The Los Angeles Chargers headed into the 2021 offseason with multiple holes to fill in NFL Free Agency. Outside of fixing the offensive line, LA also went out and signed proven special teams players to improve their 30th-ranked special teams from last season.
Special teams has actually been a serious issue for years, not just last season. From missed field goals to giving up punt returns, the mistakes cost the Chargers many winnable games. There are quite a few special teams categories that all add up when it comes to the rankings. The Chargers only rank inside the top-10 in one category, and that is average kick return yards (No. 3). Los Angeles sits in the middle of the pack and towards the back of the league in just about every other statistic.
Chargers Special Teams Rankings
|Opponent Punt Return Yards||564||Rank: 32|
|Opponent Kick Return Yards||913||Rank: 27|
|Field Goal Percentage||72.7%||Rank: 29|
|Opponent Kick Returns||34||Rank: 20|
|Punt Returns||18||Rank: 26|
Special teams is a third of football. Every single player knows how important it is to have a strong unit in between the offense and defense. Many teams, like the Chargers, have previously tried to sweep it under the rug, but it just reappears every game. Just look at the 45-0 blowout loss to the Patriots in 2020. Cam Newton finished with 69 pass yards. The Patriots offense did not win that game. Obviously, winning by a shutout means the defense did their job, but it was the special teams unit for New England that embarrassed Anthony Lynn and the Chargers.
In that game against the Patriots, the Chargers saw countless mistakes on special teams that led to the blowout. On the first offensive possession for LA, kicker Michael Badgley missed a 46-yard field goal. The next possession ended in a punt that Patriots’ Gunner Olszewski took to the house, and the score was a quick 14-0. The Chargers’ offense kept stalling and later settled for another field goal before the half, but this time it was deflected and scooped up by Devin McCourty for a touchdown. The score sailed to 28-0 right before the half and the Chargers’ special teams were getting dominated. All of the special teams’ mistakes were made in the first half but that was enough to intimidate the Chargers into an eventual 45-0 blowout. That game is a perfect example of how bad a special teams unit can hurt a team.
How Did the Chargers Improve Special Teams?
The Chargers signed and re-signed proven special teams players that will hope to fix years of mistakes. The Chargers re-signed kicker Michael Badgley and cornerback Brandon Facyson to one-year contracts. The Bolts also signed free-agent linebacker Kyler Fackrell and cornerback Ryan Smith to one-year contracts.
Michael Badgley, K
The Bolts are taking a chance on Badgley despite his lack of performance. It’s been many years since the Chargers have had a solid kicker, and the team thought they had one in Badgley during his rookie season, but since then has slowed down. He kicked really well his rookie year, going 15-16 in field goal attempts in 10 games. Since then, he is 37-49, but has dealt with injuries. Last season was his worst in three years, as he finished 24-33 (72.7%). The Chargers hope that Badgley can bounce back and, if he does, then that will help the special teams tremendously. The talent is there for Badgley, he just needs to go out there and get it done.
Brandon Facyson, CB
The Virginia Tech Alum is back with the Chargers for his fourth season. Facyson gets most of his playing time on special teams, so his experience will help improve the group. Facyson forced one fumble last season and ended with 13 solo tackles, but other than that, he hasn’t found his mark yet. With just four career starts at corner, he’ll look to focus on special teams. Although, the cornerback position for the Chargers is slim, so he could work to earn a spot on the defense.
Kyler Fackrell, OLB
Kyler Fackrell is entering his sixth season as a pro and first as a Charger. He spent last season with the New York Giants and previous four with the Green Bay Packers. The Chargers do love signing former Packers. Fackrell plays off the edge and is credited for 20.5 sacks for his career. 2018 was a big year for the Utah State alum, as he ended with 10.5 sacks and 42 tackles (29 solo). His production will earn him snaps on defense in 2021, but he will also get special teams reps if not declared the starting outside linebacker. Outside of last season with the New York Giants, Fackrell played at least 42 percent of the special teams snaps in each of his four seasons in Green Bay.
Fackrell intercepted quarterback Dak Prescott last season and returned it for a touchdown.
Ryan Smith, CB
Ryan Smith ranked second on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in special teams snaps during their 2020 Super Bowl run, tallying four tackles. As a gunner, Smith is known as a standout on special teams. The former Buc isn’t a fancy Chargers free agency sign at cornerback like the lack of depth at the position entails, but will be a crucial part of the punt and kickoff units. Smith played a majority if his pro snaps in 2017 for the Bucs, tallying 59 tackles and 48 solo tackles. Since then, he has seen most if his reps on special teams but not without notice.