Chargers draft JT Woods: Ballhawking safety adds depth to defensive backfield

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2022 NFL Draft follow-up: Live blog and pick-by-pick analysis

After a long delay, the Chargers were back on the clock Friday night at pick 79 and selected Baylor safety JT Woods.

Woods brings size, speed and ball production to the Chargers defensive backfield. A high school track sprinter, Woods is over 6-foot-2, ran a 4.36 40-yard sprint at the combine and led the nation in interceptions last season with six. He had nine interceptions and 14 passes defended in 23 games in his final two seasons for Baylor.

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Classification of the large painting: Woods was the 128th ranked player on Dane Brugler’s Big Board. He had a fourth through fifth grade. There were some intriguing options available at positions of need, including Miami (Ohio) edge rusher Dominique Robinson, Western Kentucky edge rusher DeAngelo Malone, UTSA CB Tariq Woolen, Houston CB Marcus Jones, Oklahoma DL Perrion Winfrey, Georgia LB Nakobe Dean and Texas A&M DL DeMarvin Neal. But they chose to add depth to the security instead.

Introduction: Woods is from San Antonio and was both a football player (wide receiver, safety) and sprinter (100-yard, 200-yard, and 110-yard hurdles) in high school. Woods continued his track career at Baylor, winning the 110-meter hurdles at the Baylor Invitational and placing third in the 100-meter at the USC Invitational. He has exceptional speed. Baylor was the only Power 5 school to offer him a football scholarship out of high school. He earned the nickname “The Heartbreak Kid” — or HBK for short — during a fall football camp at Baylor in 2019 due to his propensity to break QB hearts with picks. That translated into game action in 2020 and 2021 with his nine interceptions.

How it fits: The Chargers had 11 interceptions as a team in Brandon Staley’s first season as head coach. Only seven teams in the league had fewer. They need players who can take the ball away, and this choice seems geared towards achieving that goal. Brugler wrote in his draft guidebook that Woods has “great hand-eye coordination for snatching the ball in the air” and “likes to throw bait and set traps.” And he’s a weapon to bring any interception home with his speed and vision. He averaged 22.3 yards per interception return during his college career. Woods had a 20-yard interception return TD and a 97-yard fumble return TD in 2021.

Second guess? Safety was not high on my list of needs for the Chargers, and they had the option of targeting a player who would have filled a more glaring hole in the list, namely the corner or edge rusher.

Rookie Impact: Woods has some versatility. He said he played mostly in the deep end of the field as a free safety in Dave Aranda’s defense at Baylor. But he also played one-on-one with tight ends, played in the box and covered the slot. Along with his length, speed and ball skills, Woods has traits that could translate to an outside corner, and Brugler mentioned that positional change as an option in his scouting report on Woods.

Impact of the depth map: Derwin James and Nasir Adderley are the Chargers’ starting safety duo, so Woods will fight for playing time with backup safeties Mark Webb and Alohi Gilman. Woods has more range to play in the deep end of the court. Gilman and Webb are best served by lining up closer to the line of scrimmage. That part of Woods’ skill set gives the Chargers some depth of ground behind James and Adderley. And that depth was revealed last season when Adderley and James ran out of time. Trey Marshall struggled when called into action. It should be mentioned that Adderley is entering the final season of his rookie contract and was drafted under the previous training regime.

Quick assessment: Woods is a ballhawk with the production to back it up. We’ll see exactly where he stands in defense. But he has a very appealing mix of size and speed that should give the Chargers depth and flexibility in the nickel-and-dime packages. And Woods has the athletic traits and the physique to contribute as a special team, most likely as a gunner on the punt team.

(Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics)

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