Under new Head Coach Mike McCoy the Chargers reached the postseason for the first time since 2009 due to a four-game winning streak to close the season. With offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt accepting the vacant head coaching duties in Tennessee what can we expect from San Diego this season?
2014 Chargers Schedule
|5||New York Jets|
|7||Kansas City Chiefs|
|12||St. Louis Rams|
|14||New England Patriots|
|16||@||San Francisco 49ers|
|17||@||Kansas City Chiefs|
Make sure you take the proper precautions when looking ahead in terms of strength of schedule, but the tail end of the Chargers’ slate looks absolutely dreadful for fantasy prospects. If you’re looking for a ray of sunshine, at least they stay on the west coast for the fantasy playoffs. This was a highly effective offense in 2013 on a number of levels, mostly in terms of sustaining drives and dominating possession of the football. Here’s how their offense faired in several key areas.
|3rd Down %||49.0%||1|
Of course it wasn’t all pretty and it’s possible that this team overachieved in a few spots, one being in points per drive since they weren’t very good at all in the red zone despite frequently making trips there.
|RZ TD %||51.0%||23|
The Chargers frequently struggled to score touchdowns simply because they failed to utilize their best players in that area of the field. Look at their target distribution throwing the ball once it was time to cash checks.
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Anytime your 5-foot-9 change of pace back leads your unit in looks when the field shrinks is likely not going to end well and it normally didn’t for the Chargers as they led the entire NFL with 26 attempted field goals in the red zone. They’ll be getting the return of Floyd and hopefully involving Ladarius Green more in that area (none of his four targets came inside of the 10-yard line), so there’s plenty of room for improvement and fantasy value if San Diego maintains their ability to create scoring opportunities.
A Rivers Runs Through It
Although Philip Rivers doesn’t have the hardware of this 2004 draft mates, he’s arguably had the better career on the field in terms of performance. Using the NFL Career Graphs available at RotoViz, look at his steady career performance since becoming the weekly starter.
Outside of 2012, when the Chargers sported their worst team record (7-9) helmed by Rivers, he’s been remarkably consistent. In 2013, he finished fifth in adjusted yards per aimed attempt (AY/AA) and sixth in fantasy points per aimed attempt (FPAT) on his way to the sixth highest scoring fantasy season out of all quarterbacks. That overall performance covers up his weekly impact, because the Chargers made a hard left in terms of offensive philosophy starting in week six. Through the season’s first five weeks, San Diego threw the ball on 61.1 percent of their offensive plays. Over the final 11 weeks, they were nearly dead even in terms of play calling, passing only 51.1 percent of the time. That lack of volume and offensive urgency had a big effect on Rivers in terms of fantasy output.
[table id=125 /]
While his play remained steady, the offense was grounded. He had fewer top 12 weeks over the final three months than he had in the first one. Their schedule should dictate that they have to open the offense up more than they did over the final three quarters of the season, but their only offseason additions on offense were a blocking fullback/tight end in David Johnson and running back Donald Brown while re-signing guard Chad Rinehart. That doesn’t exactly point to a team that is looking to open things up, rather one that is looking to maintain the approach that aided them winning eight of their final 12 games including the postseason.
Rumors are that San Diego would like to go more up tempo in 2014, but tempo doesn’t necessarily equate to volume. Their schedule could very well push that volume, however. Rivers is adequately priced as QB2 that provides a steady floor if you ever need to use him in a pinch, but his overall numbers and efficiency will be a ruse if the offense rolls over the same offensive approach in 2014.
What to do with the Bolts Backfield
That change in offensive approach had a large impact on the running game as well. Both Danny Woodhead (RB12) and Ryan Mathews (RB17) finished as top 20 overall scorers in PPR leagues last season, but just like the case with Rivers, they pulled a fantasy switcheroo mid-season.
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Woodhead had 87 targets on the season, which was good for fourth amongst all backs. He had only 30 over the final eight games however, and Mathews had 25. This is a usage situation where Woodhead really needs the Chargers to operate in off script offense to reliably contribute to your weekly roster. When Mathews was on the field, he was getting the ball one way or another, as he led the entire NFL in touches on percentage of snaps played and rushing attempt percentage of snaps played.
[table id=127 /]
Now, things get slightly muddled as the Chargers added Donald Brown to the fold and he’s currently the only back of the top three signed beyond this season. Turning in a disappointing career up until last season, Brown flipped the switch when his career was presumably against the wall once the Colts added Trent Richardson during the season. Brown was really good afterwards. In fact, better than Mathews and Woodhead were. Here’s where he ranked compared to his new teammates in terms of fantasy efficiency a year ago and every other back in the league.
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*100 carries and/or 100 touches to qualify as leaders
Heading into 2014, he very likely serves as backup to both roles already occupied but could possibly shave enough snaps from each weekly to drive us crazy as an owner of either other back. As a handcuff to either role, Brown is one of my favorite late-round dice rolls due to his versatility, but he’ll need a few things to fall his way to be relevant on a weekly level. Mathews and Woodhead remain fairly priced, but this is a backfield that will go as the wind blows in games.
