Fantasy football team preview: Los Angeles Chargers
The city of Los Angeles is collecting NFL teams, with the Chargers now joining the Rams in the City of Angels. With them comes new head coach Anthony Lynn, former Bills offensive coordinator, and holdover offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. The offense last year was largely driven by the pass game, especially after injuries to the running back position. There should be more balance this year, but this has been an efficient passing offense for a long time so don’t expect a severe drop in passing stats.
Team Offensive Stats
The offense starts with Philip Rivers. The near-36-year-old quarterback has exceeded 60 percent completion rate all 11 years as a starting quarterback. However, Rivers did also lead the league in interceptions for the second time in three years and tied for fifth with 33 drops by his receivers. A big part of this was related to being under pressure. Rivers was fifth in dropback percentage under pressure in 2016 and had the most interceptions and drops in those scenarios. The team worked hard to add several offensive linemen in the draft along with Russell Okung to play left tackle, so that pressure rate could drop, resulting in some better throws and a bounce back in his efficiency.
Rivers hasn’t missed a start in those 11 years as a starter, meaning the backups have little value for 2017. Kellen Clemens seems to be locked in as the primary backup after having some success moving the ball this preseason. He does have starting experience so the team wouldn’t completely fall apart if Rivers does go down. The team did also trade for Cardale Jones late in the offseason, and it showed in the preseason as Jones threw three interceptions and no touchdowns. There is a lot of untapped, raw talent here but unless we are talking about a dynasty superflex or two-quarterback league, stay away.
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Melvin Gordon finished last year as the sixth-ranked running back by PFF. He also was able to break some big runs, with 16 of them going for 15-plus yards, fourth in the NFL. The biggest development, though, was his ability in the receiving game, ending up with more yards per route run than pass-catching dynamo Darren Sproles. With Danny Woodhead gone, Gordon could even exceed the 41 receptions from last year and a complete 16-game schedule (Gordon missed three games) could give him an outside shot at the overall fantasy RB crown.
The running back depth chart is thin behind Gordon. Branden Oliver is the backup, but is trying to return from a torn Achilles. When 100 percent, Oliver is capable as a runner and an able pass-catcher. He should mix in on occasion but he’s on the smaller side (5-foot-7, 208 pounds) so touchdown upside is low. The only other running back is undrafted free agent Austin Ekeler after the team cut Andre Williams, Kenjon Barner, and Kenneth Farrow. Ekeler finished first in PFF’s preseason running back ratings and managed nearly six yards per carry on his 15 rushing attempts. He is unproven and won’t be a threat to Gordon’s workload.
This is a deep position for the Chargers and they’ve needed it with the amount of injuries they have endured in the last few years. Keenan Allen, when healthy, is the top option at the position. His career 5.8 receptions per game would amount to a 93-reception season if Allen manages to last a full 16 games. He is still just 25 and the injuries have largely been unrelated. The biggest threat is the emergence of Tyrell Williams. The largely unproven receiver notched his first 1,000-yard season (1,059) on 69 catches (nice), but did tie for fourth with nine drops and a 11.5 percent drop rate. Williams should play the deep threat role, meaning he could see less targets but an increase in yards per target.
Rookie Mike Williams is still recovering from injury and is still a few weeks away at a minimum from getting on the field. At Clemson, Williams saw 20 percent of his targets in the red zone last year, a role he could handle as Antonio Gates rides off into the sunset. Dontrelle Inman and Travis Benjamin are the other receivers and both have been successful in the past. Neither has much value unless the injury bug hits the team once again.
Wide Receiver Sets
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Unlike previous years, this position has become more fluid than starter-and-backup designations. The ageless Antonio Gates finished in the top 15 in routes run despite missing two full games and failing to register a target in another. He can still score touchdowns but the days of big plays are over, making his upside limited to outside the top 12. Add in second-year option Hunter Henry and the position is loaded with talent for the Chargers. Henry had the nice touchdown rate, but his yards per route run was actually tied for sixth in the league. If he can maintain that pace, which is possible, an increase in Henry’s overall routes could lead him to a strong season. That’s likely only achievable if Gates is injured or more two-TE sets are deployed.
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