The return of NFL football kicks into full gear this week and Saturday’s action continues with a game between the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Chargers. Preseason games are a time for teams to find out exactly who will be playing for them, whether it be specialists, rotational guys, or full time starters. Below, PFF’s team of analysts have all the most important position battles and players to watch during today’s game.
Coverage By: Mike Cahill
Position Battle: Shaquill Griffin vs Jeremy Lane, CB
One thing that is known, Richard Sherman will be starting at cornerback for the Seahawks in 2017, but the other starting cornerback remains a question mark. Jeremy Lane possesses the most experience, but his outside numbers vs his slot coverage numbers in 2016 are telling. Lane’s overall PFF grade of 43.2 was his lowest season since entering the NFL in 2012 when he graded out at 69.40. In 2016, Lane saw 71.4 percent of targets thrown his way when in slot coverage, where he allowed the fifth lowest yards per coverage snap with 0.85 yards and third most coverage snaps in between targets with 7.8. With their first third round pick, the Seahawks grabbed UCF cornerback Shaquill Griffin, who earned an overall PFF grade of 88.3, which ranked fifth among this year’s cornerback draft class and one spot ahead of 11th overall pick CB Marshon Lattimore. Though he has allowed 10 touchdowns over his last two seasons, he does have six interceptions and 19 passes defended. Griffin has played a combined 20 snaps in slot coverage over the last two seasons and has seen five targets.
Nazair Jones, DI
Jones recorded 24 stops in the run game, which tied him for 32nd among defensive tackles with fellow Seahawk’s draft pick Malik McDowell. Though his pass rush only graded out at 74.8, Jones managed to four passes down all three seasons in college, so he’s disrupting in any way that he can. With fellow rookie pass rusher McDowell back home after being injured in an accident and no real timeline for return, Jones should have plenty of opportunity to develop his pass rush with PFF’s 17th ranked pass rush in 2016.
Amara Darboh, WR
Darboh is the receiver that gave fellow rookie Shaquill Griffin a problem when they faced off early in Week 2 of the 2016 college football season. When those two matched up, Darboh beat Griffin for three receptions on five targets for 83 yards (27.7 yds/rec). He comes from Michigan and has a well-developed route tree coming from that pro-style offense. Don’t be surprised if you see them taking some shots at him deep on Sunday as his large 6-foot-2, 214-pound frame ran a 4.45 at the combine and caught all seven of his seven catchable passes of 20-or more yards.
Thompson has a lot of play making ability with his anticipation and versatility in the passing game. Of the 65 targets Thompson saw in 2016 he only allowed a passer rating of 21.3. Not to mention his seven interceptions and seven passes defended, which he’s tied for first and third in, respectively. He should see plenty of action to show his instincts that could make an Earl Thomas injury less of a burden. The Seahawks need a playmaker that can help in a situation like 2016 when Thomas broke his tibia and the Seattle defense surely missed him.
Coverage by Andrew Fleischer
Position Battle: Dwight Lowery/Tre Boston/Rayshawn Jenkins, S
Dwight Lowery was the starting free safety for the Chargers in 2016, and while his overall PFF grade of 77.8 was good, his performance may not have been enough to secure the starting spot for 2017. He’ll be challenged this pre-season by four-year veteran Tre Boston, who signed as a free agent in the offseason, and rookie safety Rayshawn Jenkins, drafted by the Chargers in the fourth round.
Dwight Lowery’s 2016 performance earned him an overall PFF grade of 77.8, 42nd out of 83 safeties with at least 330 snaps. He excelled in coverage, grading out to 85.1 there, but struggled against the run, earning a 41.5 run defense grade. His overall tackling efficiency (the number of attempted tackles per miss) was 7.8, 60th out of 108 safeties with at least 64 snaps.
Tre Boston earned an overall PFF grade of 75.1 in 2016, 52nd out of 83 eligible safeties. He struggled a bit in coverage, with a 66.0 grade there, but earned a 74.2 run defense grade. His overall tackling efficiency of 6.3 was 86th out of 108 eligible safeties.
Rayshawn Jenkins earned an overall PFF college grade of 72.1, 185th out of 346 safeties with at least 262 snaps. He earned a below-average grade of 68.5 in coverage, and struggled against the run, with a 57.4 grade there. His overall tackling efficiency of 5.6 was 263rd out of 382 college safeties with at least 118 snaps.
Tyrell Williams, WR
With first round pick Mike Williams likely to miss significant time in 2017 with a back injury, Tyrell Williams should secure the WR No. 2 role across from Keenan Allen. His 2016 season earned him an 80.2 overall PFF grade, 30th of 115 WRs with at least 308 snaps.
Dan Feeney, G
With second-round pick Forrest Lamp now out for the year, the Chargers seemingly have more room for Feeney among the starting five offensive lineman. Feeney allowed just 25 total pressures over a three year college career of 1,620 pass blocking snaps. A lot of those pressures came at right tackle, however. At his more natural position of right guard, he surrendered just 15 total pressures over 1,017 snaps. He also improved his run blocking grade every year in college.