Having already lost Derwin James and Mike Pouncey for the season, the Los Angeles Chargers just got bit by the injury bug yet again. With Melvin Ingram landing on injured reserve, LA must find a way to replace one of the NFL’s best pass rushers. With their $14 million star out for at least three weeks, the Chargers need one of their recent early-round draft picks to step up immediately.
Melvin Ingram has developed into one of the NFL’s top pass rushers
Following an All-American career at the University of South Carolina, Melvin Ingram entered the 2012 NFL draft as one of the top-rated defensive prospects. The Chargers selected the talented, versatile front-seven defender with the 18th overall pick.
The 6-foot-2, 247-pound defensive end struggled to make an early impact due to injuries. In fact, Ingram totaled just six sacks in his first three years with the Chargers.
However, he finally lived up to his first-round pedigree in 2015. Ingram broke out with 10.5 sacks, 20 quarterback hits, and three forced fumbles. He confirmed that his 2015 season would not be an outlier by totaling eight sacks and 19 QBH in 2016.
The explosive edge rusher then signed a four-year, $66 million contract in the summer of 2017. Ingram responded by tying his career-high with 10.5 sacks playing opposite Joey Bosa before totaling seven sacks in 2018. Last year, he earned his third straight Pro Bowl berth despite playing only 13 games.
Chargers lose their $14 million star
For the Chargers, the 2020 season started off on the wrong foot. Star safety Derwin James tore his meniscus and got placed on injured reserve. Mike Pouncey’s season also ended before it began due to hip surgery. And on Saturday, the team announced that Melvin Ingram will also land on IR due to a knee ailment.
While Ingram’s knee issue does not appear to be season-ending, it still represents another brutal blow for a team that has been ravaged by injuries. The 31-year-old missed three games in 2019 with a hamstring strain and will now be out until at least Week 6.
For Ingram, missing extensive time could also hurt his wallet. In August, ESPN reported that the Chargers fully guaranteed Ingram’s $14 million salary for the 2020 season. However, the ninth-year pro is in the final year of the four-year extension he signed in 2017. After playing all 16 games for four consecutive seasons, Ingram will hit free agency coming off back-to-back injury-shortened campaigns.
The former first-round pick failed to record a single quarterback hit or sack in the Chargers’ first two games. By the time he returns, he will only have about 10 games or so to prove he can still get after the quarterback at an elite level.
For Ingram, who is already on the wrong side of 30, the trickle-down effect of getting injured could prove detrimental when he tries to land a new contract. Will an NFL team be willing to invest tens of millions in guaranteed dollars on an aging player who has suffered lower-body injuries in consecutive seasons?
Ultimately, that question won’t get answered until the spring. For now, the Chargers must figure out who else can get after the quarterback with their $14 million star sidelined.
Who will step up with Ingram out?
Luckily for the Chargers, they still have an elite edge rusher in Joey Bosa. However, not even the man with a $135 million contract can carry the load himself. In fact, the former Ohio State star will likely see more double-teams now that offenses do not have to worry about Melvin Ingram flying off the edge.
LA fans should not give up hope, though. The team does have a promising pass rusher who could shine in a more prominent role in the form of Uchenna Nwosu.
The Chargers selected the former USC standout with the 48th overall pick just two years ago. In his first two seasons, the 6-foot-2, 251-pounder has flashed the ability to get after the quarterback. Despite playing a part-time role, Nwosu entered the 2020 season with 5.5 sacks and 17 quarterback hits on his resume.
Even before Ingram went down with an injury, the 2018 second-round pick already appeared to have taken the next step in his development. In LA’s Week 1 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals, Nwosu recorded a sack and a quarterback hit on just 16 defensive snaps. He added two more quarterback hits on 27 snaps in Week 2.
Now, the explosive edge rusher will have to prove he can handle full-time duties with his star teammate out with a knee injury. If not, the Chargers will struggle to stop anyone on defense, at least until Melvin Ingram returns.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.