The Receiving Game
When looking at this passing game, we all want to start with the tight end situation because it’s a situation that may not be resolved until the brink of the season, if at all. Ladarius Green is entering his third season and we all would like the Chargers’ brass to finally let the Green Monster out of his cage. We had a small glimpse of what the future could hold a year ago when Green was the most efficient tight end per route last season. During weeks 11 through 13, he grabbed nine of 16 targets for 206 yards and two scores. Afterwards, he played under half of the offensive snaps in three of the remaining four games. His sporadic and head scratching usage a year ago and unknown role going forward is what lands him on the equity red flag team.
The other thorn in his fantasy football side is that Antonio Gates is still lounging around the equity pool because no one wants to draft him. Gates’ overall output is pretty misleading and his season long projections could create a weekly trap if you’re relying on him. In terms of fantasy passing output, Gates was the second worst tight end in the NFL a season ago in terms of being a reliable target for his team. When Rivers targeted Gates, his fantasy output was 36 percent worse than targeting any other Charger on offense. In terms of looking Green’s way, a target to him was worth on average 71 percent more fantasy points for Rivers than throwing to anyone else on the field.
The other thing that is keeping Gates’ ADP suppressed other than Green is that at age 33, he really hit a wall in usage and production and may be being phased out already in anticipation that this is the end. Early in the season, Gates posted four top 12 weeks in the first five games before only notching three over the final 11 weeks. Already well past the age of decline for his position, look at his output overall the back half of the season using the Games Splits App available at RotoViz.
I don’t have any issue for those investing in Gates at his current price tag because he can be used a streamer early in the season while he’s fresh and then can be let loose once he shows the first sign of losing steam or a reduced role. But it’s hard to support any notion of believing you are getting season long starter production from him at this stage. As it pertains to the Green vs Gates dilemma, Green is still priced at a point where there’s an advantage to being early on him. He may not even need Gates to fall completely apart to get involved either. Outside of Keenan Allen, there’s not a lot to love at the receiver position in San Diego and the front office didn’t bring in anyone at the position in free agency or with a high draft selection, which could be a tipping point that Green’s involvement in the offense could beyond strictly playing tight end in 2014.
Allen was one of the most influential waiver adds of the 2013 season. He tallied seven top 24 weeks over the final 11 games of the fantasy season and was a top 12 receiver in terms of being an effective target for his quarterback. The affection owners had for him helping them win titles is still showing up at great lengths as Allen is being selected very early in drafts this summer. That’s a red flag for his value, because he’s really best suited as a mid to late WR2. Allen was able to cover up a lot of low volume down the stretch by scoring touchdowns. During weeks 13 through 15, he had only eight total receptions, but five were for scores, which made up a 61 percent touchdown dependency over that stretch. Even in the postseason, he had limited involvement until they were chasing 17 points in Denver before finally being leaned on to make plays. We know he has the ability, but in games where the Chargers are in control or neutral, he’s going to hit some valleys where it’s hard to bank of touchdown reliance to that degree. Unless he slides a full tier down throughout the summer, he’ll have a hard time making any of my rosters for 2014.
The door is open for Malcom Floyd to play a part on this roster and your fantasy one. He’s going to be the field stretcher on this team as Allen’s skill set allows him to move around the offense. Floyd is basically free right now and had five top 24 weeks in 2011 and six in 2012 before being lost for the season a year ago with a neck injury. His 13 receptions of 30 yards or more since 2011 are more than Roddy White, Marques Colston, Stevie Johnson, and Randall Cobb over that stretch and he missed 14 games a year ago. There are far worse dart throws to make at the end of drafts than on the 33-year-old receiver as he is an extreme late-round arbitrage play on those investing in Terrance Williams.
You already know this, but don’t buy into anything from Eddie Royal who had an extreme outlier conversion rate in the red zone a year ago. Before converting six targets for scores a year ago (mostly on bubble screens), Royal had converted only six of 39 red zone targets for scores in his career. I know you won’t draft him, but I’m just making sure you don’t get any thoughts when looking back at his total line from last season.
The Chargers are a curious team because they are versatile enough on offense to play a number of styles and have a high end quarterback, but could be a potentially frustrating team to invest fantasy capital into this year due to weekly variance in their approach . They have the feel of a team that overachieved a year ago that could be a potential trap in terms of producing for your fantasy teams if their lofty offensive efficiency from a year ago doesn’t roll over with a much tougher looking schedule.
2014 Fantasy Relevant Projections
Best Option to Crash through their projection without injury: Green – It’s a layup call if Gates goes down or the second receiver spot never develops.
Biggest Risk to fall through their projection: Allen – If his price holds steady all summer and this offense remains its ball control tactics while Green gets more involved, owners stand to burn a lot of capital.
Best Waiver Wire Option: Floyd – He’ll never turn into much more than a weekly flex or bye week option, but he has usable history with Rivers and an opening to contribute paired with a severely low cost.
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