With the switch to a 3-4 defense for the Los Angeles Chargers, the team’s linebacker corps is set to presumably have more of them on the field at a time. This group has some promising young talent on it, so perhaps this can be the year this corps finally puts it properly together. Last year the biggest problem was injuries – that would likely be the biggest issue again if that occurred again. Regardless, let’s take a look at this year’s group of Chargers linebackers.
Looking at the 2021 Los Angeles Chargers Linebackers
Normally, it would be easiest to classify the players into simply middle and outside linebackers and go from there. But because Brandon Staley runs multiple defensive packages and a couple of players look to be switching up their spots a bit, that makes it difficult to classify everybody easily. So instead, we are going to start with these players that may be in multiple spots and go from there.
Fittingly, we can start with the player who is set to be the face of the Chargers linebacker corps now – Kenneth Murray. He was drafted in the first round last year as a middle linebacker and played that spot in 2020. However, before he started playing for Oklahoma, he’d historically played on the outside – and we are going to be seeing more of him on the outside as he plays a more downhill role, which he says plays to his strengths more. However, depending on the scheme/package, it’s hard to see them still not using him on the inside a bit.
That would leave a vacant spot among the middle linebackers, though – and another hybrid player that may fill that spot is Kyzir White, who has been playing outside linebacker the last couple of years. If they’re trying to use strictly inside linebackers for coverage purposes, this would make sense – White has some versatility as a defensive player and was even a safety in college.
Elsewhere, we should not forget about Uchenna Nwosu – he’s still listed as a defensive end, but originally played as a linebacker and it seems more likely he would be used on the outside as a pass-rusher, especially if Jerry Tillery gets moved to play opposite Joey Bosa at defensive end.
Drue Tranquill is the biggest name here that is pretty well set in his position. He’s going to be on the inside and he’s not looking to go anywhere. He had a promising rookie year in 2019 but broke his ankle in Week 1 of 2020 and missed the rest of the season. His presence was missed on the defense, and it forced Murray into a larger role in his rookie year than planned. If he can stay healthy this year, he should be helpful on the inside.
The other piece most likely to be starting or at least an important part in the rotation is Kyler Fackrell, a free agent pickup from the New York Giants. He would be playing as an outside/edge defender, but he may be competing for snaps there with Nwosu, especially if Murray is also playing on the outside. Still, whether he’s a starter or a rotational piece, he should be valuable depth to have.
Backups in the inside include sixth-round rookie Nick Niemann, undrafted rookie Amen Ogbongbemiga, and likely practice-squad man Cole Christiansen. It’s more likely that in the event of an injury to Tranquill and White, Murray would be the next man in line. But out of those players, Niemann seems to be the most likely to make the active roster.
On the outside, the only familiar backup is Emeke Egbule. Compared to the rest of the backups, he has some decent experience, but he’s unlikely to ever be more than a backup. Other than that, there’s Damon Lloyd, but he may be nothing more than a camp body. But as has been the case, some of the other players may get rotated into different spots if necessary.
This group of linebackers has some solid and promising players among their starters – and the flexibility of some of them may be helpful too. The usual question, of course, will likely be whether they can stay healthy. If they can, it should be a good group. If they have to rely too much on the backups (some of which are lower-billed rookies), things will likely go poorly.
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