Los Angeles had a top-six fantasy quarterback, a top-five fantasy running back, and a top-three fantasy receiver in 2017, but what will 2018 bring?
Heading into his 15th NFL season, Philip Rivers is coming off a QB6 finish after throwing for 4,515 yards, 28 touchdowns, and ten interceptions in 2017. Even with the loss of Hunter Henry to a torn ACL in May, the Chargers are still loaded offensively, and their triggerman showed no signs of slowing down last year; I think it’s worth noting that against everyone besides the Chiefs (1:6 touchdown-interception ratio), Rivers was as good as anyone with an MVP worthy 27:4 touchdown-interception ratio in 14 games.
That said, Los Angeles looks to have a difficult schedule this season, which starts out tough (v KC, @ BUF, @ LAR) and ends perhaps even tougher for the fantasy playoffs/championship (@ KC, v BAL, @ DEN). I have Rivers—who turns 37 in December—higher than the QB16 slot he’s being drafted at, but his overall ADP of early Round 12 is a little higher than my overall ranking due to the depth at quarterback, so it might be better to wait on the position and take another RB/WR/TE if someone is clearly higher on your board.
Melvin Gordon broke the 300-touch mark for the first time in his career last season, and his 342 touches were fourth in the league behind Le’Veon Bell (406), LeSean McCoy (346), and Todd Gurley (343). The former first-round pick rushed 284 times for 1,105 yards (3.9 YPC) and eight scores, also catching 58 passes for 476 yards and four more scores. It was the second-straight season with 12 touchdowns, but also the third-straight season with less than 4.0 yards per carry. However, despite all the unfair criticism Gordon receives as a player, anyone who actually watches instead of reading the box score would see that he consistently makes defenders miss in the backfield.
Fortunately, the 25-year-old shouldn’t have to do that much this season with 2017 second-round pick Forrest Lamp (who missed all of his rookie year with a torn ACL) returning to team up with fellow 2017 draftee Dan Feeney on the interior at right guard and left guard, respectively. Plus, the Chargers signed three-time Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey this offseason, so the trio should open up holes in the running game for Gordon to have his best season yet. He is an excellent value at his early Round 2 ADP as a low-end RB1.
Austin Ekeler surprised as an undrafted rookie last year with 47 attempts for 260 yards (5.5 YPC) and two touchdowns, also doing damage as a receiver with 27 receptions for 279 yards (10.3 AVG) and three more scores. Everything considered, it was an impressive season, but Ekeler lost a fumble in two key losses to the Jaguars and Chiefs down the stretch, which could make it difficult for LA to trust him in 2018. I think the 23-year-old will remain an annoyance to Gordon owners more than anything else, but he could have low-end RB2/FLEX value in an explosive offense if the starter goes down.
2018 seventh-round pick Justin Jackson could also vie for touches behind Gordon and would potentially be a fantasy option if he gets injured. I didn’t have the Northwestern product—my No. 222 overall prospect—much higher than he was drafted (No. 251), but I like the fit for Jackson with the Chargers and think would have a chance to overtake Ekeler as the main early-down runner if the duo is forced into an extended role.
Last year’s overall WR3 in both standard leagues and PPR leagues, Keenan Allen was finally able to stay healthy for 16 games, which paid off in a big way for the Chargers and fantasy owners. Philip Rivers’ favorite target caught 102 passes for 1,393 yards (both career-highs) and six touchdowns while displaying an outstanding combination of floor and ceiling. For the season, Allen’s “worst” game was three receptions for 41 yards in a 21-0 victory against the Broncos; and his hot stretch from Week 11 to Week 13 showed his ceiling with video-game lines of 12/159/2, 11/172/1, and 10/105/1. I have him as my No. 4 receiver behind Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr.
Mike Williams struggled to make an impact as a rookie (11 receptions for 95 yards) due to a disc issue in his back that forced him to miss basically the entire offseason and the first five weeks of the regular season, but his stock appears to be rising according to his early ADP. The No. 7 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft is a prime-Dez-Bryant-like target that will win with size and physicality on the outside, and he has no worries about making plays in traffic. Williams should also be a big factor in the red zone after Hunter Henry’s injury, making him well worth a late-round flier in all leagues.
If there’s a concern about the Clemson product taking a significant leap in Year 2, it’s that Tyrell Williams is still around and unlikely to be completely removed from two-wide sets after following up a 1,000-yard season in 2016 with 16.9 yards per reception last year (No. 5 in the NFL) on 43 receptions for 728 yards and four scores. I don’t think he’s worth drafting in 10-team leagues, but Williams should make some plays once again and could provide FLEX value in shallow weeks.
Speedster Travis Benjamin should have a similar role to last season when he caught 34 passes for 567 yards and four touchdowns as a field-stretching deep threat for the Los Angeles offense. He also got more involved as a runner with 13 attempts for 96 yards in 2017, but Benjamin is just a weekly desperation option that you’re hoping gets behind the defense.
When the Chargers said they weren’t bringing back Antonio Gates, I thought 2018 was going to be a big-time breakout for Hunter Henry, who would still have just been entering his age-23 campaign after lines of 36/478/8 and 45/579/4 in each of his first two seasons. Unfortunately, the team now has a big hole at the position, though I think Gates will end up re-signing with the team for one more year, which would make the 38-year-old a touchdown-dependent TE2 option thanks to his chemistry with Philip Rivers.
In the meantime (or if LA simply stays put), Virgil Green looks like the only potentially usable fantasy option at tight end for the Chargers. However, I think the plan was for him to be a blocking compliment to Henry, as in seven seasons with the Broncos, Green caught 71 passes for 807 yards and four scores, with his best season being a 22/237/1 line two years ago. Perhaps being the clear starter and playing with Rivers will lead to some numbers, but I think Green can be ignored in fantasy leagues.
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