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.