Have you ever seen a group of fans more torn on whether they love or hate the front office of their team?
The San Diego Chargers haven’t had a losing season since 2003. Since then they have won the AFC West five times and have become one of the most statistically consistent offensive units in the league. What’s not to love?
How about the fact they’ve also gone 3-5 in the playoffs during that stretch, only reaching the AFC Championship once?
With great offensive output and regular season success come high postseason expectations, and the Chargers - despite preseason adulation and stellar predictions - tend to disappoint.
As a result fans are split. Can the Spanos family and GM AJ Smith build a lead dog, or are they stuck running in the middle of the pack? Ask a Chargers fan, and you’ll get a different answer every time.
Here’s the good news. The sun is always shining in San Diego, and it always seems to shine just as brightly on Chargers’ fantasy players. Maybe you
can build a playoff team out of them, and finally prove to your pals that you actually would make a better GM.
Let’s take a position-by-position look at the 2012 Chargers' fantasy prospects.
The Chargers’ success begins and ends with Philip Rivers’
arm, but some offseason moves might enter a few variables into the equation. Hal Hunter was named the new offensive coordinator after spending six years coaching the San Diego offensive line. At first glance it appears the pass-to-rush ratio should remain the same as it’s been.
However, the Chargers lost primary target Vincent Jackson, and gained five new receivers in his place. Best-case scenario: a balanced group of receivers gives Rivers options on every down. Worst-case scenario: nobody steps up and the Chargers are forced to lean heavier on the running game.
As far as Philip Rivers goes, there’s a ceiling on his stats even in the best-case scenario. Last season Rivers had Vincent Jackson to throw to, and his line looked like this: 62.9 percent passing (7th
in the NFL), 4,624 yards (6th
in the NFL), and 27 touchdowns (8th
in the NFL).
Rivers notched a quarterback rating of 88.7 - a respectable number, but his lowest since 2007. He also tossed 20 interceptions, which tied him for third most in the league.
He’s no Brady, Brees, or Rodgers, but Philip Rivers is still a fantasy starter. Knowing where to take him in your fantasy draft will pay huge dividends.
Let me explain why.
On most fantasy quarterback rankings, Rivers is somewhere around ninth, tenth, or eleventh. His touchdowns and yardage back that up, though I worry about his interceptions staying high with unsure receivers.
The top four passers (touchdowns and yardage) in the NFL last year would have averaged you around 23.6 fantasy points a game in a four points per TD, one point per 25 yards format. Rivers would have averaged 18.3.
If you want those five points that badly, you can draft Brees, Brady, Rodgers, or Stafford in the first round of your draft, and miss out on the league’s best running backs.
you snatch those elite rushers early, and sit back on Rivers until late in the second round…maybe even the beginning of the third. You’ll get his consistent numbers, and have a better shot at a stacked running game.
With the revamped receiving corps lacking a go-to stud, you can expect a shorter passing game. Rivers still has tight end Antonio Gates, which will help keep red zone passing stats high, and that’s a true bonus for a fantasy quarterback.
I expect Rivers’ numbers to mirror last year’s performance.
returns to the team that drafted him as the No. 2 guy on the depth chart. Kevin O
and Jarrett Lee
will battle for clipboard duties. Should Rivers go down with injury, neither the Chargers nor your fantasy team will get much help from this crew.
stock is soaring right now. He enters just his third season in the league and is expected to eclipse his numbers from a year ago.
In 2011, Mathews ran for 1,091 yards on 222 attempts. In case you don’t have your calculator nearby, that’s an amazing 4.9 yards per attempt.
He also has hands to go along with his feet. Mathews snared 50 receptions (6th
among RBs) for 455 yards (5th
Mathews’ only downside last season was his phobia of end zones. He only found the Promised Land six times on the ground, and didn’t score at all receiving. Strange, considering how many touches he had.
There’s reason to think he might be cured of his phobia, though. The Chargers’ No. 2 rusher from a year ago, Mike Tolbert
, is now lining up for Carolina. Tolbert stole the scoring spotlight in 2011, running for eight touchdowns and getting two from receptions. He even had four more receptions than Mathews by season’s end.
With Tolbert gone, I am expecting a slight upswing in Mathews’ numbers and more touches near the goal line. Most pre-draft fantasy rankings have Mathews as the fourth or fifth best running back.
I am only cautiously
Mathews has dealt with several health issues in his short career. Thankfully, his July 30 auto accident didn’t damage him (though several Chargers fans complained of chest pains and panic attacks). But with added carries this season, will his previous health issues linger or has he put that all behind him?
I like Mathews to have a great year and grow his stats a bit, but he’s just outside my top five running backs in the NFL for 2012.
San Diego brought Ronnie Brown
in as a replacement for Mike Tolbert. Brown, who will be 31 by season’s end, enters his eighth season in the league and is the elder statesman in the Chargers' backfield.
Brown has only notched one 1,000-yard season and one ten touchdown season in his career, and has settled nicely into the backup role. Last season with Philadelphia, Brown had just 42 rushing attempts for 136 yards and a touchdown. He also went the full season without a single reception.
Those numbers are going to have to change in San Diego, so I hope Brown’s aging legs are fresh. He is currently wrestling for the No. 2 position with Jackie Battle.
Battle, who is also entering his first year with San Diego, has five seasons under his belt with division rival Kansas City. He ran for 597 yards and two touchdowns last season. If anything happens to Mathews at the top, look for Battle and Brown to split carries 50/50 and cancel out any decent fantasy output.
is jostling with Edwin Baker
and Michael Hayes
(both rookies) for spots on the Chargers' depth chart. What the lineup will look like heading into the regular season is anybody’s guess, but Hayes might be an interesting player to keep an eye on. The 5’9”, 192-pound back went undrafted out of Houston, but the Chargers might have gained a promising role player when they called him into camp.
