Ja’Sir Taylor

Chargers Make J.C. Jackson Healthy Scratch

J.C. Jackson represented a central part of Brandon Staley‘s 2022 defensive overhaul, coming over from New England as one of last year’s top free agents. The ex-Patriots standout, however, has not displayed the same form with the Chargers.

Returning from a ruptured patellar tendon, Jackson has not enjoyed a full-time role to start his second Bolts season. The team has now taken the surprising step to make Jackson a healthy scratch for Week 3. The former UDFA signed a five-year, $82.5MM deal with the Chargers. That contract included $40MM fully guaranteed.

The sixth-year corner has lined up on 64% of the Chargers’ defensive plays in two games. Pro-Football-Reference’s coverage metrics, albeit in a small sample size, chart Jackson as performing better than he did in his first Bolts season. Jackson has allowed just a 46.2% completion rate as the closest defender and a 72.0 passer rating. Those numbers are well down from a disappointing 2022, when Jackson yielded a 66.7% completion rate and a ghastly 149.3 passer rating. Pro Football Focus, however, ranks Jackson 85th among cornerbacks to start this season.

While Jackson did make his return from knee surgery and was not on Los Angeles’ injury report this week, Staley said recently (via The Athletic’s Daniel Popper) the well-paid corner is still ramping up to full usage. While a deactivation without an injury designation is certainly notable, it will be interesting to hear if Staley views this as a long-term move or if it relates to his recovery. The Bolts deactivating their highest-paid corner in what looms as a potential must-win game — after an 0-2 start and as the team prepares to face arguably the game’s top wideout (Justin Jefferson) — points to issues with Jackson’s performance.

The Chargers have Michael Davis and Asante Samuel Jr. as their other top cornerback investments. Samuel, a 2021 second-round pick, has played both inside and outside for the Bolts. He won the competition to be the team’s slot cornerback in training camp, but Staley has confirmed Ja’Sir Taylor — said competition’s initial loser — will be playing there for the foreseeable future. On the outside, Staley said Davis, Samuel and Jackson will compete for playing time. With Jackson out, however, Davis and Samuel should be expected to be the Chargers’ outside CBs today.

L.A.’s secondary has struggled this season, allowing Tua Tagovailoa to go off for 466 yards in Week 1 and Ryan Tannehill to deliver a bounce-back effort — complete with 70- and 49-yard completions — in Week 2. The temperature on Staley’s seat will increase with a loss in Minnesota, and the third-year HC is shaking up his CB corps. Deane Leonard, a 2022 seventh-round pick, is the only other corner on the Bolts’ active roster.

AFC West Notes: Broncos, Raiders, Samuel

Although their interest in Dalvin Cook appeared to cool early in the long-running sweepstakes, the Broncos did keep tabs on the high-profile free agent. The team continued to look into Cook, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com said during a Rich Eisen Show appearance (video link). Cook has since signed a one-year, $7MM Jets deal. While Pelissero adds the Broncos may look to add another back to a group headlined by Javonte Williams and Samaje Perine, the team is sorting through some options behind the veterans. Second-year back Tyler Badie, rookie UDFA Jaleel McLaughlin and ex-Sean Payton Saints charge Tony Jones Jr. are vying for Denver’s RB3 job presently.

Here is the latest from the AFC West:

