Chargers’ selection of JT Woods allows them to get all the benefits of Derwin James
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Derwin James is one of the most versatile defensive players in football, and Brandon Staley’s vision of Chargers defense is rooted in that versatility.
Last year, James played five different positions in Staley’s scheme, and the Chargers were at their best defensively when James could be used as queen on the board. He can play in the deep part of the field. It can cover the slit. He can handle tight ends. He can rush from the edge. Moving James keeps opposing quarterbacks guessing, and it puts star safety in places to make plays on the ball, wherever that may be.
But there is a trade-off when moving James into so many different positions. James is an exceptional deepfield safety due to his size, speed, tracking and ball skills. When he moves to the slot, or when he moves to the rusher edge, or when he plays a hybrid linebacker-safety role in dime packages, someone has to replace him in the deep half of the field next to his security colleague Nasir Adderley. And in 2021, the Chargers didn’t have that player. Trey Marshall, who the Chargers signed in early September, was inconsistent. Alohi Gilman, who suffered a serious quad injury that forced him to miss five games in the second half of the season, is better suited to play a goalkeeping role. Mark Webb, a 2021 seventh-round pick, is also more effective when lined up closer to the line of scrimmage.
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So in the third round Friday night with the 79th pick, the Chargers filled that need by signing Baylor safety JT Woods, a lightning-fast long defensive back with the reach and awareness to thrive in deep areas of the field. . Bringing Woods into the secondary will give Staley and the Chargers defensive coaches the ability to move James into nickel (five defensive backs) and dime (six) packages without exposing himself at fullback.
“When you’re playing groups of fives and six DBs, if you get Derwin closer to the line of scrimmage or in the slot somewhere, you don’t want to lose that playability in the deep end of the court,” Staley said. Friday night. “What JT gives you is a premium lineup there, and now you have two guys there with him and Nas.”
Woods was an accomplished track sprinter at both San Antonio High School and Baylor University. That translated to a 4.36 40 yard dash at the combine, and it also recorded a top GPS tracking speed of over 21 miles per hour in game action, according to Staley. Woods is also over 6-foot-2 and can go one-on-one with tight ends with his height and long arms. The Chargers also feel like he can defend the slot — something he did in Dave Aranda’s pro-style Baylor defense.
Perhaps most appealing, however, is Woods’ bullet production. He led the nation in steals last season with six and had nine steals in 23 games in his last two college seasons. The Chargers had just 11 interceptions last season, and it’s clear that getting the ball off more frequently is a point of attention for Staley heading into his second season.
“When Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa rush the passer, we think that’s why it’s important to have secondary players who can give you the ball,” Staley said. “Because we feel like people are going to be accelerated and you want people out there who can catch an error, make plays out there. We really feel like he can do that.
General manager Tom Telesco called Woods a “unique player”.
“Like Nas, like Derwin, he’s a safety with a lot of covering ability, with his length and his speed,” Telesco said.
Woods took a few reps at cornerback in the Senior Bowl, and Telesco said he showed “a bit of corner movement” on tape. But the Chargers view him, for now, as a safety with the flexibility to defend the slot in their “Star” position or the hybrid linebacker-safety “Money” position in their nickel-and-dime packages.
Initially, he will fight with Webb and Gilman for time as shared safety in these subsets. In some five DB packages, James moves to become a great nickel defender. Woods could potentially replace James as shared security in those packages. James is also playing the Money position in the dime packages, and Woods could be the backup safety for James in those packages as well.
“We play a lot of different types of five and six DB depending on matchups,” Staley said, “so it just gives us more flexibility.”
Woods also has the athletic profile to be an immediate contributor on special teams, especially on the shooter. Woods needs to clean up his tackle. But Staley said it wasn’t due to bad chase angles. Woods just needs to wrap up and finish tackles better, which Staley thinks is very fixable.
The Chargers had other options at 79. They could have taken a corner. They could have taken an edge rusher. These two needs were more pressing than safe depth.
At the same time, however, it is not difficult to analyze the vision of the choice Woods.
Maximizing Derwin James is maximizing that Chargers defense. And Woods, in theory, will allow James to be the best version of himself.
“Where the NFL is going, you have to have secondary players,” Staley said. “You can’t get enough.”
(Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)