The Los Angeles Chargers are heading towards the 2021 season with higher hopes than the previous season, having found an absolute gem at quarterback that they’re trying to build around. While there are still some pieces of the roster that need to be filled out, there’s some general hope that with a new coach and Year Two of Justin Herbert, they’ll be able to fight their way back into contention. There are some players on the roster that haven’t lived up to expectations yet, but still may be expected to play a rotational role at the very least, if not still starting. If these Chargers players don’t take the next step forward, it could potentially hurt the team down the road.
Los Angeles Chargers Players Needing a Breakout 2021 Season
Defensive tackle Jerry Tillery has been one of the more underwhelming first-round picks of the Tom Telesco era so far. The issue is not that he’s been bad – in fact, he already did show some improvement in his second year – but he has not lived up to his first-round billing at all. And with Melvin Ingram on the way out, his stepping up on the defensive line may be needed even more. There’s even a small possibility that – with the Chargers switching to a 3-4 defense – he could get moved to defensive end, in which case more would probably be expected of him, even if pass-rushing wasn’t in his job description.
Tillery did do a better job of getting to the quarterback in 2020, with 14 quarterback hits and three sacks. He also had a strip-sack and a fumble recovery. But part of the problem has been consistency. For every game it looks like he’s turning a corner, there’s another game where he struggles to contribute and/or makes mistakes. He may not be worthy of the “bust” label at this point, but he needs to show some further improvement in Year Three – and the team may need that from him more than before, too.
In Adderley’s defense, he spent most of his rookie year on injured reserve – so to a degree, his second year was a de facto rookie year of sorts. Still, having had the time to learn the defense with the same staff two off-seasons in a row and getting some playing time, one would hope there would be something to show from it. But when he was forced into action due to injuries at the safety position, he struggled with taking bad angles and defending the pass. His tackling numbers were certainly acceptable (69 total, 58 solo), but that doesn’t tell the story of his struggles in coverage. He finished in 2020 with only one interception and three pass deflections.
It’s still possible that Adderley breaks out in 2021 in his second full year of playing. The Chargers may certainly need it, given that Rayshawn Jenkins walked in free agency and Adderley may have to start at free safety as a result. If that does occur, this season may prove to be do-or-die for Adderley.
With Casey Hayward gone, there are only two clear starting cornerbacks on the team right now (Chris Harris and Michael Davis). They could still draft another one, but in the event that they don’t, the next guys in line are Facyson and Campbell. (The team also signed Ryan Smith, but he’s primarily a special teams player, so don’t expect much contribution out of him otherwise.)
Neither of these players has done particularly well so far. Facyson has zero interceptions and only one career pass deflection in three years. He struggled heavily in 2019 when forced into action, and spent most of 2020 behind the main three starters. Hopefully, he’ll have learned a thing or two if he gets a bigger role again.
Campbell at least has shown a little promise. With four starts in 2020, he managed to have three pass deflections, one forced fumble, and a six-yard pick-six. Just based on that, it feels like he should have the edge over Facyson. Still, he hasn’t shown that he’s reliable in coverage yet either. But unless someone else gets added later or unexpectedly jumps out in training camp, he or Facyson will have to step up at the third corner spot.
Notice how all of these names are on defense. That is where the majority of the unknowns or uncertainties remain on the roster (left tackle being the biggest exception). The general mindset of the fanbase right now seems to be along the lines of “in Brandon Staley we trust,” but the Chargers players will still have to do the work – and these ones in particular need to do better. Particularly in the case of Tillery and Adderley – the fans don’t want to see those higher picks turn out to be busts.
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