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Terry McLaurin is going to be a problem for defenses this year. Just ask Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley.
"I've got a lot of respect for Terry McLaurin," Staley told reporters on Monday. "Getting ready for him this year, I think this is one of the top up-and-coming receivers in the NFL."
There's a lot for Staley, who orchestrated the league's best defense in 2020 with the Los Angeles Rams, to plan for ahead of the Chargers' matchup with the Washington Football Team, whether it be the veteran savvy of Ryan Fitzpatrick or the versatility of Antonio Gibson. Of all things to consider, McLaurin's ability as a complete receiver is near the top.
Staley's Rams managed to contain McLaurin last year in a soggy 30-10 win at FedExField. With perennial Pro Bowler and All-Pro Jalen Ramsey shadowing him, McLaurin was held to just 26 yards on three receptions -- his third lowest production last season.
McLaurin is capable of more than that, though, and Staley knows it. Prior to the Week 5 matchup, the former third-round pick was averaging 96 yards per game. Staley put together a reel of McLaurin squaring off against some of the NFL's best corners during his rookie season ahead of last year's game. What he saw was McLaurin sprinting away from defensive backs to the pace of 58 receptions for 919 yards and seven touchdowns.
"The guy's got real speed," Staley said. "He can run the route tree anywhere, outside or inside. He runs really hard, and what that does is it puts pressure on you every snap defensively."
This isn't the first time Staley has raved about McLaurin. In February, Staley reflected back on how he challenged Ramsey and the Rams' defensive backs ahead of seeing the receiver. He's way faster than you think, Staley said, and he's efficient after making a catch.
"I was like, guys, he runs hard. He's not like some of these other ones that kind of float and drift. I'm like, he's running, and I think that guy is really good."
By all accounts, McLaurin has taken another step forward since Staley last saw him. On top of finishing 2020 with 1,118 yards, he's improved his releases at the line of scrimmage to become a more potent deep threat. Ron Rivera has seen him run cleaner routes and make better decisions in his breaks. Those aspects of McLaurin's skillset were already above many other wideouts with his experience. Now, they're cleaner and more precise.
"It is interesting because he is such a young player, and he has had two very successful seasons so far," Rivera said. "I couldn't tell you what he was like [in] his first season, but last year he caught my attention immediately and he has done the same thing and has been more impressive."
Staley won't have Ramsey to work against McLaurin, but strong safety Derwin James and the Chargers' ninth-ranked passing defense isn't a bad substitute. James, a first-round pick from 2018, put together a First Team All-Pro rookie season prior to missing most of 2019 and all of 2020 due to injuries. No matter who's defending McLaurin, though, Staley doesn't expect it to be an easy task.
"He's only going to get better, and I'm a huge fan of his game," Staley said. "It's going to be a big challenge for us."