Adrian Phillips was pleasantly surprised and humbled by his selection to the AFC Pro Bowl team in December, an honor the Chargers safety felt validated all the hard work he has put in over five NFL seasons after being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2014.
He was nearly speechless after being one of three Chargers named to the Associated Press All-Pro first team on Friday.
Phillips, who was waived or released by the Chargers eight times in his first two seasons before he finally stuck in 2016, made it as a special teams player. Rookie Derwin James was named a first-team safety, and slot cornerback Desmond King was named a first-team defensive back and second-team punt returner.
“I can’t even put it into words,” Phillips said of making the All-Pro team, which is chosen by a national panel of 50 media members. “I believed in myself ever since I started playing football. My parents, my whole family, taught me to keep grinding, keep the faith in God and don’t worry about the outside distractions.
“It’s a bumpy road sometimes, you go through a lot of stuff, and it depends on how you react to it. I reacted the right way, I kept grinding, and it all paid off.”
The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Phillips, who is undersized in his role as a middle linebacker in nickel and dime packages, ranked third on the team with 77 total tackles. He had one interception and 12 pass breakups and was a key contributor on every special teams unit.
James, a first-round pick out of Florida State last April, led the Chargers with 109 total tackles. He added three interceptions, 15 pass breakups and six quarterback hits while playing both free and strong safety and linebacker.
“He’s doing pretty much what we thought he would,” coach Anthony Lynn said of James. “He’s a heck of a football player, man. We liked him a lot coming out, and we couldn’t believe he was there when we picked. He’s living up to expectations.”
King, a Pro Bowl snub primarily because there is no slot cornerback position on the teams, had 60 total tackles, three interceptions, 13 pass breakups and two quarterback hits. He returned an interception 42 yards for a touchdown against Seattle and a punt 73 yards for a touchdown against Pittsburgh.
“This is bigger than making the Pro Bowl — it’s recognized by coaches and players and not just fans,” King said. “The Pro Bowl is a popularity vote, and I don’t have a fan base yet. That’s all right.”
King only returned punts in 10 games, sharing those duties with Travis Benjamin, but he was not surprised by his selection as a punt returner after returning 23 punts for 318 yards, an average of 13.8 yards a return.
“That’s something I take pride in,” King said. “Special teams are very critical in games … so being on there for punt return as well is showing I’m doing the right things and going in the right direction.”