2020 Fantasy Preview: Los Angeles Chargers
Los Angeles Chargers
In 2019, the Los Angeles Chargers struggled to a 5-11 record in a season that saw their offensive coordinator replaced nine games into the season. After having Philip Rivers under center for the last 15 years, the Chargers will start anew in 2020. Even in a bad year, the Chargers ranked 10th in yards per game and 7th in passing yards per game. With Tyrod Taylor at the helm, what can we expect from the Chargers offense? Or will Taylor’s short leash lead to their shiny new toy, Justin Herbert, being under center sooner rather than later?
ADP: 218, QB 29
Tyrod Taylor has been a backup the last two seasons, throwing just 91 passes in that time. You have to go back to 2017 to see what Taylor last did as a starter for Buffalo. Taylor started for the Bills from 2015-2017 and did a decent job of being a game manager. He went 22-20 for the Bills while throwing for just around 3,000 yards per year and averaging 17 passing touchdowns. For some perspective, Philip Rivers eclipsed those numbers every single one of the 15 seasons he started with the Chargers. That casts a big shadow of doubt over the Chargers skill position players’ fantasy outlook for 2020. Taylor does add some productivity on the ground with his legs, as he rushed for at least 420 yards and four touchdowns in his three starting years in Buffalo. While Taylor won’t throw away the game, he lacks the upside we look for as fantasy players. Taylor doesn’t project as a quarterback to roster for fantasy purposes.
Let’s keep our expectations reasonable here. Taylor’s arm leaves something to be desired, but if he can use his weapons properly along with his legs, I could see a top-end QB2 that could be used as a streamer occasionally.
How many games until Justin Herbert is ready? Taylor provides mediocre fantasy production while starting, and Herbert replaces him in the first half of the season.
2020 Projection: 2,779 passing yards, 15 passing touchdowns; 316 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns
ADP: 319, QB35
The Chargers spent the sixth overall pick on Justin Herbert, so the tea leaves don’t indicate a long “incubation” period for the Oregon Duck. Herbert was the rare four-year college starter, going 29-13 in his starts. The Duck is applauded for having a strong skill set and a big arm. He’s also a quality athlete and while he doesn’t have Deshaun Watson speed/running ability, he does have the ability to evade would-be sackers. The shortened preseason does no favors for Herbert’s development, but with Tyrod Taylor being his only competition, it should only be a matter of time before he gets an opportunity to prove his worth. Herbert is coming off the board as the clear QB3 in dynasty drafts but is likely not draftable for single-year leagues.
Herbert’s fantasy outlook is all about when he gets his opportunity. Unfortunately for Chargers fans, that might be accelerated by the team struggling with Taylor under center. If the team starts off 1-3, Herbert should get an early opportunity and with Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Austin Ekeler, and Hunter Henry, there are plenty of offensive weapons to help him learn on the job.
Taylor game manages the Chargers to a winning record and 2020 is just a developmental year for Herbert.
2020 Projection: 1,216 passing yards, 6 passing touchdowns; 90 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown
ADP: 16.3, RB12
Austin Ekeler thrived as the lead back during Melvin Gordon‘s holdout last year. During the four games that Gordon missed, Ekeler averaged 20 touches and 122 yards per game and found the end zone six times. Included in those touches were six receptions per game. At 5’10”, 200 lbs, I’m not sure that Ekeler will be asked to carry that full load all year, but he will certainly have an increased workload now that Gordon has departed. His 18% target share in 2019 was tied for third in the league at running back, behind just Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara. While he may cede carries to Justin Jackson and rookie Joshua Kelley, Ekeler’s floor is secure in the receiving game. Ekeler is coming off the board as the RB12 in the second round of most leagues, which speaks to both how valuable his floor is and how rare the work-horse back is.
The best-case scenario for Ekeler resembles the first four games of the 2019 season. An increased workload to go along with his receiving floor would provide the upside of a top 5 back.
Thankfully, the receiving floor is in place for Ekeler, so even if he cedes carries to Jackson and Kelley, he should still land as an RB2 on his receiving work alone. In fact, last year’s 193.3 PPR points on his receiving work alone would’ve landed him as RB19.
2020 Projection: 675 rushing yards, 4 rushing touchdowns; 722 receiving yards, 5 receiving touchdowns
ADP: 128.6, RB53
With Gordon holding out, Justin Jackson had a shot at being the thunder to Ekeler’s lightning. Jackson was on a roll, racking up 142 yards on just 18 carries over the team’s first three games. Unfortunately, Jackson suffered an ankle injury heading into Week 4, which was also the same week that Gordon ended his holdout. By the time Jackson returned from the injury, Gordon had reestablished himself as Ekeler’s partner in crime. With Gordon out of the picture, Jackson will have the first shot at sharing the workload with Ekeler, although he has new competition nipping at his heels. The Chargers took Joshua Kelley in the fourth round of the NFL Draft and the rookie back profiles similar to Jackson. If you’re into handcuffing, Jackson is a decent late-round option.
