2022 AFC West Preview: Fantasy Football Outlook, Sleepers, and Busts

Adam Sloate breaks down the AFC West from a fantasy football perspective.

2021 Review


Points per Game 27.9 5th
Offensive Snaps 1128 7th
2021 Record 9-8 7th
2022 Vegas Win Projection 10 T-4th


The Los Angeles Chargers missed out on the playoffs in heartbreaking fashion last year and are looking to end a three-season playoff drought this year. They missed out on the playoffs in the strangest (and yet, very Chargers-esque) way possible, ending a superb season from the offense far too early. They went 9-8 in the regular season and should improve on that this year, although the AFC West is an incredibly difficult division to forecast due to the talent overload from all four West teams. The Chargers boast a powerful offense and what they hope will be a more solid defense this season.

The Chargers return almost all their key pieces on offense, including a freshly-extended WR Mike Williams. In fact, the Chargers added another decent weapon for QB Justin Herbert in TE Gerald Everett. You could also call Everett a “replacement” for Jared Cook, although Cook was fairly quiet down the stretch last year. Everett steps into the Chargers’ depth chart ahead of Donald Parham Jr. for 2022. The Bolts also decided to cut OT Bryan Bulaga, saving about $10 million in cap space for 2022. However, Bulaga played just one game for Los Angeles in 2021 and ten in 2020, so he was not a particularly significant part of their strong offense last season.

With their first-round pick, the Chargers tacked on some additional offensive line help, selecting Boston College OG Zion Johnson. Johnson should slot in quickly and will help protect QB Justin Herbert. The Chargers also grabbed RB Isaiah Spiller out of Texas A&M to provide some quality depth behind Swiss Army Knife RB Austin Ekeler. Behind Ekeler, the Chargers now have a nice little committee of Joshua Kelley, Spiller, and Larry Rountree III. 

The Chargers made most of their moves on defense. Their defense was quite leaky in all facets last season, ranking 27th in Football Outsiders’ weighted DVOA. Their run defense was atrocious, ranking 30th in DVOA, while their passing defense ranked 19th. To address that, the Chargers made several moves to bolster different positions on defense, including adding former Patriots CB J.C. Jackson (7th out of 116 CBs in PFF’s player grades), DE Khalil Mack (via trade, 29th out of 108 DEs in PFF’s player grades), and a pair of interior linemen in Sebastian Joseph-Day (49th out of 109 DTs in PFF’s player grades) and Austin Johnson (57th). One acquisition that may have flown under the radar is the addition of LB Kyle Van Noy (16th out of 87 LBs)

Through the draft, the Chargers added S JT Woods out of Baylor, who should be a solid rotation option with Nasir Adderley and perhaps some insurance for Derwin James although James is listed as the strong safety on ESPN’s depth chart, while Adderley and Woods are listed as free safeties. The Chargers also went after a defensive lineman in the draft, taking DL Otito Ogbonnia out of UCLA to supplement Joseph-Day and Johnson on the interior.


Passing Game


Passing Yards per Game 282.4 3rd
Passing Touchdowns per Game 2.2 T-4th
Pass Attempts per Game 39.6 3rd


The passing attack was the star of the show last season and the reason the Chargers were even in the playoff hunt, to begin with (boasting 4th in Pass DVOA in 2021). The Chargers come into 2022 ready to resume their assault on opposing defenses through the air. They threw the ball 61.4% of the time in 2021 which should continue. Perhaps continuity on the offensive line will open up additional runs for Ekeler and Co., softening the Run/Pass ratio and improving the overall offensive output. However, I would expect the Chargers to throw the ball at or near a 60% clip again this season, given their receiving talent and the continued improvement of Justin Herbert.