  • The Raiders took a few fliers at cornerback in free agency, signing Duke Shelley and David Long and reuniting with Brandon Facyson. None of the trio looks likely to start. Instead, fourth-round pick Jakorian Bennett looks to have leapfrogged them. Shelley and Long have fallen out of the mix to start, per The Athletic’s Vic Tafur and Tashaun Reed, who project Bennett to start alongside Marcus Peters and Nate Hobbs (subscription required). Both Long and Facyson have missed time due to injury in camp. The Raiders chose Bennett 104th overall, which would make a Week 1 starting assignment notable. But the Silver and Black, who let Rock Ya-Sin walk (to replace Peters in Baltimore), came into the offseason with major questions at corner.
  • Despite a three-interception wild-card performance, third-year Chargers corner Asante Samuel Jr. faced the prospect of being a backup to start this season. Ja’Sir Taylor, a sixth-round 2022 draftee, has competed with the multiyear starter for the slot job. But Samuel looks to have surged ahead, per The Athletic’s Daniel Popper. If J.C. Jackson completes his recovery from a torn patellar tendon in time, the Chargers are preparing to roll out a Jackson-Samuel-Michael Davis cornerback look. If Jackson needs more time, the Bolts would likely go with a Davis-Samuel-Taylor trio.
  • The Bolts are fairly set at receiver, with Quentin Johnston and Derius Davis‘ Fort Worth-to-Los Angeles treks giving the team five locks at the position. In addition to the TCU alums, Josh Palmer has made strides in his third training camp. This looked to put Jalen Guyton and John Hightower to a battle for the final spot, Popper adds. But both players are dealing with injuries. After a strong start to camp, Hightower — a 2020 Eagles draftee who has not caught a pass since his rookie year — suffered an injury and has not practiced in a week. Guyton, who suffered an ACL tear in Week 3 of last season, remains on the Bolts’ active/PUP list. Stashing the deep threat on the reserve/PUP list to start the season is looking likely, per Popper.
  • K’Waun Williams is expected to be the Broncos‘ slot corner for a second season, but an ankle injury has sidelined him for over a week. The veteran slot defender sought a second opinion on the injury recently, per 9News’ Mike Klis, who notes surgery is not on the docket at this point. A rest-and-rehab operation will be utilized to have Williams ready for Week 1, though this becomes a situation to monitor for a Broncos team that remains without third-round corner Riley Moss. Essang Bassey filled in for Williams as the top nickel in Denver’s preseason opener.
  • Davis Webb resides in the strange position of being a 28-year-old quarterbacks coach tasked with helping a decorated 34-year-old passer bounce back. But Russell Wilson‘s position coach has been on the coaching radar for a bit now, despite only retiring this year. After the Bills wanted him to be their QBs coach last year, Sean McDermott, Brian Daboll and Eli Manning endorsed Webb to Payton, Jori Epstein of Yahoo.com notes. Webb “blew away” Broncos brass in his interview, per GM George Paton. His final season — as a Giants third-stringer — involved scouting and coaching, Epstein adds, making this an easier transition than it would appear.

DB Rumors: Elam, Panthers, Bolts, Bucs

The Bills have hoped to plug Kaiir Elam into their starting lineup opposite Tre’Davious White, but the 2022 first-rounder remains in a position battle. Elam is battling 2022 sixth-rounder Christian Benford and veteran Dane Jackson for the boundary job opposite White, Joe Buscaglia of The Athletic notes (subscription required). Elam played 477 defensive snaps as a rookie, but even as White did not debut until Thanksgiving, the younger Buffalo Round 1 corner only started six games. Benford started five of the nine he played, while Jackson led Bills corners with 14 first-string appearances in 2022. The Bills would clearly prefer Elam seize the role, but for now, the Washington product has not distinguished himself as a surefire starter.

Here is the latest from NFL secondaries:

