Following a low snap count in his debut for the Los Angeles Chargers, Uchenna Nwosu should have a bigger role moving forward. But how much will he play?
The Los Angeles Chargers watched first-year starter Patrick Mahomes light up their top-five secondary in Week 1, being torched for four touchdowns and registering no turnovers. Did the defense miss Joey Bosa? Absolutely. But why didn’t they use 2018 second-round selection Uchenna Nwosu?
A preseason star, Nwosu registered three sacks and multiple quarterback pressures in limited action. For many, he was the standout player from the 2018 rookie class. Poised for a big role against a divisional rival, Nwosu registered a whopping two snaps on defense. Two. Unacceptable.
Fans know Nwosu will get onto the field more in the coming weeks, as his talent and pass rush ability makes that inevitable. But to what extent will he play?
We’re going to take a look at the recent history of Chargers rookies, and what percentage of snaps they were given by coaches in the first four weeks following their first available game. From there, we can predict Nwosu’s usage in Week 2, and how much he will play moving forward.
All snap count percentages courtesy of Football Outsiders (Figures listed are percentages):
- Joey Bosa, DE (from Week 5): 38, 76, 72, 85
- Hunter Henry, TE: 41, 57, 100, 97
- Max Tuerk, C: N/A (injured)
- Joshua Perry, LB (from Week 4): 34, 18, 0, 2
- Jatavis Brown, LB: 27, 47, 44, 93
- Mike Williams, WR (from Week 6): 17, 24, 39, 39
- Forrest Lamp, G: n/a (injured)
- Dan Feeney, G (from Week 4): 7, 12, 17, 45 (played full 100 percent in next game with Slauson injury)
- Rayshawn Jenkins, DB: 4, 0, 0, 0
- Desmond King, DB: 4, 82, 62, 78
2018 (only one week)
- Derwin James, DB: 100
- Uchenna Nwosu, LB: 4
- Justin Jones, DT: 43
- Kyzir White, LB: 79
- Scott Quessenberry, G: n/a (inactive)
The most impressive trend comes from the most unlikely place: Day 3 picks making the most impact in terms of snap counts. Brown, King and White are fourth- and fifth-round selections who were given at least 75 percent or more of the defensive snaps within their first four games of starting.
First-round selections Bosa and Williams did not make impacts on opening day due to injury, but did eventually find a way onto the field. One was a superstar from the second he stepped onto the field, and the other labeled by many after one year. For what it’s worth, Williams played 54 percent of the snaps against the Chiefs in Week 1 this year, and should have even more snaps against the Bills with Benjamin nursing an injury.
James, this year’s first-round selection, is an outlier. No other player over the last three years has played every snap in their first available game, and only one other player (Henry) has played 100 percent in one of his first four appearances.
With Nwosu, it’s disappointing to see him play only four percent of his defensive snaps, but recent history shows that impact players will find a way onto the field. King, entering the league in the fifth round of the 2017 draft, played a similar four percent of snaps in his first available game. The next week: 82 percent. Once he broke the rotation, he never let go of his role.
Another positive indicator that Nwosu will eventually get more snaps is his versatility. While effective as a run-stopping edge-setter, he’s possibly more impactful as a pass rusher. This should allow him to stay on the field on all three downs, and rack up meaningful snaps in the process.
While there will be a meaningful increase in snaps, I don’t believe Nwosu outright replaces starter Kyle Emanuel, who played 48 percent of the defensive plays in Week 1. Expect the team to be aggressive in the pass rush against a rookie quarterback, where Nwosu should get the nod.
Prediction: 40 percent of the defensive snaps in Week 2.