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NFL breakout players 2018: Darius Philon makes a strong Chargers pass rush downright stifling

Big enough to stop the run, small enough to press the pocket ... Philon is exactly what the middle of the Chargers D-line needs.

Denver Broncos v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Chargers defensive lineman Darius Philon had a very impressive season last year. This year, I think he is going to blow people away.

It took awhile for the former 2015 sixth-rounder to earn a spot in the defensive line rotation. He ended up on injured reserve as a rookie with a hip injury that limited him to just eight games. He was active for 14 games in 2016, but he didn’t make much of an impact, notching only 11 tackles and a single sack as a backup. Then, finally, last season Philon saw his playing time increase, and so did his production.

Philon is a perfect 3-technique for San Diego’s defensive scheme.

At 6’1 and 300 pounds, he is big enough to play the run, but still small enough to be a quick and agile pass rusher.

I loved watching Philon play the run last season because he was like an animal out there, always trying to hand out punishment. With his stocky frame, Philon has what I like to refer to as “natural leverage,” and in a sport where, most of the time, the lowest man wins, that can be very beneficial when trying to play the run. Because he went so hard and played so violently, not only was he hard to move, but Philon also was frequently able to knock offensive linemen back on their side of the line of scrimmage enough to affect the runner.

His quickness showed up big time when he had to move laterally on run stunts. He moved so suddenly that he was able to clear offensive linemen practically untouched at times.

Philon’s hustle was delightful to watch as well. I just loved how he ran to the ball and how he was always looking to finish off plays. He gave everything he had on damn near every play. That’s the kind of effort any team can win with.

Philon’s real strong suit was as an interior pass rusher.

His quickness really showed up when he was getting after the quarterback, and he pass rushed just as violently as he played the run. Last season, Philon showed he can win one-on-ones with offensive linemen on a pretty consistent basis, which is not something a lot of interior defensive linemen can do. That’s why they pay the ones who can the big bucks (or make them hold out for their bread as the Rams are foolishly doing).

Having a guy inside who can push the pocket and keep the quarterback from just stepping up to avoid pressure means opposing teams can’t only focus on trying to block the Chargers’ bookends of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa on the edge. It also means opposing quarterbacks will end up in a lot of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenarios with pressure coming from all three at the same time.

The more Philon continues to progress as an interior pass rusher, the stronger the Chargers’ pass defense will be overall this year.

The best part is, heading into his fourth season out of Arkansas, Philon appears to be just coming into his own. As a backup most of last season, who wasn’t even usually in on most passing downs, Philon still managed to get 4.5 sacks which was the fourth highest on the team and the third highest for the defensive line. By contrast, Corey Liuget, the regular starter, is heading into his eighth season and hasn’t had at least 4.5 sacks since 2014.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Philon overtakes Liuget as the starter this season, but regardless of whether he’s a starter or a backup, Philon is primed to breakout as an interior pass rusher. I am betting you see him a lot more on third-and-long this year. Philon took a good step forward last season, but this year it’s going to be a leap.

Confidence level: Moderate