He totaled 30 tackles, 14 QB hits, 3 sacks, and 3 tackles for loss. That versatility of Tillery could leave Justin Jones lining up on the interior. He played multiple positions across the defensive line but spent the majority of the time at defensive tackle.

Christian Covington spent the 2020 season in Cincinnati and brings a veteran presence as a backup on the offensive line. He can line up at multiple spots, providing a backup option both at defensive end, but also as the nose tackle, and at defensive tackle when the Chargers line up at 4-3.

EDGE

Joey Bosa is a monster on the field and a major thorn in the side of opposing teams. Bosa played in 12 games but missed the final two while dealing with a concussion. He recorded 39 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 27 QB hits, and 1 pass deflection.

Kyler Fackrell landed with the Chargers during free agency after spending the previous five years with the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants. Fackrell totaled 4 sacks for New York last season along with 10 QB hits, 7 tackles for a loss, 2 passes defensed, and an interception which he returned for a 46-yard touchdown.

The Chargers could not stay healthy in 2020, and Uchenna Nwosu is no exception. Suiting up 13 times last year, Nwosu established new career-highs in tackles (33), QB hits (11), sacks (4.5), and passes defensed (2). He ended the season on IR due to a knee injury, though the Chargers being eliminated from the playoffs likely expedited this decision.

Jessie Lemonier was active for six games in 2020 and recorded 2 tackles and 2 QB hits. He will compete with a fourth-round pick in Chris Rumph. Both have the opportunity to earn playing time, but it will be tough at a position loaded with talent.

Linebacker

Playing in all 16 games last season as a rookie, Kenneth Murray led the Chargers’ depth chart in tackles with 107. He also recorded 5 tackles for a loss, 3 pass deflections, and 1 sack. Murray underwent surgery to address a right shoulder injury, but the expectation is that he’ll be ready to go for training camp, if not OTAs.

Kyzir White started a career-high 10 games in 2020, matching his previous total over the last two seasons combined. He set new career-high marks across the board, including tackles (77), tackles for a loss (4), and passes defensed (3). He ended the season on the IR due to a hamstring injury.

After a successful rookie campaign, the Chargers hoped that Drue Tranquill could build off his success and be a mainstay of the depth chart. Instead, his season was over before it even began after suffering a broken ankle in their season opener. 

The back end of the Chargers’ linebacker depth chart will be intriguing. Nick Niemann was added in the sixth round, and Amen Ogbongbemiga was added as a UDFA. Both have the potential to compete for a reserve role behind Murray, White, and Tranquill.

Cornerback

After releasing Casey Hayward, the Chargers could not afford to lose two cornerbacks from their depth chart in free agency. Therefore, the Chargers re-signed Michael Davis to a three-year deal with $15 million guaranteed. In 14 starts, Davis produced a career year last season. He set new highs in tackles (64), passes defensed (14), and interceptions (3), along with his first career pick-six.

Chris Harris struggled in his first year with the Chargers. For the second time in the past three seasons, Harris failed to play an entire 16-game campaign after missing just one game through the first seven years of his career. Harris did play better in Week 12 and beyond after coming off a multi-month IR stint. The Chargers hope he can bounce back, but perimeter help will be a need during the NFL Draft.

Making 13 appearances, Tevaughn Campbell accumulated 22 tackles (16 solo), 3 passes defensed, a fumble, and a pick-six. Due to an arm injury suffered in the season finale, he is questionable for the start of camp. 

Primarily a special-teams contributor, Brandon Facyson re-signed with the Chargers after playing on 281 of his 330 snaps on special teams during 2020. Second-round selection Asante Samuel will have every opportunity to compete for a starting role given the uncertainty over Campbell.

Safety

Derwin James missed the entirety of the 2020 season due to a torn meniscus he suffered during training camp. Hopefully, after missing 27 games over the past two seasons, James can finally stay on the field and pick up where he left off after being named a first-team All-Pro as a rookie in 2018.

Taking over a more prominent role following James’ injury, Nasir Adderley outplayed expectations in 2020. He finished with 69 tackles, 1 interception, 3 passes defensed, and even added 318 kick return yards. 

Alohi Gilman was the Chargers’ sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame last season and spent most of his time on special teams. Gilman didn’t see much of the field on defense until later in the season but recorded a pair of tackles in his lone start during the team’s Week 17 victory over the Chiefs.

The Chargers also added Mark Webb and Ben DeLuca. With James and Adderley likely entrenched as starters, Webb and DeLuca are really competing for a reserve role and to ensure they make the roster as special teams’ options.

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