The 2021 season is shaping up to be quite interesting for the Los Angeles Chargers. With hotshot quarterback Justin Herbert, a bolstered offensive line with new faces like 2020 All-Pro Center Corey Linsley and 2021 first-round pick left tackle Rashawn Slater, and a slew of defensive talents recovering from injuries like Joey Bosa and Derwin James, expectations are certainly high for first-year Head Coach Brandon Staley. The Chargers, though unproven as a fully-healthy team, have a lot of talent to work with, with several players to keep an eye on this season. Here are some of the Chargers players to watch for 2021.
Derwin James – The Injury-Riddled Superstar
Derwin James is, simply put, a certified menace at safety. In his rookie season in 2018, he proved that he was well worth a first-round pick. Though he did not win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award (Darius Leonard of the Indianapolis Colts earned that honor), James established himself as a worthy leader of a star-studded defense. Unfortunately, though, James suffered injuries in back-to-back seasons in 2019 and 2020, missing a total of 27 games over that timespan.
Even with injury concerns, the Chargers still believe in James’s potential. And why shouldn’t they? James racked up an impressive 105 tackles in 2018, along with three interceptions. Then, in only five games in 2019, he had an additional 34 tackles. James’s versatility, being able to play safety, cornerback or even on the edge as a linebacker, is a valuable piece for head coach Brandon Staley, who showcased his brilliant defensive mind with the Los Angeles Rams last season. With the Chargers picking up his fifth-year option on his rookie contract in April, James needs to avoid another injury if he wants to get signed to a lucrative extension.
Mike Williams – The Big Man Out Wide
The Chargers’ 2017 first-round pick has had a career filled with ups and downs. Williams missed much of his rookie season due to a back injury, only appearing in 10 games in 2017 (starting 1). In 2019, Williams recorded his best season as a pro, nabbing 49 receptions for 1001 yards. During the 2020 season, however, Williams regressed, catching 48 receptions for only 756 yards.
With an impressive height of 6-foot-4, Herbert could use a tall wideout as a primary weapon. With no other recievers on the team taller than 6-foot-2, Williams can use his height to win on contested catches in the red zone. While Williams may not put up flashy numbers like other big recievers, his mere presence as a big reciever is invaluable to quarterback Justin Herbert. The Chargers’ recieving core is loaded with versatile talent, but none of Williams’s teammates can that role.
The 2021 season will be his last on his rookie contract after the Chargers exercised his fifth-year option in April 2020. Williams needs to play like he did in 2019 and show the NFL that he is worth a large extension and a spot alongside star receiver Keenan Allen.
Asante Samuel Jr. – Like Father, Like Son
The son of a former NFL cornerback, Asante Samuel Jr. was drafted by the Chargers in the second round of 2021 NFL Draft this past April. Samuel, who had an impressive collegiate career at Florida State, is expected to be a starter from day one. He will be replacing Casey Hayward, who signed with the Las Vegas Raiders in free agency. With a scrappy style of play, Samuel will inevitably face comparisons to his father. Asante Samuel Sr., who played for 10 seasons in the NFL, was known for that same scrappy playstyle. It’s clear that he passed on that “dawg” mentality to his son, who can be seen bullying recievers that line up against him in viral videos.
It cannot be understated how important having a hungry young cornerback can be for defensive coaches. Staley and new defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill are sure to use Samuel Jr. as a three-down starter. If he lives up to expectations, Samuel Jr. will serve as a cornerstone of an explosive Chargers defense. Chargers fans should be excited to see how Samuel plays alongside fellow former Florida State Seminole Derwin James.
The Los Angeles Chargers are a young team, with the average play age on the roster being only 25.6 years old. Even so, the team boasts several superstar talents. Defensive end Joey Bosa, reciever Keenan Allen and safety Derwin James are among the best at their respective positions. The Chargers addressed issues that the team struggled with last season: injuries and poor decision making from the coaches. The Chargers, specifically Staley and his coaching crew, need to avoid making the same crunch-time decisions that former head coach Anthony Lynn and his crew made.
Meanwhile, injuries are simply a part of football. With a game as violent as football, it is difficult to prevent injuries, especially at the professional stage. However, the Chargers seem to be exceptionally inadequate at preventing injuries, especially for their star players. Chargers fans know the feeling of watching their star players go down for extended periods of time all too well. The “Chargers Curse”, as it has been dubbed, has been an issue plaguing the franchise for as long as fans remember. These injury concerns need to be curbed as well if the Chargers aim to make a deep playoff run this year. If so, the Chargers can utilize their star power to show America that they can take the league by storm.