Fantasy Football: The Los Angeles Chargers Conundrum

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One of most important NFL teams to handicap before the fantasy football season begins is the Los Angeles Chargers. With their annually potent offense, the Chargers always possess many attractive fantasy skill position players. Given that multitude of offensive weapons, it remains difficult to decide which are the Chargers’ best fantasy football values at their respective Average Draft Positions (ADP).

For the 2017 season the Chargers welcome new head coach Anthony Lynn, but retained offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. Will this bring significant change in the offense for fantasy owners? Let’s take a deep dive on the Los Angeles Chargers skill position players and determine their respective fantasy values for 2017.

Fantasy Football: The Chargers Conundrum

Quarterback:  Philip Rivers

Skinny:  Philip Rivers is Mr. Consistency, as solid as they come. Here are his fantasy stats from the last four seasons (CBSSports):

Year GS Off. Coord QB Rank Yards TD INTs Total FPts ADP
2016 16 K. Whisenhunt 6th 4386 33 21 347 QB11
2015 16 F. Reich 11th 4793 29 13 349 QB14
2014 16 F. Reich 11th 4286 31 18 334 QB14
2013 16 K. Whisenhunt 3rd 4478 32 11 356 QB24

 

Philip Rivers has consistently been a QB1 the past four seasons. However, paired with offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt he’s been even better, finishing both times as a top six fantasy quarterback. Take a look at his ADP each of the last four seasons. Rivers has not been drafted as a top ten quarterback. This season, according to FantasyFootballCalculator, Rivers is only the 17th quarterback off the board and currently going in the tenth round of redraft leagues. That’s incredible value for a guy who, when paired with Whisenhunt, has been a top six fantasy quarterback. While he is 35 years old, Rivers is reportedly in fantastic shape:

Advice:  I’m all in on Philip Rivers in 2017 redraft leagues. Waiting to select a quarterback is always the best fantasy draft strategy, but it is especially true this year. Rivers is a great value that should be a primary quarterback target in all fantasy football formats.

Running Backs:  Melvin Gordon, Branden Oliver, Kenneth Farrow

Skinny:  On a per game fantasy point basis, very few running backs were better than Melvin Gordon in 2016. The second year running back from Wisconsin posted 19.4 fantasy points per game in PPR formats, and finished with the eighth most fantasy points at the position despite missing almost four full games. Gordon’s season was largely a result of volume, since his 3.93 yards per carry average ranked 37th among backs with at least 70 rushes. However, the Chargers improved their offensive line concerns by drafting Western Kentucky guard Forrest Lamp in the second round.

Gordon scored 12 total touchdowns last season and even had 41 receptions. Until he was injured, Gordon was a top three fantasy running back in all formats. It was a great overall fantasy season that Gordon admitted was motivated by the many people who doubted him. The Chargers did not select a running back in this year’s draft, but instead chose two offensive linemen with their second and third round selections. Branden Oliver caught 36 receptions two years ago, but was on injured reserve all of last season after an Achilles tendon injury in August. Second year running back Kenneth Farrow played well down the stretch catching 12 of 13 targets, but is certainly not a goal line threat to Gordon.

Advice:  Oliver and Farrow are nothing more than bench players or waiver wire pickups if Melvin Gordon ever gets injured. Gordon is one of the big winners after the NFL draft, and could possibly challenge the top three overall running backs in total fantasy points. He has the talent, opportunity, and little positional competition. Currently going at the end of the first round, Melvin Gordon is properly valued and becomes a fantasy steal if he somehow falls into the second round.

 

Wide Receivers:  Keenan Allen, Dontrelle Inman, Tyrell Williams, Mike Williams, Travis Benjamin

Skinny:  If we believe that Philip Rivers will have a great season, then we need to accurately handicap the fantasy contributions from his wide receivers. This the hardest but most important part of the Chargers offense to predict for this season. There are five main receivers, so let’s examine each one.

