NFL draft: Why Chargers’ new safety is called ‘Heartbreak Kid’

Baylor safety JT Woods tracks the play against Oklahoma State in December.
Baylor safety JT Woods has length and plenty of speed. Chargers coach Brandon Staley likes players with versatility.
(Roger Steinman / Associated Press)

The Chargers drafted a safety Friday who called his skill set “very unique,” his nickname also something rather special.

The “Heartbreak Kid” is now a Charger.

JT Woods joined the team as a third-round pick — No. 79 overall — bringing versatility, speed and playmaking ability.

During camp leading into the 2019 season at Baylor, then-Bears assistant Joey McGuire gave Woods the nickname because he and fellow defensive back Grayland Arnold had so many interceptions.


“So it was just kind of a joke that I’m breaking the hearts of the quarterbacks,” Woods said. “It just grew into something a whole lot bigger than it was at the time.”

Only one quarterback was taken in Round 1 of the NFL draft, and none in the second round, before three finally were selected in Round 3.

April 29, 2022

The nickname took hold because of Woods’ production in the seasons that followed. He had nine interceptions over his final two years at Baylor, including two in the Bears’ 21-7 victory over Mississippi in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1.

“I started breaking hearts of quarterbacks across the country,” Woods said, “not just the ones at the practice facility.”

Woods’ game is built on speed as he has been timed at 4.36 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He also has NFL-type length at 6 foot 2, 195 pounds and had a vertical jump of 40 inches.

All those measurable qualities led to general manager Tom Telesco also labeling Woods as “unique.”

“He is fast, like legitimately fast, fast, you know, football fast,” Telesco said. “He’s got really good ball skills, can turn the ball over. He’s aggressive, really good feel for the game. A really interesting player.”


Rams looked to fill a hole at guard when they selected Wisconsin’s Logan Bruss in the third round of the NFL draft. It was the Rams’ first pick of the draft.

April 29, 2022

Woods also was a sprinter and hurdler during his time at Baylor, another indication of how quickly he can move.

“As soon as you see him, you see how fast he plays,” Telesco said. “You notice it right off the bat. Sometimes guys with longer legs it takes them time to build and then you see the speed. He gets it going immediately.”

Woods said he mostly played in the deep part of the field in college, but the Chargers were attracted to him because of his ability to also line up in the slot against shiftier receivers.

Woods said he covered tight ends at times for the Bears, too, something that could potentially allow the Chargers to free up Derwin James Jr. in various sub packages.

“He’s a unique player,” Telesco said. “Like Nas [safety Nasir Adderley] and like Derwin, he’s a safety with a lot coverage ability with his length and his speed.”

Chargers top draft pick Zion Johnson will be their new starter at right guard, but his journey to the NFL took some interesting, and costly, turns.

April 29, 2022

Position flexibility — particularly in the secondary — is something coach Brandon Staley is emphasizing as the Chargers attempt to rebuild a defense that too often last season wilted.


Woods led the Big 12 with six interceptions last year, while finishing fourth on his team with 57 tackles.

He also opened the year by scoring touchdowns in back-to-back weeks — a 20-yard interception return against Texas State and a school-record 97-yard fumble return against Texas Southern.

The biggest knocks on Woods entering the draft involved his physicality and tackling, both of which are said to need improvement.

“He is aggressive, tough,” Telesco said. “The rest of it still has to come along a little bit. But he’s certainly more than willing to the point where he probably needs to pace himself down a little bit.”

Given his physical traits, Woods projects as a potential significant contributor on special teams. Telesco said his speed suggests he could be used as a gunner in punt coverage.

Woods called himself “a very coachable kid” and promised the Chargers are getting a player who will help them win games.


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April 28, 2022

“I do have the size, the speed, but I really use my intellect to kind of drive a lot of the plays I make,” Woods said. “My intellect and my instincts are what help me use my speed and my size to make the plays that I make.”

Having selected guard Zion Johnson at No. 17 Thursday, the Chargers made only two picks through the draft’s first three rounds. They traded their second-round choice in March in the deal to acquire edge rusher Khalil Mack.

They are scheduled to make eight picks over the final four rounds Saturday, starting with No. 123 overall. Six of those selections come in Rounds 6 and 7.

Among their positional needs that remain are wide receiver, cornerback, defensive lineman, edge rusher, linebacker and running back.

Baylor safety JT Woods scores after intercepting a pass against Texas State.
Baylor safety JT Woods scores after intercepting a pass against Texas State.
(Michael Thomas / Associated Press)

JT WOODS, safety
6 feet 2, 195 pounds, Baylor, Round 3, Pick 79


Notable: Woods is a long, fast defensive back with recognized ball skills who made major improvement during his time in college.

Last season: As a senior, Woods had 57 tackles and five interceptions for the Bears. He had eight pickoffs during his final two seasons.

Why the Chargers drafted him: After addressing their offensive line with their first pick (guard Zion Johnson at No. 13 overall), the Chargers turned back to their defense by bolstering the secondary. Woods’ playmaking ability certainly appealed to the Chargers. He had three interceptions over his final two college games, including a pair against Mississippi in the Sugar Bowl.