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NFL Draft

Jeremy Chinn Exceeding Expectations, Still Has Work To Do

  • The Draft Network
  • September 29, 2020
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Here’s a tweet from Daniel Jeremiah, a lead draft analyst for NFL Network and one of the most respected player personnel evaluators in the media.

Here is the grade that PFF gave Jeremy Chinn for his performance against the Chargers in Week 3, the Panthers’ first win and best defensive outing to date: 48.9. It was the worst grade on the Panthers’ defense. 

Stark disagreements are not rare in the wide and varied world of football analysis. Nor is this one a particularly stringent or hostile one. The Panthers’ defense is extremely young, very collegiate, and generally bad. How well Chinn is playing is not the deciding factor between playoff contention and busted big plays, nor is it an urgent matter for an early-drafted rookie or third-year developmental player. It’s the 64th overall pick, getting all of the snaps on defense both because he’s pretty good, and because there’s nobody else besides him to get them. 

I hopped into Chinn film to throw my hat in the ring of takes on his play through three weeks, and unsurprisingly, I land somewhere in the middle of these two poles. Chinn hasn’t been bad at all; there are certainly players on the Panthers defense that I would consider greater liabilities than Chinn. Chinn also hasn’t been the best player on the Panthers defense, in my estimation. That ceiling is certainly there, but that’s a long climb that will take much of the remaining season.

The most important box that a rookie can check has been soundly checked by Chinn: he’s playing fast. The most common rookie hurdle, especially for a player in the defensive backfield like Chinn, is stagnant processing. Stunned by the flurry of action and souped-up speed of NFL offenses, it is not uncommon to see young defenders lag behind their teammates in their pace of play. I would argue that is part of Derrick Brown’s problem, as Brown—the Panthers’ first-round pick—is putting a lot of good reps on film, but is often a little bit late to trigger and execute. For a player of Chinn’s small-school background, tasked with the variety of alignments he’s been given by Phil Snow in the Panthers defense, some slow processing would be expected.

But generally, Chinn is one of the first players on the Panthers’ secondary to flow, attack, trigger, and go. He’s playing with his hair on fire and arrives at the contact point with bad intentions. Chinn’s most impressive plays this season have been his pursuit plays, in which his long stride, second gear, and hitting power have been on display. Chinn has more tackles than any rookie through three games of the season, and it’s not hard to see why.

Aggressive and explosive, Chinn has been a delight on boundary and constraint plays early in the season. The majority of his reps this season have been at a combined box/slot alignment, making him a second-level defender responsible often for flat zones. From here, and even when rotated down onto the line of scrimmage, Chinn has been excellent at crashing down on quick plays to the outside. When he plays with his hips into the action, he’s been a reliable and violent tackler, a quick processor, and an athlete that offenses find flummoxing.

This deployment is great for a player like Chinn, as it takes advantage of his athletic ability while also simplifying what he has to handle mentally. Chinn was at his best at Southern Illinois when working into the line of scrimmage or handling short zones as a buzz safety and sometimes a dime linebacker, as he has the size to hang in that role. In short zones, Chinn understands his keys and his responsibilities, and has had moments of success relating to underneath routes and closing throwing windows.

This play against tight end Hunter Henry in Week 3 was a big one to see. Chinn reads a short drop from quarterback Justin Herbert and a slower stem from Henry and settles his feet, unwilling to gain depth and give up an underneath throwing window. When the route settles, he jumps the window, forcing Herbert to place the ball in an uncatchable spot to prevent Chinn from playing on it.

This rep matters because Chinn still needs work in zone spacing. Against a team like the Chargers who released their running back Austin Ekeler into the passing concept in a variety of ways, Chinn struggled to appropriately space through the route concept, and if he continues to play in this underneath role, must get a feel for molding his zone drops to the concept as it develops. Especially as the Panthers continue to experiment with playing Chinn in a center fielding role (50 snaps in three weeks), his sense of spacing must continue to improve.

Chinn is playing good ball for a late second-rounder on a defense without much support, and that’s commendable. He’s energetic, electric, galvanizing—that will not only keep his team’s spirits up as they slough through a losing season, but also help him develop through his struggles. On a day in which the Panthers got a win, he made a couple of the most exciting plays, including the TFL on the screen and the hit on Herbert. 

But he isn’t perfect, and that’s why he went at No. 64 overall. Chinn needs zone work before his man coverage even begins getting examined, as he’s yet to get significant man cover responsibilities and had struggles there in college.

It is enough to say that a rookie is exceeding expectations while also acknowledging that there’s work to be done. Panthers fans have plenty of reasons to be excited about Chinn, both short- and long-term, and Chinn has plenty of work to do to deliver on that excitement in the seasons to come for Carolina.

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