Jeremy Chinn finished second in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting last season while being listed as a linebacker. The Carolina Panthers want to move the playmaking defender to a full-time safety role.
"Obviously, he would be a big safety, and he would be able to cover tight ends," coach Matt Rhule said of the move, via the Associated Press. "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."
If your immediate thought was "Wait, I thought he already was a safety?" that's not surprising. Wearing No. 21 as a rookie (before the new rules especially made numbers meaningless) added to the confusion. NFL.com listed Chinn as a safety, as did Next Gen Stats and Pro Football Focus. Pro Football Reference listed him as a linebacker, as did Ourlads depth charts. The Panthers' team website also listed him as an LB -- the most official voice on the matter.
Any confusion stems from Chinn's ability to make an impact from anywhere on the field. Chinn led all rookies with 116 tackles and added an interception, five passes defensed, two forced fumbles, a sack and five QB hits. The rookie made NFL history returning two fumbles for touchdowns on back-to-back plays from scrimmage in Week 12 against Minnesota.
Pro Football Focus charted Chinn all over the formation. He lined up in the box on 392 snaps, along the D-line on 84, slot corner 230 times, wide corner 24, and free safety 237 snaps.
"I'm comfortable playing safety and I'm comfortable playing any position, so wherever I'm needed, I will play," Chinn said.
Part of the plan to move Chinn deeper to safety is to help get him away from potential blockers. The dynamic playmaker, a safety in college, should have more space to fly to the ball. Chinn also knows that size played a role in the decision.
"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."
Regardless of how he's labeled, expect Chinn to continue making plays all over the formation, wherever the Panthers line him up in 2021.