It is tough to imagine one of San Diego's starters get talked about less than Kendall Reyes. That's likely because most Chargers fans don't know what to make of the former second-round pick as he enters the fourth and final season of his rookie contract.
Reyes has some nice numbers to hang his hat on, including 10.5 sacks in his first two seasons (pretty impressive for someone playing in a three-man front). However, he rarely makes game-changing plays and seems to disappear for long stretches.
With training camp fast approaching, we decided to dig a little deeper into Reyes' performance. Will he be the next Vaughn Martin or Cam Thomas, promising defensive linemen who plateaued and left after their rookie deals expired? Or can he follow the more lucrative footsteps of fellow starting defensive end Corey Liuget?
Last season, Reyes graded out negatively in all but five games, according to Pro Football Focus. The exceptions were Week 3 at Buffalo, Week 13 at Baltimore, Week 14 versus New England, Week 15 versus Denver and Week 17 at Kansas City. While that is certainly a rough number, it is encouraging that four of his top-five outings came over the final five weeks of the season.
Nonetheless, his numbers for the season as a whole were poor, including -10.4 against the run and -11.0 against the pass. His run defense was actually markedly better than the season prior (he had a -20.3 against the run in 2013), while his pass defense got worse (which was obvious, as he posted a career-low one sack in 2014).
In fact, his pass defense has been in decline since his promising rookie season, when his grade as a pass rusher was a +5.8 as he recorded 5.5 sacks in just 547 snaps.
His run defense has been decidedly negative throughout his career, which is disappointing given he has the size (6'4", 300 lbs.) and strength to be more effective in that area. Perhaps things will get easier as Ryan Carrethers moves into the starting role at nose tackle. Not only should the massive Carrethers help occupy additional blockers, but his presence in the middle frees up guys like Sean Lissemore and Mitch Unrein to sub in for Reyes on first and second downs at left defensive end.
Both Lissemore and Unrein grade out as average run defenders, according to PFF, but average is a vast improvement over what Reyes has been doing versus the run.
The hope is Reyes can rediscover his effectiveness as a pass rusher. The back end of the defense appears primed to do its part now that Jason Verrett is healthy and Jimmy Wilson, Patrick Robinson and Craig Mager have been added to the mix. If the coverage can make opposing quarterbacks hold onto the ball a half-second longer, it will help Reyes get back to his rookie form.
Reyes wasn't that far away last season, as he recorded 13 quarterback hurries and six quarterback hits despite posting just the one sack.
If things don't break his way, Reyes' time in San Diego may be done. He will be an unrestricted free agent next offseason, joining a list that could include Philip Rivers, Eric Weddle, Antonio Gates and fellow defensive lineman Ricardo Mathews. It is hard to see Reyes being viewed as a priority in that group unless he really puts together a special 2015 season.
If Reyes does not stick around beyond this season, it is possible his replacement is already on the roster. The Chargers spent a sixth-round pick this year on DL Darius Philon, an explosive penetrator who recorded 4.5 sacks and 11.5 TFLs during his final season at Arkansas.
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Michael Lombardo has covered the San Diego Chargers since 2003. He spent 12 years covering the team for Scout.com and has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. In addition to being publisher of SDBoltReport.com, he works as the Senior NFL Reporter for Footballinsiders.com. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter @NFLinsider_Mike.