With the NFL Draft and free agency having come and gone, we’ll break down all sorts of fantasy-relevant questions entering the 2018 season. Up next is a look at a cornerback who leads a defense with the potential to be one of the NFL’s most dominant units in 2018.

Hayward is the Crown Jewel of a Ridiculously Talented Secondary

The Chargers defense finished last season ranked 12th in overall DVOA and ninth in pass defense DVOA. The Chargers also allowed the eighth-fewest DraftKings points per game to wide receivers, and only Amari Cooper cleared 100 receiving yards in a single game against them. They did all of this after losing former Pro Bowl corner Jason Verrett in the season opener.

Luckily, fifth-round slot corner Desmond King and undrafted free agent Trevor Williams proved more than capable of complementing arguably the league’s best corner, Casey Hayward.

Unlike other No. 1 cornerbacks such as Jalen Ramsey and Josh Norman, Hayward was consistently asked to shadow the opponent’s top receiver in 2017. Per Pro Football Focus, the Chargers assigned him to the opponent’s top receiver on nine different occasions in 2017, to much success:

  • Alshon Jeffery: 3 catches, 29 yards, 1 touchdown (6 targets)
  • Demaryius Thomas: 5-67-0 (8), 2-9-0 (6)
  • Amari Cooper: 5-28-0 (6), 3-115-1 (6)
  • Dez Bryant: 3-37-0 (5)
  • Josh Gordon: 4-85-0 (11)
  • Josh Doctson: 3-34-0 (6)
  • Robby Anderson: 5-51-0 (7)

Even the league’s top shadow corners don’t cover a single receiver for every snap of every game, and though some of the wide receivers Hayward shadowed ended up scoring touchdowns, Hayward himself wasn’t charged with allowing a touchdown all season (the bulk of Cooper’s big day came on an 87-yard busted-coverage score). One thing to note is that Hayward was seldom asked to chase a receiver into the slot.

The Chargers still don’t have an established starter at free safety, but one thing is for sure: Whoever eventually winds up with the job will benefit from the league’s best group of cornerbacks.

Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram Are Monsters

In addition to the Chargers’ embarrassment of riches in the secondary, they happen to boast Pro Football Focus’ No. 6 and No. 7 overall edge defenders in Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, respectively. Additionally, defensive tackle Corey Liuget earned their 15th-highest pass-rushing grade among interior defenders, helping prohibit quarterbacks from stepping up into the pocket.

It’s tough to separate Bosa and Ingram in terms of impact. Bosa is one of just nine defensive ends in the last 25 years with double-digit sacks in each of their first two seasons, while Ingram has played in 48 consecutive games and is tied for eighth in sacks among all defenders since 2015.

 

The only concern with the Chargers pass rush is down-to-down consistency. While the unit ranked eighth in sacks, it was just 16th in hurries and 30th in quarterback hits. Liuget is facing a four-game suspension for violating the league’s Performance Enhancing Substances policy, so the team will need third-round defensive tackle Justin Jones to find his footing sooner rather than later.

L.A.’s Biggest Weakness May Be Less of an Issue in 2018

Luckily for the pass rush, there should be newfound reinforcements elsewhere in the front seven capable of picking up the slack. Denzel Perryman has established himself as one of the NFL’s finest defensive players through three seasons. Dating back to 2016, the Chargers defense simply hasn’t been the same when he’s been sidelined:

  • With Perryman (19 games): 21 points per game allowed, 30-plus points allowed in 21% of games, 105.7 rushing yards per game allowed, 100-plus rushing yards allowed in 47% of games.
  • Without Perryman (13 games): 22.8 points per game allowed, 30-plus points allowed in 31% of games, 127.4 rushing yards per game allowed, 100-plus rushing yards allowed in 69% of games.

Considering that Perryman has played in just 33 of a potential 48 games during his three-year career, the Chargers can’t rely on having him for all 16 games in 2018, but he’s still a good bet to suit up for more than the seven games he played in 2017.

The run defense also benefits from the selection of first-round pick Derwin James, who is a Malcolm Jenkinsesque prospect in that he’s capable of attacking an offense in a wide variety of ways. Fantasy owners be warned: The Chargers don’t have much depth to speak of in the front seven, but the defense as a whole is a dangerous unit for any opposing offense when fully healthy.

Test them at your own peril in 2018.

You can use our tools to research more player- or team-specific questions for yourself, and be sure to check out The Action Network for more in-depth NFL analysis.

Pictured above: Josh Gordon (12) and Casey Hayward (26)
Photo credit: Jake Roth – USA TODAY Sports