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With a healthy Derwin James, the Chargers are the best in the AFC West

Derwin James is the NFL's best safety when he's healthy. He's one of many parts that make the Los Angeles Chargers the biggest threat to KC.

Thanks in no small part to Derwin James, the Los Angeles Chargers have toppled the Kansas City Chiefs for just the third time since 2014. The Chargers utilized a strong defensive performance against the 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes to clinch the victory, 30-24.

Despite various miscues on the offensive side of the ball, the defense put the Chargers in place to win the game on multiple occasions. And James’ presence on the field was integral in the win.

Los Angeles Chargers S Derwin James is the NFL’s best

It doesn’t take a savvy football mind to understand James’ impact on the Chargers’ defense. With James back in the lineup, Los Angeles is 2-1 and trending towards first place in the AFC West. More importantly, their victory over Kansas City pushes the Chiefs to last place in the division.

No one in the NFL moves like James does, specifically at the safety position. Few are his size at 6’2″, 215 pounds. And even fewer move with the speed and agility he does. James has amassed 18 total tackles as well as a half-sack and a pass breakup.

James’ place on the field is taken into account by opposing offenses like that of a MIKE linebacker. Wherever No. 33 is, you can bet opposing quarterbacks know. But, of course, it’s for a good reason.

Since entering the league, James has already accumulated 148 total tackles in just 24 games. He’s ripped off 18 total plays on the ball and another 4 sacks when on the field. Despite missing the majority of the 2019 season and all of 2020, James is absolutely in consideration for best safety in the NFL. He just has to stay on the field.

James is a movable chess piece for LA

While few people in the NFL move with his athleticism, fewer defenders can line up in the variety of positions James can. Routinely spotted on the defensive line, as a linebacker, covering receivers out wide or in the slot, or as a true free safety — James is quite literally a chess piece for head coach Brandon Staley and the Chargers’ coaching staff.

The fact that he can line up in a bevy of positions is one thing. The fact that he lines up at all these positions with elite levels of success is a feat in and of itself.

Few players in NFL history have been so good at multiple positions that they can impact the game from all over the field. Recent memory invokes players like Khalil Mack, who earned All-Pro honors at multiple positions. James is far from Khalil Mack’s levels of success at multiple positions, but he certainly has the potential and is on that trajectory.

Chargers are built to win the AFC West

In short, this Chargers team is built to win the division. And with a healthy Derwin James, they should absolutely be considered favorites to dethrone the Chiefs. Versatile players like Asante Samuel Jr., Nasir Adderley, Drue Tranquill, Kyzir White, and Alohi Gilman are pivotal members of a defense with speed and coverage skills to stop the aerial assault.

Linval Joseph and Jerry Tillery anchor the inside against the run while Joey Bosa continues to be one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. Unlike social media rumors, Bosa is also an elite run defender.

And of course, all of this is without mentioning last year’s Rookie of the Year (QB Justin Herbert), the league’s best route runner (Keenan Allen), and an emerging talent (Mike Williams). Even RB Austin Ekeler and rookie OT Rashawn Slater are further down the list.

Self-inflicted penalties on offense may have stymied their chances for an even bigger win against Kansas City in Week 3. But the defense was more than capable of holding up their end of the bargain. No matter which way you slice it, this Chargers team is young, talented, and hungry — hungry to be the best in the West. And they are starting to realize that.

Cam Mellor is the Senior Director of the College Football/NFL Draft vertical for Pro Football Network. He is also the co-host of Between the Hashes, a college football and NFL draft podcast. You can find his writing here. Follow him on Twitter @CamMellor

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