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From Playing Near Zero Snaps To Starting – A Deep Dive Into The Chargers Day Two Selection

A breakout season for Henley is in the fold for 2024. First-team practice reps, a good fit as defensive coordinator, sounds like a recipe for success for the former Cougar.
Daiyan Henley

The Chargers selected Daiyan Henley with their third-round selection and nearly a year later it is looking like that he will be a crucial part of this Chargers defense. He was the last third-round selection of former General Manager Tom Telesco‘s tenure with the Los Angeles Chargers. Telesco has a history of missing mightily on his third-round selections, and thus far Henley has not really moved the needle in any direction to continue that trend.

That said, with a new front office and coaching staff led by Joe Hortiz and Jim Harbaugh the Los Angeles Chargers are going to see a massive team overhaul. The defense in particular is going to be much different in 2024, and Daiyan Henley will likely be a big part of that. Like another 2023 rookie, Tuli Tuipulotu, Henley will be asked to step into a much larger role in new defensive coordinator Jesse Minter’s defense

Daiyan Henley 2023 Season In Review

Daiyan Henley started off his pro career missing the first two weeks of the NFL season, which definitely slowed down his momentum after a strong preseason. Brandon Staley was hesitant to play the rookie linebacker over the likes of Kenneth Murray, Eric Kendricks, and Nick Niemann. This is not really in fault of Henley, as we have seen time and time again that Staley has made very poor personnel decisions, which ultimately led to his firing.

Going into Henley’s 2023 season, there is not much to really talk about, as mentioned before, he played sparingly. Making his defensive debut in week four against the Las Vegas Raiders, Henley had one snap on defense. That number did not really go up much at all, until week eight against the Chicago Bears. The third-round selection played 11 snaps and recorded two tackles, two stops, and was solid in coverage against a weak Bears receiving corps.

Week nine yielded much of the same for Henley. On 15 snaps, he recorded three tackles, and two stops, as well as a solid day covering a Zach Wilson-led passing attack. After week nine, he did not see any snaps on defense until week fifteen, where he registered a tackle on three tackles against the Raiders.

Moving onto weeks 17 and 18 where he was finally allowed to play some snaps under interim coach Giff Smith, he did not move the needle for his stock as a Charger. He had 24 snaps between both games, leaving the Denver Broncos game with an injury. Those two games yielded two tackles. Henley was not targeted in either game.

To end his season, Daiyan Henley ranked first amongst ALL rookie linebackers in tackling grade, at 83.1. This would also rank him seventh among every linebacker in the league.

Special Teams

Though Henley did not play many defensive snaps and showed to be solid in very limited snaps, he did show a very strong Special Teams prowess under coach Ryan Ficken. Ficken should be retained even after the Jim Harbaugh hiring. Ficken is easily one of the best special teams coaches in the entire league. That said, if anything, Henley is going to be a very good special teamer for a long time. Though Charger fans and Jesse Minter will be looking to Henley to likely start at linebacker in the near future.

Daiyan Henley played 263 special teams snaps in his 15 games active, and was a very strong contributor. He played on every special teams phase besides field-goal block and field goal, giving the team versatility and availability. His 72.7 special teams PFF score would land him 14th out of all rookies who played at least 50% of their respective team’s special teams snaps.

Daiyan Henley’s 2023 PFF Stats:

Tackles: 8
Stops: 4
Targets/Receptions Allowed: 7 Targets, 5 Allowed
Yards Allowed: 20
Defensive Grades: 69.9 Overall, 64.5 Rush Defense, 83.1 Tackling, 69.4 Coverage
Special Teams Grade: 72.7

2024 Season Outlook

Daiyan Henley is looking to build off his 2023 campaign. This would start with his likely newfound role to become a cornerstone for this new Chargers era. Jesse Minter will be maximizing all of Daiyan Henley; using his instincts, range, and tackling prowess to ensure he is a solid defender for this 2024 Chargers defense.

Cap Space Implications/Linebacker Room Changes

The Chargers are currently $55.391 million over the cap (including the cap space they need for an incoming draft class and roster minimums). There will be plenty of cap casualties, and there is a plan set in place by former GM Tom Telesco, that will likely be used as a rough blueprint for new GM Joe Hortiz. A good place to start would be the linebacker room.

To read a deeper dive into the Linebacker Room: The Best Way To Solve One Of The Chargers’ Biggest 2024 Problems

Eric Kendricks and Kenneth Murray

The Chargers linebacker room is going to likely be completely overhauled by this new staff, and that will start from the top of the depth chart. A very likely cut will be 2023 free agent signee, Eric Kendricks who carries a fairly large cap hit in 2024. Cutting Eric Kendricks would save $6,750,000, whilst taking on a $2,750,000 dead cap hit.

The next cap casualty will be Kenneth Murray, who is less of a cap casualty, but more of a luxury they cannot afford. Murray was a former first-round selection under Telesco, and now with no ties left, his time is likely up in the powder blues. Murray finally had a decent season, but nothing to warrant a return to Los Angeles. He will likely be moving on elsewhere. By not resigning Murray, the Chargers will be able to allocate their minimal cap space elsewhere.

Daiyan Henley and Nick Niemann

That leaves Nick Niemann and Daiyan Henley left on the depth chart. Niemann has another year on his contract and should be around to play special teams and be strong linebacker depth. That said, not even Niemann’s spot is fully safe, as he does not have any ties other than Ficken left.

With Henley being a day-two selection in 2023, it would be natural for the inherited coaching staff to play him and see what they can do to develop him into a piece. He will be on a rookie contract for the near future and is a much cheaper option than any external free agents. The name of the game is saving where you can. Henley gives Hortiz and company flexibility in that capacity.

Daiyan Henley’s Role & Concluding Thoughts

Jumping into a starting role under a new defensive scheme is not easy for any second-year player. That said, considering Daiyan Henley has switched positions and has done nearly everything in his playing career, it is likely that this is just another walk in the park.

Minter uses the 4-2-5 formation alongside his normal 3-4 base formation to throw wrinkles into offensive game plans. This will likely place Henley as the MIKE in this scheme. Henley will always be in the box in this formation, playing more for the run game than the pass, as you already have five defensive backs on the field. Run game first, underneath routes second. This is perfect for Henley as he is rangy and agile, but still learning to cover as he is still newer to the linebacker position.

A breakout season for Henley is in the fold for 2024. First-team practice reps, a good fit as defensive coordinator, sounds like a recipe for success for the former Cougar.

Main Image: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports


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