Every week we bring you one player from the opposing side of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ match-up to help our readers - and ourselves, honestly - become just a little bit smarter about the other teams in the NFL.
When it comes to divisional rivals, new members of opposing teams, rookies, or lesser known players who might become impactful members of those rivalries are the focus. For non-divisional opponents, we’ll look at starters mostly, but maybe not the marquee names.
So, when looking at the Los Angeles Chargers we could’ve gone with Justin Herbert or even Joey Bosa. Bucs fans know those names though, and honestly, there’s plenty of press and tv talking head coverage for each.
I wanted someone different. Someone who probably won’t be listed as a ‘key player’ on most coverage outlets, but could end up being a person we talk about when the game is over. When I went looking at the Los Angeles Chargers, that someone was defensive end, Uchenna Nwosu.
Let’s start right here. According to Pro Football Focus, Nwosu is the top rated pass rusher in pass rushing productivity among edge defenders with at least 56 pass rush attempts. What does this mean?
This means, he’s had more impact on the opposing quarterback per pass rush than any other pass rusher in the NFL - again - with at least 56 tries in 2020. Not the most sacks, mind you, but the most total pressures on quarterbacks.
So why isn’t he being talked about more? Simply, it’s the sacks and the presence of Joey Bosa. Nwosu has just the one sack in 2020. He has three other hits to opposing quarterbacks ranking him 14th among edge rushers. His nine hurries are tied for sixth with guys like Bradley Chubb and T.J. Watt.
His sack total is low though, hindering his ability to get attention outside of local Chargers coverage. Not dissimilar to Shaquil Barrett’s 2020 start before Week 3, low sack numbers are a big deal. They’re a big deal to the players too, but Barrett leads the league with thirteen quarterback hurries through three games, something I promise you his team and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles appreciate.
Another similarity between Barrett and young Nwosu is the patience they’ve had to have for their shot to get on the field consistently. Sitting behind Melvin Ingram III, there was basically no chance for Nwosu to crack the starting lineup on merit alone. He needed some luck - which in the NFL equates to injury for another player- or some freedom. We never cheer for injuries, but freedom usually runs the risk of limited options along with it for unproven commodities.
In Barrett’s case, he had to wait for freedom as he played behind names like Demarcus Ware and Von Miller. When the Denver Broncos drafted Bradley Chubb, Barrett knew his time in Colorado was over. Fortunately for Nwosu, he didn’t have to wait as long as Barrett did, and Sunday against Tampa Bay presents another opportunity for him to get his name recognized as an impact player in Los Angeles.
Sack Tom Brady, and people notice.
Nwosu has one sack this season, and it came against Cincinnati Bengals rookie, Joe Burrow. He’ll obviously be looking to add to that total in Week 4, and with so much attention paid to Bosa on the other side, he’ll likely get some one-on-one opportunities.
The similarities between Barrett and Nwosu basically stop at having to wait for their opportunity. Barrett was undrafted out of Colorado State, while Nwosu was selected in the second-round out of USC.
Nwosu’s time at USC showed off his raw athleticism and ability to both rush the passer and provide a coverage option for the Trojans. Selected by the Chargers, he was expected to provide both at the NFL level as well, and has shown flashes of what made him a favorite among sleeper enthusiasts.
In his final season with the Trojans Nwosu turned in 9.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage while coming away with the lone interception of his collegiate career.
As a pro, the Chargers have Nwosu labeled as a linebacker, but he’s on their depth chart as a defensive end. He’s a pass rusher at the end of the day, and however he needs to get there, he’ll do what he can to make it happen.
Through two years, Nwosu had 5.5 sacks with three of them coming in his rookie season in 2018.
Three games into his third season, the signature play of his career has to be the strip-sack he had on Lamar Jackson to end the Baltimore Ravens’ 2018 post-season campaign.
With thirty or so seconds remaining in the game, the Ravens offense had the ball and no timeouts at midfield looking to score a game winning touchdown, at home. Instead, as Jackson cocked back to pass the ball Nwosu (who starts the play on the left side of the defensive line; No. 42) stuck his paw out and swiped the football away from his throwing hand, and Chargers teammate Melvin Ingram III recovered the ball.
#Chargers pass rusher Uchenna Nwosu ended the #Ravens' 2018 season with this strip-sack of Lamar Jackson. He'll be looking to get in on #Bucs quarterback Tom Brady this Sunday to help Los Angeles get their second win of the season. pic.twitter.com/5qvy1YYNeF— David Harrison (@DHarrison82) October 3, 2020
Perhaps it was high expectations following plays like this one in Nwosu’s rookie season, or perhaps he just didn’t live up to billing. Either way, he has gone from “Disappointing second season” to ‘standout player’ in just three games this year.
His next one is this weekend against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the Los Angeles Chargers come to town to face-off in Raymond James Stadium. Whether it’s he who gets to Tom Brady or the offensive line which keeps him at bay, Nwosu has proven his worth, and will impact this weekend’s outcome.
For more on Nwosu and how the Chargers stack-up against the Bucs, check out this week’s Crossover Thursday special episode with me and the host of the Locked On Chargers Podcast!