Welcome to Part 9 of our 2022 positional recaps, a series that will run through the next few weeks and highlight all 10 Chargers position groups. We'll focus on key stats, big moments and look ahead to the 2023 season.
Derwin James, Jr.'s fifth season in the NFL was a big one on and off the field.
Prior to the start of the season, the All-Pro safety agreed to a multi-year contract extension — and went on to have another elite-level season leading the Chargers defense. The Bolts safety finished the season with over 100 total tackles for the third time in his career and also earned Second-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors.
The 2022 season was another example of just how versatile James is, lining up at almost every position on the defensive side of the ball.
Whether it be in the secondary or near the line of scrimmage, James did it all, once again showing the value he brings to the Bolts defense.
"He's doing the job of six other players," Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said about James on prior to Week 13. "If you just said that one player is doing that job, you would have an expectation, but he is doing the job of six other players. That is what makes him so valuable. Mentally, there is a huge tax in understanding what to do and how to do it.
"He is like that LeBron James-type of player where he can just do everything," Staley added.
According to Pro Football Focus, James primarily spent his time in the box (356 snaps), but also lined up frequently at free safety (296 snaps) and slot corner (174 snaps). James also made his impact felt on the defensive line, where he played 65 snaps and finished with a career-high in sacks.
Perhaps one of his biggest traits, his leadership, was on full display, specifically near the end of the year. James missed two weeks in the crucial stretch of the season against the Dolphins and Titans, but still found a way to be involved in any way he could—something Staley mentioned helped the safety group play well during his absence.
"He's one of the captains of our team, one of the top players in the league," Staley said. "I certainly think that he is one of the faces of our franchise.
"I thought that he really lifted our team while he was away," Staley later added. "I thought that he did a lot of things behind the scenes to help that group play well, and I thought that it was important that we played well without him."
While James missed time, it was fellow safeties Nasir Adderley and Alohi Gilman who stepped in and played some of the best football of their young careers, especially against the high-flying Dolphins offense they were able to limit.
According to PFF, Gilman was a top-30 safety among those who played at least 200 snaps with a tackling grade of 78.5.
Both Adderley and Gilman saw plenty of action throughout the season even with James on the field and were big for the depth of the unit. Their strong finish to the season was crucial as the Bolts went on their late run into the playoffs.
JT Woods, the Chargers third-round pick in 2022, saw limited action in his rookie year, with the bulk of his snaps coming near the middle of the season. Fellow rookie Raheem Layne also played at safety this season, with his play coming at the end of the regular season.
Check out Chargers star saftey Derwin James playing dodgeball, hanging with the fellas and pulling flags at the 2023 Pro Bowl Games in Las Vegas, Nevada
James' 2022 season continued to show why he is not only one of the premier safeties, but also one of the best defensive players in the NFL.
He stuffed the stat sheet once again this season, becoming one of only seven defensive backs since 2000 to record at least 100 tackles, four sacks and a forced fumble in a single season.
Since he came into the league in 2018, James' physicality and willingness to tackle has been a staple of his game and has the most tackles by a defensive back in the first 50 games of a career over the last 30 years (372).
The Chargers saw themselves in a lot of close games throughout the regular season, and a Week 5 visit to Cleveland was no different.
The Bolts led 30-28 late in the fourth quarter but the Browns were knocking on the door of the end zone. On third down with the ball at the 9-yard line, Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett escaped the pocket and threw it on the run, trying to find a receiver for the potential go-ahead score.
Instead, Gilman jumped in front of the throw and intercepted the pass, ending the Browns drive and more importantly, took away potential Cleveland points that would have given them the lead.
"MVP, I mean it was an amazing play, big play," James said about Gilman's interception following the game. "Taking points off the board, I mean we were only up two points, and they were already in field goal range, so to take points off the board that was so big."
Gilman's interception was a key turning point in that close contest, as the Chargers would go on to win the game 30-28. The win was crucial, as it moved the Bolts to a record of 3-2 in an important point of the season.
Derwin James, Jr.
Recorded 115 total tackles, six passes defended, five tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles; appeared in 14 games (14 starts) and played 836 defensive snaps (79.85 percent).
Recorded 62 total tackles, four passes defended, two interceptions, one forced fumble and one tackle for loss; appeared in 16 games (15 starts) and played 882 defensive snaps (84.24 percent).
Recorded 58 total tackles, three passes defended, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and one interception; appeared in all 17 games (five starts) and played 475 defensive snaps (45.37 percent).
Recorded three total tackles; appeared in 10 games (one start) and played 31 defensive snaps (2.96 percent).
Recorded two total tackles; appeared in six games and played 25 defensive snaps (2.39 percent).
Take a look back at some of the best Chargers photos in monochrome from the 2022 season
2 Questions for 2023
1. Does Gilman earn a starting spot?
With Adderley slated to be a free agent this spring, there could possibly be an open starting spot next to James.
That's a role Gilman could fill, as he made six starts during the 2022 season (including the playoffs) in what was the best year of his career.
And his leadership has always been a key trait, as Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley noted in December.
"He has provided us with a lot of energy out there. He's very calm," Staley said. "He's a commander back there. I think that the guys like playing with him because he has a real command of our defense and the scouting report. He's a connector back there.
"He's an energy guy. He was a captain at Notre Dame," Staley added. "You can see that he has a lot of those leadership characteristics. He has a lot of the gameday energy that you need within a football team."
Gilman isn't the flashiest player but seems to always come up with a clutch play. The Chargers could pair him with James to create one of the better tandems in the league.
2. What development does Woods show?
There was plenty of hype around Woods after he was a third-round pick out of Baylor.
But after an up-and-down preseason, he played just 31 defensive snaps as a rookie.
Don't give up on the 22-year-old just yet, as some players simply develop at their own pace in the NFL.
Bolt Up for 2023!
Secure your 2023 Season Ticket Memberships today! Click here to learn more.