    1. Keenan Allen: Four of his five seasons have ended in injury. However, the fantasy community still holds faith in Keenan Allen. His current ADP is a mind-boggling WR18. Allen has good size (6’2″ 205 pounds), but only ran a 4.71 40-yard dash before the injuries. Allen has the most potential for a top 12 season, but can he possibly stay healthy?
    2. Travis Benjamin: The explosive wideout from Miami enters his sixth NFL season. Plagued by injuries throughout 2016, Benjamin only managed 47 receptions for 677 yards and four touchdowns. However, during the early part of the season when he was healthy, Benjamin posted two WR1 weeks including a six catch, 115 yards, and two touchdown performance in Week Two. He is a versatile option on intermediate routes, and with running back reception hog Danny Woodhead in Baltimore, Benjamin will receive high volume if he stays healthy.
    3. Tyrell Williams: The 25-year-old undrafted free agent from Western Oregon burst onto the fantasy scene last season. At 6’3″ with a 33 1/2″ (90th percentile) Arm Length, Williams became a favorite target of Philip Rivers all season. He posted 69 catches for 1,059 yards and seven touchdowns despite only starting 12 games. After catching only two passes in the entire 2015 season, Tyrell Williams should have a solid place in the Chargers passing attack this year.
    4. Dontrelle Inman: The 28-year-old wide receiver is quickly trending upward. Inman has increased his receptions in each of the last three seasons (12 to 35 to 58 receptions). He played and started all 16 games, and produced three WR1 weeks. There was concern about his status as a cut candidate, but a recently signed one year deal should ensure his roster spot. Inman can make big plays, but where does he fall in the pecking order?
    5. Mike Williams: Given the positional depth, Mike Williams selection at seventh overall in the 2017 NFL Draft was inexplicable. The initial thought was that new head coach Anthony Lynn wanted to bring in his own top receiving option, but it certainly appears he is very pleased with the Chargers veterans. Williams is a huge red zone target at 6’4″ 218, but it will be difficult to build a rapport with Philip Rivers with a minimal target share. On any other team, Williams could be a huge fantasy factor immediately. On the Chargers, where exactly will he fit in?

Advice:  It is all about ADP value with the Chargers wide receivers. Given his top 20 positional ADP, drafting Keenan Allen makes little sense. He is an injury risk in a crowded receiving corps. The price is simply too expensive. It is also smart to pass on the rookie Mike Williams, who has the second highest ADP (WR55) of the group. The low volume and athletic veterans in front of him make his weekly production impossible to predict.

The best ADP values are Tyrell Williams (WR62) and Travis Benjamin (WR76). Both are reliable targets, and given their respective draft capital, could be cut midseason without damaging your fantasy roster. Dontrelle Inman is not being drafted, which makes him a great late draft target or waiver wire pickup during the season.

Tight Ends:  Antonio Gates, Hunter Henry

Skinny:  These are two very productive tight ends at completely different points in their careers. Antonio Gates ended the season tied with Tony Gonzalez for most career touchdowns by a tight end with 111. His Week 17 grab against Kansas City places him sixth all-time in receiving touchdowns. He turns 37 years old in June, and this is almost certainly his last season.

Gates reception total has dropped in each of the past four seasons, and his 53 receptions this past year was his lowest total since 2012. Gates will continue to be a red zone threat in 2017, however. He ranked sixth at the position with 22 red zone targets in 2016.

The Chargers are fortunate to have a great additional receiving tight end in 22-year-old Hunter Henry. The second year pro looks to build off a rare productive rookie season by an NFL tight end. Henry finished tied for the league lead in positional touchdowns with eight, and produced five TE1 weeks. He is big (6’5″) and possesses above average speed with a 4.72 40-yard dash time. There is already talk of Henry taking over the main tight end role in 2017:

Advice: The fantasy football community has officially passed the torch from Antonio Gates to Hunter Henry. After having a TE9 ADP in 2016, he is now not getting drafted according to FantasyFootballCalculator. Given his clear touchdown dependent production, that is the proper place for Gates. Henry is currently the eighth tight end off the board, getting drafted in round seven. That should be his draft floor, since any injury to Gates would vault him into the top five fantasy tight ends.

Summary

The Los Angeles Chargers have one of the most attractive fantasy offenses in the NFL. There are some great value buys like Philip Rivers, Tyrell Williams, and Hunter Henry. Fantasy football drafters should avoid overpriced players like Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. This offense will put up points in 2017, and the safest overall fantasy play is running back Melvin Gordon. Make sure to get a part of the Los Angeles Chargers offense on your fantasy team this season.

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