Chargers Position Groups vs AFC West: Volume 7 – Defensive Line
The AFC West has great depth at defensive line. The edge defenders get all the publicity but the interior defensive line does well in stuffing the run. Week after week there is a fantastic battle for supremacy within the trenches. The defensive line raises the competitive edge in the AFC West. The Chargers have two of the best defensive ends in the NFL but does that make them the best defensive line in the AFC West?
4. Oakland Raiders
LDE – Clelin Ferrell – 6’4” 267 lbs
LDT – Maurice Hurst – 6’2” 291 lbs
RDT – Johnathan Hankins – 6’2” 325 lbs
RDE – Benson Mayowa – 6’3” 265 lbs
The Raiders don’t have much-proven talent but they do have the Draft’s fourth overall pick, Clelin Ferrell, who was a phenomenal talent at Clemson where he won two national championships. He recorded 27 sacks during his four-year career with 11.5 of those being in his senior season. During that season he also recorded 55 tackles with 20 for loss. He was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year following the 2018 season.
Hurst was drafted in the fifth round of the 2018 Draft and fought his way into the starting lineup. He recorded 31 tackles and four sacks as a rookie. Hankins played respectably in his first year in Oakland last year by recording 36 tackles with four for a loss. His best season was 2014 with the New York Giants when he recorded a career-best seven sacks.
Benson Mayowa has bounced around the league since going undrafted in 2013 when he won the Super Bowl with the Seahawks. His best season was last year with the Cardinals when he recorded 38 tackles and four sacks.
3. Denver Broncos
LDE – Derek Wolfe – 6’5” 285 lbs
NT – Shelby Harris – 6’3” 300 lbs
RDE – Adam Gotsis – 6’4” 287 lbs
Derek Wolfe only had five sacks last season but he did record 43 tackles. His best season was 2015 when he recorded a career-best 50 tackles and 5.5 sacks. He was rewarded for his efforts by winning the Super Bowl that year. Wolfe’s most underrated attribute is his ability to knockdown passes, something that can be very frustrating for an offense and halt any momentum.
Harris is short and round, the prototypical nose-tackle. He is an excellent run stuffer and recorded a career-best 39 tackles last year. He also has the unique ability to intercept passes such as last years pick against the Steelers Ben Roethlisberger.
Gotsis recorded 38 tackles and just three sacks last year. He may be the worst pass rusher in the AFC West, but is athletic and has improved each season.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
LDE – Alex Okafor – 6’4” 261 lbs
LDT – Chris Jones – 6’6” 310 lbs
RDT – Derrick Nnadi – 6’1” 317 lbs
RDE – Frank Clark – 6’3” 265 lbs
Okafor has played the last two years in New Orleans and has played decently. During his time in the Big Easy, he recorded 8.5 sacks. He recorded 36 tackles and four sacks last year.
Chris Jones exploded last year with an incredible 15.5 sacks along with 40 tackles. Derrick Nnadi recorded 35 tackles but no sacks in his rookie season.
Clark has played in Seattle for his entire career and recorded 35 sacks in four years. He recorded a career-best 13 sacks last year and contributed 41 tackles for the Seahawks defense.
1. Los Angeles Chargers
LDE – Joey Bosa – 6’5” 280 lbs
LDT – Jerry Tillery- 6’7” 295 lbs
RDT – Brandon Mebane – 6’1” 311 lbs
RDE – Melvin Ingram – 6’2” 247 lbs
Bosa has been a terror in the NFL since being drafted third overall in the 2016 NFL Draft. He has recorded 28.5 sacks in his career. He had a down year last year but still recorded 5.5 sacks.
Tillery was drafted in the first round with the hope that he would provide play making ability at the interior defensive line position. He recorded 11.5 sacks in his last two years at Notre Dame. While his tackles were cut in half last year he did record a career high seven sacks. Expectations are high for him as a pass rusher.
Tillery’s main competition for left defensive tackle is second-year player Justin Jones who did not start any games in the regular season but did manage to record half a sack. He started both playoff games and recorded six tackles and a sack. It is due to his playoff performance that he is in the running for the starting nod at left defensive tackle ahead of Tillery.
Brandon Mebane is the veteran of the group, having been in the NFL since 2007. He only has 17.5 sacks in his career. He recorded 40 tackles and one sack last year.
Ingram is the second half of pass-rushing greatness on the Chargers defensive line, the first half being Bosa. He had a “down year” last year but still managed to record seven sacks. His best year was 2015 when he recorded a career-high 65 tackles and 10.5 sacks
The key to any great defense is a great defensive line. None of the AFC West’s teams have a perfect unit but each adds a different element to the overall defensive play in the division.
Oakland adds youth with tremendous upside while Los Angeles adds elite pass-rushing ability from the edge. Kansas City is terrific in the middle and Denver adds size. Of course, the lone trait which matters in this ranking is the play of the unit and the Chargers have a clear advantage. Their elite pass rush alone is enough reason to rank them first on this list.
However, they have an upside in the interior of the defensive line. Justin Jones only had seven tackles last year but he saw limited time due to his inexperience. As he sees more playing time, he should prove to be excellent against the run. Mebane is on the wrong side of 30 but he can provide valuable insight to Jones. At best this relationship could be the poor man’s version of Howie Long and Lyle Alzado. One player in the early stages (Long) of his career getting mentored by a much older player (Alzado). Relationships are key to this unit and if in perfect harmony, the Chargers could have one of the most dangerous defensive lines in the NFL.