Time will tell how they decide to use him, if he does in fact earn a roster spot.
I’ve already mentioned the loss of Vincent Jackson, so now Malcom Floyd
has been promoted to the No. 1 slot. Floyd has the size (6’5”, 225 pounds) and experience (eight seasons in San Diego) to succeed as the Chargers’ primary end.
Floyd is also coming off of one of his most productive seasons to date. The 2011 season saw a career high for Floyd in receiving yards, yards per game, and yards per catch. All of this in only 12 games played.
Like Mathews, touchdown totals were the main concern with Floyd; his five receiving scores tied him for 45th
in the NFL. But his 71.3 yards per game and league leading 19.9 yards per reception indicate good things will come of him as the primary target this season.
If the other receivers can distract defenses enough, Floyd could tally more 100-yard games and increase his touchdown totals.
Admittedly, I have Floyd higher than most critics do. If he’s the third wide receiver you draft, you’re getting a felony-level steal.
joins the Chargers this season after spending his first four in New Orleans. He’s a durable wide receiver that enjoyed his role in the Brees Show. Last season Meachem caught 40 receptions for 620 yards and six touchdowns.
Meachem and Floyd will compete for the most receptions on the team, but at the very least Meachem’s numbers should increase this season. There’s immense depth at receiver on this roster, but Meachem and Floyd out-rank the rest easily.
Like Floyd, Robert Meachem is a steal if you can get him as your third wide receiver. Meachem is a better keeper league option, but Floyd’s upside intrigues me.
Former Bronco and post-Tebow refugee, Eddie Royal
, is in camp battling for the No. 3 receiver spot. In 2011, Royal suffered career lows in receptions, yards, and yards per catch. Nineteen receptions and just one touchdown left many scratching their heads, even if
Tim Tebow was the one throwing at him.
Not long ago, Royal would have been considered a great No. 3 fantasy receiver. Those days seem gone for now, but Royal is only in his fifth year. If he develops a good rapport with Rivers, he’ll have better numbers than he ever did in Denver. I wouldn’t hold my breath on that happening this season.
and new addition Roscoe Parrish
are locked in a battle for the fourth slot. They add depth, but fantasy owners are hoping they don’t muddy the waters for the two receivers at the top. These two receivers will pitch in and make plays, but they don’t threat Floyd and Meachem’s numbers.
Micheal Spurlock, Richard Goodman,
and Mike Willie
are battling for spots at the bottom of the depth chart.
For those keeping score at home, there are five new additions on the Chargers’ wide receiver roster. With Vincent Jackson gone, many fantasy managers will have their eyes elsewhere leading up to your draft. Time it right and you’ll profit picking up either Floyd or Meachem to round out your crew.
simply does not age. Gates is 32 years old entering his tenth season in the league, and he shows no sign of slowing down. Not this season, at least. Reports coming out of Chargers camp indicate Gates is healthy and hungry. That’s music to the ears of both Chargers fans and fantasy owners.
In 13 games last season, Gates grabbed 64 receptions for 778 yards (both 10th
among tight ends). His seven touchdowns tied him for fourth among tight ends. A healthy Antonio Gates means you’ll get these numbers again.
A shuffling wide receiver crew may mean Gates’ numbers will improve. Gates has always been a favorite red zone target of Rivers. With red zone back Mike Tolbert gone and the lack of an elite receiver, Gates is bound to get more looks.
I like Gates the same way I like Rivers. Gates is just outside the most coveted tight ends: Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. Both of those guys were statistical monsters, so other managers will jump on them early. They may have similar output this season, but it’s an unguaranteed risk. With Gates, you know what you’re getting and
you can get him a little bit later.
Gates is easily a top five tight end. You’ll regret it if you don’t take him this season.
is even more experienced (translation: older) than Gates, but mostly has blocking duties with the Chargers. Dante Rosario
caught only seven catches with Denver last season. Rookie Ladarius Green
turned heads at the Combine with a 4.53 40 (tops among tight end prospects), but he needs to grow in other areas of his game.
and Patrick Doyle
are fighting for spots.
None of these tight ends will threaten Antonio Gates for receptions at the position.
You’re going to make me choose just one? Ryan Mathews will be the first Charger taken in every fantasy draft. Taking him if he’s available in the middle of the first round is kind of a no-brainer, so there’s nothing really to target.
If there’s a player in San Diego you want to circle on your board and sneak your way into getting, it would be Antonio Gates. More looks, more catches, more touchdowns. You can take that to the bank.
Technically he’s not a sleeper, but I’m going to say Malcom Floyd. On most experts’ pre-draft rankings, you’ll find Floyd as a No. 3 receiver at best. They’re making a mistake. Even if Floyd loses the primary receiver position to Meachem (he won’t), Floyd is still going to keep his yardage high and increase his touchdowns. I would not be surprised at all if Floyd was deserving of a No. 2 slot by season’s end.
Depends on how the running back position battle plays out. If it turns out that Brown lost his legs back in Miami, then Battle will take the backup role easily. And if Mathews goes down - which is a legitimate risk - then Battle will get just as many carries as any other starting back in the league. He’d have to; the Chargers would be desperate and their new OC loves the running game. Still, those are a lot of “ifs”.
Rookie to Watch:
Interestingly, my rookie to watch is a guy that isn’t even guaranteed to make the team. Undrafted back Michael Hayes out of Houston presents interesting opportunities. At a pass-happy college program, Hayes caught 44 receptions and four touchdowns last season.
The Chargers love hands out of the backfield (remember Darren Sproles?), so look for Hayes to try to find a special role in the Chargers offense in future seasons. But first he’ll have to make the team.