Carolina Panthers free safety, no wait, strong safety? Or was it linebacker? Maybe nickel defender? This, where broken and incomplete, is actually a perfect way to usher in the topic of Jeremy Chinn’s role in his second year with the Panthers and where he might see most of his snaps.
As a rookie, Chinn was fantastic. Technically, he’s listed as a linebacker, but that’s all depending on who you ask. The NFL’s main website listed him as a safety, along with Next Gen Stats and Pro Football Focus. Pro Football Reference and Ourlads depth charts had him as a linebacker. The Panthers’ official team site has him as a linebacker.
According to Pro Football Focus, Chinn played 392 in the box as a linebacker or strong safety, 230 snaps at slot cornerback, and 237 snaps at free safety. But the majority of his snaps coming inside the box might not have been the preference of Chinn, rather the best way for him to make the biggest impact on the team, as the Panthers defense was thin at impact linebackers outside of Shaq Thompson.
Linebackers don’t normally come in Chinn’s size. At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, his height is in the 77th percentile for the off-ball linebacker position, but his weight is in just the third percentile. But size be damned; Chinn was electric when he was allowed to make plays at the second level, either lining up at linebacker at the snap or coming downhill as a safety.
The plan this year is for Chinn to play more of a full-time safety role, as long as he is comfortable with that, according to The Charlotte Post.
"Obviously he would be a big safety and he would be able to cover tight ends," Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said recently. "He can go fit the run too. It's rare to have a guy that big, with that size and that intelligence level. He's one of those guys that can fill a lot of different roles for us."
This was a decision that Chinn himself was clearly in on, and weight may have played a big factor here. Playing linebacker for one season at 220 pounds is one thing, but trying to take the punishment of playing in the box at such a lighter weight for an extended period of time might not only be dangerous for Chinn but also disadvantageous to his speed attributes.
"That's definitely a factor, me being a smaller linebacker," Chinn said. "It's not typical you see 218- or 220-pound linebackers in the NFL so that definitely played a part. And as far as making plays, I feel like they can be made at either position. When you're a linebacker you're a little closer to the ball and a little closer to the line of scrimmage. When you're a safety you can also make plays on the ball in the air."
The Panthers signed veteran linebacker Denzel Perryman this offseason, which gives them a more traditional big body in the middle next to Thompson. This was also likely a big factor in the desire to let Chinn be more of the last line of defense kind of player with his length and speed.
It’s not a position he’s unfamiliar with, as is evident by the 237 snaps he played at free safety last season. Chinn also played both safety and cornerback at Southern Illinois. He was a consensus FCS All-American in 2019 at the safety position. Chinn also had 13 career interceptions at Southern Illinois. His chances to make an impact on the ball in the air don’t come nearly as much at linebacker as they do at safety, and with turnovers being king, not allowing for Chinn to go get you those kinds of high impact plays is not maximizing what he can do for your defense.
The idea is that Chinn can trade some of the numbers in that tackle column for more numbers in the turnover category in 2021. If you ask me, that’s the right move for such a versatile talented player.