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Chargers Roster Surprise Earns Respect From Coach

This year for the Los Angeles Chargers there were plenty of camp standouts, but the one to make the roster seemingly had no standout moments. 

It seems throughout the offseason there is one player that gets insane amounts of hype, that ends up making the team. This year for the Los Angeles Chargers there were plenty of camp standouts, but the one to make the roster seemingly had no hype.

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Who and How?

Player Profile – A.J. Finley

AJ Finley is the player in question, leaving plenty asking how? To get a more informed answer, his athletic profile will give a much stronger reason for the Chargers decision to roster Finley.

Finley is a 21-year-old safety from Ole Miss. The Chargers website has him listed as 6’0 188 lbs. However, plenty of other sites have him listed as 6’2 or taller. At his size, he scored a 6.95 RAS score, having more than subpar athleticism for an NFL defensive back.

Beyond his athletic testing, Finley showed great ability to catch interceptions, having eight picks in his years at Ole Miss. Finley had plenty of versatility as a defensive back, playing in the slot, as the deep safety, and as the box safety. During the course of his last year in college, he logged a 77.9 overall grade, a 76.5 coverage grade, and a 76.2 run defense grade.

After his collegiate career, Finley signed as an undrafted free agent to the Chargers, and coaches and die-hard fans alike saw his tape to be very consistent. He showed this consistency in silence all throughout camp and the preseason. Finley wasn’t flashy, loud, or part of many headlines, but he always worked hard, did his job, and continued with his consistency.

His preseason play earned him a very average 67.6 defense grade, with 72.3 against the rushing attack, 58.1 in tackling, and 62.0 in coverage. All of these numbers are very average, but that is what Finley is, a jack of all trades, master of none. Finley also recorded four tackles, only missing one, and one completion for three yards on two targets.

Roster Construction

The Chargers had some tough decisions to make during the roster cut-down process. You had preseason standout cornerbacks like Cam Brown and Tiawan Mullen who argued their case to make the roster but were cut in favor of having one less corner and having one more safety, which ended up being Finley. The Chargers decided to keep five safeties on the roster, totaling ten defense backs.

The thought process behind keeping Finley over the cornerbacks who arguably played much better, was to have more versatility in the defensive backfield. Staley and defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley love having versatile defensive backs, and Finley is just that. Beyond the defensive side of the ball, Ryan Ficken had to be impressed by Finley’s play on special teams, as being a back-of-the-roster type of player means you have to be good on special teams, to make the team over other talented players.

Coaches and Peer Comments

After making the roster, coaches and players alike had nothing but good to say about the rookie safety. To paraphrase Coach Brandon Staley, he says it was immensely close between former seventh-round selection Mark Webb and AJ Finley to make the roster. Further his statement by saying that, AJ Finley has a pro body, is a very good tackler who learned the playbook really well in camp, and didn’t want to risk him to waiver claims.

Beyond Staley, the leader of this defense, Derwin James had very kind words for the rookie, expressing “He’s a lot more mature than I thought…He’s a quiet guy, he works hard. He made a lot of plays throughout training camp.”


Overall, Finley earned his spot with his hard-working, mature, and consistent mentality and play. It may not have shown up on the stat sheet, headlines, or social media, but if the coaching staff believes in the undrafted free agent, then why shouldn’t the media? Finley has done nothing but prove himself and earn his spot, without any help from the media pressuring or influencing decisions made on the roster.

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Main Photo Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports


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