  • Asante Samuel Jr. resides in a similar boat, needing to fend off a lower-profile challenger. Thus far, it appears Samuel has fallen behind Ja’Sir Taylor for the Chargers‘ slot cornerback role. As it appeared in June, Taylor looks to be the favorite to open the season as the Bolts’ slot player, Daniel Popper of The Athletic notes. Samuel’s shaky run defense has concerned the Bolts, per Popper, with Taylor — a 2022 sixth-round pick — seeing time ahead of the second-generation pro as an outside corner last year due to tackling ability. With primary 2022 slot defender Bryce Callahan unsigned, Taylor and Samuel are battling for the position. Despite Samuel’s experience (27 starts) and draft pedigree (Round 2), he may well open the season as the top backup behind a Taylor-J.C. JacksonMichael Davis trio. Having Samuel as a depth piece would certainly benefit the Chargers, with Jackson attempting to come back from a ruptured patellar tendon.
  • The Panthers have played without first-round pick Jaycee Horn for extended stretches, and the 2021 top-10 pick spent time rehabbing another injury this offseason. Horn did not say how he injured his foot this spring, but he is 100% early in Panthers camp. Ditto Donte Jackson, who missed eight games last season due to an Achilles tear. Both starting corners have received full clearance, GM Scott Fitterer said recently.
  • Although the Buccaneers have re-signed Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean in free agency over the past two years, they let Sean Murphy-Bunting leave in March. Murphy-Bunting, who had spent time in the slot in Tampa Bay, left for Tennessee. The Bucs are holding an expansive slot competition in training camp. Zyon McCollum, Dee Delaney, Josh Hayes, Christian Izien and Anthony Chesley are all vying for the gig, Todd Bowles said (via Buccaneers.com’s Brianna Dix and Scott Smith). Delaney and Chesley have both bounced around the league, while Hayes and Izien are rookies. Some of these players will not end up on the Bucs’ 53-man roster, but it is interesting to see a five-man competition for this role. A 2022 fifth-round pick who played 277 defensive snaps last year, McCollum may have the lead here. Bowles expects the second-year cover man to play a big role in the nickel spot, Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times tweets.

Latest On Chargers’ CB Room

The Chargers’ secondary was a relatively strong unit in 2022, but it faces questions heading into training camp. The starting configuration at the cornerback spot in particular is yet to be determined.

Ja’Sir Taylor lined up in the slot during OTAs and minicamp, as detailed by Daniel Popper of The Athletic (subscription required). That position could remain his into the start of the regular season, but the team’s situation on the boundary will change when veteran J.C. Jackson makes his return to the field. That is expected to take place in time for training camp, which could leave Taylor competing for a first-team role.

Jackson and former UDFA Michael Davis would likely operate on the perimeter, Popper writes, which would leave 2021 second-rounder Asante Samuel Jr. eyeing the starting slot spot. The latter has started all but two of his 30 regular and postseason appearances to date, recording a pair of interceptions and 11 pass breakups in each of his first two campaigns. Issues in run defense could open the door to Taylor eating into Samuel’s playing time, however.

A sixth-round selection last year, Taylor was used primarily on special teams as a rookie. His strength against the run compared to Samuel could earn him a sizable jump in playing time, though. While DBs’ performance against aerial attacks obviously plays a bigger role in how teams divvy out playing time, it would certainly be interesting if the Chargers went with Taylor and kept Samuel as a top backup.

Jackson’s patellar tendon rupture cleared out one of the two boundary roles for Samuel last season, and Pro Football Focus viewed the Florida State alum as making progress in Year 2. Samuel, however, also has slot experience. PFF graded Samuel as a top-25 cornerback last season. The advanced metrics site ranked Samuel as a top-15 cover corner, masking the run-defense issue to some degree. Samuel accomplished this while playing 1,045 defensive snaps. Davis graded as PFF’s No. 19 overall corner, putting Brandon Staley‘s unit in a good place — so long as Jackson can bounce back from a rough 2022 on the performance and injury front.

Even though the Bolts have not re-signed veteran Bryce Callahan — their primary slot defender last season — Staley figures to have options. Callahan, 32, remains a free agent. Should Jackson be ready for Week 1 as he expects, L.A. will boast one of the league’s more interesting cornerback groups. Samuel’s role, in particular, will be worth monitoring.

NFL Draft Pick Signings: 5/13/22

Several more mid- and late-round picks agreed to terms on their four-year rookie contracts Friday. Here are the latest agreements:

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

  • LB Malcolm Rodriguez (sixth round, Oklahoma State)
  • LB James Houston (sixth round, Jackson State)

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Los Angeles Chargers

Miami Dolphins

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

Pittsburgh Steelers