There are no continuity issues with this passing game, as the Chargers return each of their top 3 targets (Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Austin Ekeler). There should be no drop-off in quality between Jared Cook and Gerald Everett, especially because the first sounds of their names are exactly alike. Overall, the Chargers remain a high-powered offense, based on a great passing game with weekly fantasy starters in Justin Herbert, Keenan Allen, and Austin Ekeler. As a member of the Mike Williams Investors Club last year, I still can’t tell you whether he’s truly a lock as a weekly starter, given the confusing and inconsistent nature of his targets. But Williams is sure to go off for some incredible games now and then. I would not invest a lot in Everett just yet, but he could surpass Cook’s overall output this coming year on younger, fresher legs and another year of improvement from Justin Herbert. 


Running Game


Rushing Yard per Game 107.9 21st
Rushing Touchdowns per Game 1.1 T-6th
Rushing Plays per Game 24.9 22nd


Not much has changed for the Chargers in terms of the running game. They extracted plenty of value out of their ground game in 2021, ranking 14th in Rush DVOA, so it looks like they didn’t feel obligated to make wholesale changes to the RB room besides adding some depth in Isaiah Spiller. The most significant change may come from adding OG Zion Johnson and keeping the offensive line intact for another season, as a cohesive offensive line unit theoretically opens up better running lanes and punishes opposing defenses for failing to respect the run game. However, that assumes the Chargers improve as a unit and Johnson slots in as a solid option right away; the Chargers may not see immediate improvement from the offensive line, which could hinder some of Austin Ekeler and Isaiah Spiller‘s carries.

Like in 2021, I don’t expect the ground game to be a significant part of the offensive plan this season. Even if it did, I think Ekeler’s value wouldn’t increase by much; if the Chargers decided to incorporate the running game more, those carries might go to pure runners Isaiah Spiller or maybe Joshua Kelley to keep Ekeler’s legs fresh. It might be worth looking into Isaiah Spiller or maybe Joshua Kelley, but they can probably be left on the waiver wire for now.




Gerald Everett, TE

Everett feels like the default choice for the Chargers because they return every other high-value fantasy player from last season. There wasn’t a lot of room for WRs Jalen Guyton or Joshua Palmer to break out last year because there were hardly enough targets to go around past Ekeler, Williams, Allen, and Jared Cook (who was the fourth-most targeted Charger last season), and I expect this season’s offense to look similar to last season because it worked so well. Thus, I have to go with the guy who took over Cook’s position and slots into an offense that might actually utilize him (unlike the Seahawks). Everett could see up to 7 targets a game in his role, given how often they throw the ball, and Everett might be able to do something with those targets this year.


Deep Sleeper


Josh Palmer, WR

Josh Palmer looks to be the third wideout in this offense. However, that doesn’t correspond to being the third-most targeted player in the offense, as Palmer will be battling for fourth or fifth on the food chain this season. However, Palmer started to build rapport with Justin Herbert down the stretch last season, picking up 28 targets over the final five games of the season. If Palmer can keep that rapport with Herbert heading into this year–and maybe pick up some of the targets currently allocated to Williams/Allen/Everett–Palmer might be a decent fantasy WR3 or even low-end WR2.


Bust Candidate


Austin Ekeler

Ekeler set a personal record in rushing attempts, rushing yards, and rushing TDs last season, and his targets and receptions spiked back up to their 2019 levels. In another year with a high workload, Ekeler could take a step back from last season’s output, especially in the rushing TD category. Ekeler quadrupled his previous high of rushing TDs and almost doubled his previous rushing yardage total (with 70 more rushing attempts). With the Chargers hoping to make the playoffs this season and preserve their superstars for a true playoff run, Ekeler may be kept out of plays in 2022 that he took part in during 2021, just to keep him fresh. Who’s to say that Ekeler won’t lose some of those TD carries this season and maybe some of those rushing attempts to Isaiah Spiller?

It doesn’t seem particularly likely, but if Ekeler were to lose some of those valuable TDs or targets, he’s likely not going to be the second-best RB in PPR leagues in 2022.




Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter) / Photography by Dustin Bradford, Cliff Welch, Robin Alam + Jeffrey Brown
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