It feels like ages since Derwin James entered the NFL and dominated as a rookie, earning Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors during that 2018 season.
The movable chess piece was a force all over the field. On the back end, he could cover tight ends, receivers and backs, compiling three interceptions and 13 passes defensed. He could creep up to the box and stuff the run, compiling 105 tackles, including four for loss. He could time a blitz and splatter the QB, earning 3.5 sacks and six QB hits that year.
Since 2018, we’ve only seen brief glimpses of the Los Angeles Chargers’ unicorn. He played just five games in 2019 due to injury and missed all of 2020 after suffering a meniscus tear in his right knee.
It’s been so long since James zoomed around the Chargers’ secondary that his return in 2021 has flown under the radar.
Chargers teammates haven’t forgotten.
Corner Chris Harris Jr. — who didn’t get to play with James in his first season in L.A. — told SiriusXM NFL Radio that he’s giddy at the prospect of playing alongside the dynamic safety.
“To bring back Derwin, it’s going to be an issue because now you have me and him that are positionless players, that you never know where we’re going to line up,” Harris said. “I can line up in his position. He can line up in my position. So you never know what we’re going to do.”
Harris is primarily a slot corner, one of the best in the NFL covering that inside wideout. He lined up in the slot on 407 snaps last season and inside the box 73 times in L.A., per Pro Football Focus.
The corner suggests that under new coach Brandon Staley, positions could become blended, with the Chargers utilizing talents like James, himself, and linebacker Kenneth Murray in various ways to keep offenses off balance.
“This is a totally different scheme from last year,” Harris said. “(James is) going to be more downhill. I’m excited to see those boys. It’s going to be tough. Our dime and nickel package should be the best in the league, when you have me, Derwin and K. Murray or (LB Drue) Tranquil on the inside — or (linebacker) Kyzir White because he a guy that can cover, too. So, we have a lot of packages that coach Staley is going to use, and it’s going to be hard for a team to identify us.”
If James and Harris — who played just nine games last season due to a foot injury — both stay healthy, the Chargers’ secondary should be a force. Staley excelled last season with the Rams in large part because the back end of his D provided lock-down coverage. Add in second-round pick Asante Samuel Jr. to the equation, and the Chargers should boast a similar ability to blanket receivers in the secondary in 2021.
Now L.A. just needs James to stay healthy.
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