COSTA MESA, Calif. — Los Angeles Chargers defensive backs coach Ron Milus can point to the play when Nasir Adderley, the team’s second-round pick out of Delaware, grabbed his attention. It’s when the rookie safety with ties to the Pro Football Hall of Fame looked like a Hall of Famer from a different sport.
It’s late in the second half of a win over the University of Richmond when Adderley sprints deep down the field and makes an acrobatic, diving catch for an interception.
“It’s a pump fake,” Milus says, “the guy does a double move and he starts down the middle of the field. The ball goes down the middle of the field and he makes a lay-out-flat, over-the-shoulder catch — the kind that Willie Mays used to make.
“That was probably the one that showed us, ‘OK, this guy’s got real ball skills. He can make the unusual catch.’ I thought that was pretty unique for most players at that level of play.”
The Chargers have not had a true, ball-hawking free safety since Eric Weddle left in free agency before the 2016 season. Milus believes that Adderley, who prefers to go by Nas, can help the Jack Boys take the ball away more in 2019. The Chargers had just 13 interceptions last season after finishing tied for first with 18 in 2016.
Adderley believes landing with the Chargers, where he can pair with second-year strong safety Derwin James, was the perfect fit.
“Man, it’s incredible,” Adderley said about playing with James. “We can be one of the best safety duos in the league. I can promise you that.”
Not so fast, says Milus. Adderley, who will participate in the team’s rookie minicamp May 10-12, will have to earn the starting job first, competing with incumbent Rayshawn Jenkins and Jaylen Watkins.
“Let’s let these guys grow up,” Milus said, pumping the brakes. “I’m not even going to go there. But I like the potential of these two, young players that hopefully can grow together, and be a nice little tandem for the future.”
A four-year starter at Delaware, Adderley totaled 264 combined tackles, 11 interceptions and 24 pass deflections. He spent his first two seasons at cornerback and the past two at safety.
Although he played at a small school, Adderley impressed during Senior Bowl week. He was named a North team captain, finishing with a pick and five tackles in a 34-24 win over the South.
“He’s a ball hawk, a playmaker,” Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward said. “At this level that’s what you need — a guy who can cause turnovers, get extra possessions for the offense and I think we have a lot of those guys on this defense.
“Hopefully, he can come in right away and do the same thing he did in college.”
Milus said his first exposure to Adderley was after the NFL scouting combine. Milus attended Adderley’s pro day and was scheduled to work him out, but that was canceled after Adderley suffered a hamstring injury running the 40-yard dash.
Instead, the Chargers had Adderley in for a pre-draft visit, where he impressed the coaching staff.
“This kid is his own man,” Milus said. “He’s self-made. He decides he’s going to go to Delaware and he makes himself into one of the top safeties in the draft. I would think that when he takes this next step, he will have the same work ethic that he did at Delaware, bring that here and hopefully that will be enough to make him one of the better safeties at this level.”
One person familiar with Adderley’s journey to the NFL is Pro Football Hall of Famer Herb Adderley.
Nasir’s grandfather, Nelson, is the first cousin of Charles Adderley, the father of the former Packers’ and Cowboys’ great.
Nelson Adderley, who played at Ohio State and in the Canadian Football League, served as his grandson’s mentor through adolescence. So much so that when Nelson Adderley died at age 65 in 2008 while Nasir was in high school, the younger Adderley had the date tattooed on his arm.
It was after his grandfather passed that Nasir reached out to connect with Herb Adderley. And the older Adderley has served as a mentor ever since, holding regular conversations and sharing texts.
Herb offered Nasir a list of 25 things that would help him later in life, from having a respect for God and respect for his mother to how to train and handle himself on the field.
“He’s helped me tremendously, even just going from high school to college,” Nasir said about Herb Adderley. “Just being a positive role model for me. I don’t know where I would be without him. His support just has meant the world to me.”
A natural safety that moved to cornerback in the NFL, Herb Adderley says he sees some similarities in the way he played with the younger Adderley.
“The first time I saw him on video I thought, ‘Man, he looks so much like me,'” said Adderley, now 79. “Just his body build and the way he moved, his mannerisms. I knew right then and there that he had the potential, if he had his grades up, to get into some college somewhere.”
“We talk often. We text and we talk by phone. The only thing I tell him is now that he knows where he’s going, he knows what he has to do. He has to continue to work hard. The main thing I tell him is keep his body in shape and stay in the best physical condition possible. He’s a good kid. I appreciate him and I couldn’t have treated my son any better because he listened to what I had to tell him. I just told him what it was going to take, and he followed everything I told him, and went beyond what I told him to do.”
Nasir Adderley saw the older Adderley’s bust at the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he took a trip with his little league football team as a youngster, finding motivation in seeing his last name in Canton.
“The first thing he did was to go over and look at the busts until he found mine,” Herb Adderley said. “He said he was just overwhelmed to be there and see the Hall of Fame in Canton, and what it takes to get there. He said he saw mine, saw the name on there and just got a feeling that’s hard to explain. He thought to himself, ‘I sure would like to be there and have my bust next to his.'”
The older Adderley said he’ll be watching more Chargers’ games this season, but won’t be rooting for them when the Packers travel west to Los Angeles for a Week 9 contest with the Bolts.
“I’m a Chargers’ fan, except when they play the Packers,” joked Adderley. “On that day I won’t be a Chargers’ fan.”