Why defensive tackle should be a top 3 position of need
In 2018 the Chargers had an epic run with a 12-4 record and even had a dominating performance against the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the playoffs. Then in the divisional round hopes were tarnished by the New England Patriots who seemed to have such an easy game plan to success, and yet there was nothing the team could do to stop the runs up the middle. After that loss it was apparent that the team needed some run stuffers up front. Well, it turns out two seasons later the same remains true.
I will not blame the front office though as its not from a lack of trying. The draft following that playoff loss the team drafted defensive tackle Jerry Tillery. Well as it would turn out Tillery was virtually invisible his rookie year. He did take a step forward in year two, but only really in the pass rushing department. Plus, a step forward from his rookie season isn’t exactly an impressive bar to live up too. To put it in perspective his run defensive grade for the 2020 season was just 37.8 which is slightly higher than 2019. In all fairness to Tillery not every prospect develops the same and it seems especially true of his position. Now theoretically the hope is that he takes another step forward again next season. The addition of Linval Joseph was a big help but the fact remains that he only signed a two-year contract which means next season could potentially be his last. He is easily the best defensive tackle on the roster and does a lot of “dirty work” that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. At his age Joseph is better off having someone to lean on. Also moving on to his last year of his contract is Justin Jones. While jones has seemed to be able to progress every year it will be interesting to see if he can take yet another step forward in a contract year. Jones graded out with the best run stopping grade of all interior lineman with a 79.2 on the season so an extra step forward might make him a must retain type of player. I bring the contracts up because while drafting and or heading into free agency it’s important to look ahead and plan for the future as well and not just look at what’s right in front of you. Now is possible one if not both of them get resigned but that is dependent on the performance of next season.
From the standard evaluation one could assume that based on Staley’s limited time as a defensive coordinator and projecting where he might like to improve while seeing what made him successful with the Rams, it’s almost easy to assume he would want to improve this area. While it is still uncertain if he will officially switch this defense over to a 3-4 scheme permanently or not but either way, we are likely to see shades of both 4-3 and 3-4. Staley has been known to switch up the looks the defense gives many times through the course of even one game. He likes to spread the defensive line out almost awkwardly wide in order to create one on ones and break the offensive lineman’s congestion. Having another reliable depth piece who may also develop into the long-term answer would be a great luxury to have and likely help ease the burden up front. The Chargers were just 18th overall in rushing yards given up as a unit and this is something that likely will be a point of emphasis for Staley.
2021 is likely to have a wild draft in terms of where players land selection wise. With so many opt outs some would be fringe first rounders may end up mid second to early third as an example. This is more than likely due to the fact that nobody has seen them play for over a years’ time. Out of sight out of mind sort of speak. This obviously won’t apply to some of the bigger name prospects like Peni Sewell. Then there are also the players who shinned this past year and improved their stock, so it will be very muddled and several players will probably fall through the cracks. I bring this up because such players happen to be defensive tackles so there really should be no reason not to be able to add at least one. Players such as Levi Onwuzueike from Washington and a pair of LSU tackles who dominated in the national championship run in Tyler Shelvin and Neil Farrrell jr.
However the position is addressed, chances are good that it will be addressed considering Brandon Staley’s background. His defense relies heavily on disruption up front. Take a look at what just happened in the superbowl. That should be enough proof that a giant up grade in the trenches is just what this team needs to get over the hump and win the division.