Jackson picks back up where he left off in Week 3 and establishes himself as a good complement to Ekeler. Because of Ekeler’s size, Jackson could take over the goalline work and could put up solid RB2 numbers.
Because Ekeler owns the majority of the passing down work, Jackson’s floor is relatively non-existent. If he’s outplayed by Kelley, he would end up being the third running back in the pecking order.
2020 Projection: 609 rushing yards, 5 rushing touchdowns; 84 receiving yards
ADP: 158.1, RB60
The Chargers took UCLA’s Joshua Kelley with a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft. Kelley performed well at UCLA despite poor offensive line play, putting up a pair of 1,000-yard seasons and scoring 12 touchdowns per year. The Bruin standout did a good job of attacking the line with urgency but his elusiveness, quickness, and receiving skills do not stand out. One skill that he possesses that should help him get on the field right away is his pass blocking prowess. However, the lack of a training camp (or even a shortened one) will affect all rookies and should give Jackson an early advantage over Kelley.
Jackson struggles and Kelley takes over as the change-of-pace back behind Ekeler. Due to his running style, Kelley is frequently used in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
The lack of a normal training camp puts Kelley even further behind Jackson. 2020 is just a learning year for the rookie.
2020 Projection: 321 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns; 106 receiving yards
ADP: 57.4, WR24
Rivers’ departure will have a major impact on the passing offense. That, combined with his initial replacement Tyrod Taylor, makes Keenan Allen‘s outlook paltry at best. Allen has seen at least 136 targets over the last three seasons which has led to him averaging 100 catches per year. While I don’t expect his 25% target share to change much, I just see the passing volume dropping without Rivers under center. For fantasy, Allen makes for a WR2 with a high floor, but his limited ceiling has him going towards the backend of the fourth to the beginning of the fifth round. I love pairing him with a high ceiling wideout like Tyreek Hill, but expecting the WR1 days of old with Allen may be wishful thinking.
Is it wrong that I’m viewing the best-case as a repeat of his last three years? Something like 100 receptions for 1200 yards and six touchdowns would be ideal. With those numbers, he managed to finish as the WR6 in PPR leagues last year. Not terrible for coming off the board as the WR24.
A combination of conservative quarterback play and/or a rookie learning on the job leads to Allen’s targets being of poor quality. Combined with a run-heavy offense, and Allen had his worst fantasy production in years. I still think the floor is WR3 level at worst.
2020 Projection: 88 receptions, 1,079 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns
ADP: 160.7, WR61
Despite just 90 targets in 2019, Mike Williams managed to finish 14th in Air Yards per FantasyData. Williams’ 18.1 aDOT was tops among receivers that saw at least 50 targets. Despite all the Air Yards, Williams’ catch rate and True Catch Rate ranked 94th and 97th in the league. He finished the year with 49 catches for 1,001 yards and two scores. While Keenan Allen has a decent floor, Williams’ floor is nearly non-existent. With uncertainty surrounding the passing game volume and how conservative the offense will be with Tyrod Taylor under center, Williams’ role could be in flux. However, Williams is coming off the board as the WR61, which makes him well worth a dart throw later in drafts.
To only have two touchdowns despite having so many big plays is a little odd. If he can be a little more efficient with fewer targets, I could see him landing around 50 catches for 1,000 yards again. In 2018, we saw him score 10 touchdowns, so if some of those big plays turn into touchdowns and he’s utilized a little more in the red-zone, hitting double-digit touchdowns could be in his future once more.
Woof, that sunshine, and rainbows above? Forget that. The downside is fewer targets from a less accurate quarterback than Rivers leading to fewer catches, fewer yards, and fewer touchdowns than last year.
2020 Projection: 49 receptions, 823 receiving yards, 4 touchdowns
ADP: 95.8, TE10
The Chargers brought Hunter Henry back on a one-year deal for the 2020 season. After missing the entire 2018 season with a torn ACL, Henry missed the start of the 2019 season with a tibia plateau fracture in his left knee. Henry ended up missing the first four games of the season but still managed to put up career bests in targets, catches, and yards. He finished the season with 55 catches for 652 yards and five touchdowns, which landed him at TE9. When we adjust to per game scoring, he gets a slight bump up to TE8. Henry is currently coming off the board as the TE10 in the seventh or eigth round of drafts. Overall, I think that’s a fair price, but you’ll likely want to grab a second tight end due to Henry’s injury risk.
I don’t like factoring in health into the best-case/worst-case scenarios, but Henry’s is impossible to ignore. A healthy season from Henry would likely lead to career-bests in catches, yards, and maybe even touchdowns – although the 8 he scored as a rookie are pretty beastly. That could lead to him being bumped up into elite tight end territory.
The injury bug hitting again is the ultimate worst-case. However, we’ve only seen Henry’s productivity with Philip Rivers under center. What if he doesn’t gel with Taylor or Herbert? The downside is finishing in the TE2 range where you’re trying to guess what week he scores a touchdown.
2020 Projection: 59 receptions, 734 receiving yards, 5 touchdowns
Photo by Michael Goulding/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)