A month into his NFL career, Asante Samuel Jr. is already living up to his father’s reputation with an award-winning start to his time with the Los Angeles Chargers.
Samuel was on Thursday named the Defensive Rookie of the Month for September, having made some key contributions to Los Angeles beginning the year 2-1.
While the strength of the cornerback class in the 2021 draft has also been reflected by the performances of Patrick Surtain II and Jaycee Horn—who suffered a fractured foot in Week 3—no rookie at the position has made a bigger impact than Samuel.
He racked up 11 tackles and four passes defensed in the month of September, demonstrating ball-hawking skills his dad was renowned for during a career that saw him twice lead the league in interceptions.
While he is still a long way from his father’s career total of 51, Samuel Jr. already has two to his name—including an interception of Patrick Mahomes in Week 3—the blend of athleticism, speed, awareness, and ball skills that displayed during his college days at Florida State translating superbly to the NFL level.
His performances across three games have not seen the Chargers make the jump to the NFL’s elite on the defensive side of the ball. Indeed, they rank 17th in Expected Points Added per play on defense, according to The Athletic’s Ben Baldwin, though the Chargers’ issue has related more to the run game than defending the pass.
They rank 12th in Dropback EPA allowed per play but their struggles stopping opposing ground attacks have the Chargers 29th in Rush EPA.
It is a similar story when the defense is measured by Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, by which the Chargers’ defense is 15th against the pass but 31st against the run.
Though the efficiency metrics suggest the Chargers still have strides to make when it comes to slowing down opposing passing attacks, the raw numbers point a more positive reflection of their efforts. Los Angeles is allowing 201.7 pass yards per game, the seventh fewest in the NFL.
The Chargers’ yards per pass play allowed average of 6.24 is the 14th best in the league and, like their performance in EPA and DVOA, points to a pass defense that is closer to middle of the pack than it is the NFL’s best.
However, at least in terms of defending the pass, the Chargers appear to be heading in the right direction with former Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley running the show.
That is no small part down to the efforts of second-round pick Samuel and, should he continue to perform to the standards he showed in September, the Chargers will surely be closer to the top of the pile on defense and many will be left wondering how he slipped to the 47th overall selection.