Jake Roth/USA TODAY

2017 Fantasy Football: Los Angeles Chargers Team Outlook

Shawn Childs provides an in-depth Fantasy Football preview of the Chargers as they prepare for their first year back in Los Angeles!

Los Angeles Chargers

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The Chargers started their franchise history in Los Angeles in 1960 where they went 10-4. They lost in the AFL Championship Game 24-16 to the Houston Oilers. Over the last 57 years after a move to San Diego in 1961, they went 416-427-11 with one AFL Championship and one appearance in the Super Bowl (1994). The Chargers missed the playoffs in each of their last three seasons and six of the last seven years. The franchise has had a competitive quarterback over the last 16 seasons with Drew Brees and Philip Rivers. In 2016, they went 5-11 with continued fade in their defense (29th in points allowed – 423), but San Diego was 16th in the league in yards allowed. Their struggles led to Mike McCoy being replaced as head coach by Anthony Lynn. His resume is short as far as playing for winning franchises. Over the last 17 years, he’s spent much of his time coaching running backs, leading to an assistant head coaching job with the Jets and Bills from 2013 to 2016. Buffalo promoted him to offensive coordinator last September. He brings a running style to the offense while understanding the need to be a better defensive franchise. Ken Whisenhunt remains the offensive coordinator after taking over the job in 2016. He has eight seasons of NFL head coaching experience (48-71) with one Super Bowl appearance and a Super Bowl title in 2005 as the offensive coordinator for the Steelers. His offense moved to 9th in points scored (410) in 2016, which was a huge improvement over 2015 (320 – 26th). Even with growth in scoring, the Chargers fell to 14th in offensive yards gained (9th in 2015). Gus Bradley takes over as defensive coordinator after being relieved of his duties as head coach of the Jaguars. Bradley went 14-48 over four seasons with Jacksonville. He was the defensive coordinator for the Seahawks from 2009 to 2012.

Free Agency

The Chargers lost three starting offensive linemen in the offseason – G D.J. Fluker, G Orlando Franklin, and T King Dunlap. All three players delivered well below league average value. Fluker found a job in New York with the Giants. RB Danny Woodhead signed with the Ravens after getting hurt in 2016. His skill set was no longer needed with the emergence of Melvin Gordon.

LA also dumped a pair of cornerbacks – Brandon Flowers and Robert McClain. Flowers has had risk over the last couple of seasons and McClain struggled in part-time duty in 2016.

Their biggest addition in the offseason was T Russell Okung who has the talent to offer upside at his position if he can stay healthy. RB Kenjon Barner was brought in to add depth to the running back position. S Tre Boston should be a nice addition to the secondary after playing well for the Panthers in 2016.

Draft

In the first round of this year’s draft, the Chargers grabbed wide receiver Mike Williams. His game should fit well with Philip Rivers, who likes to take shots deep down field with a big WR on the outside who has one-on-one coverage. Williams has great size (6’4” and 218 Lbs.) and plus hands to help him win many jumps balls. He needs tom improve his route running and add more depth to his value in the passing game. He’ll start his career as a Malcom Floyd type receiver while hopefully developing into a Vincent Jackson with more upside in catches.

John Bolton Photography

The upgrades at the two guards positions on the offensive line hopefully came in this year’s draft in the second and third rounds – Forest Lamp and Dan Feeney. Lamp offers a winning combination of speed, strength, and athleticism leading to multiple stars at this year’s NFL combine. He may be maxed out as far as frame and bulk, which is why he’ll be moved to the inside after playing left tackle in college. Lamp has good feel of attackers with enough quickness with his feet to hold his own at the next level. Feeney will be a power blocker in the run game with some upside in pass protection. His range is limited over short areas, but he has a feel for reaching second level blocks. In the past, Feeney relied too much on his strength, which will be matched in the NFL.

Los Angeles banged out a pair of safeties in the fourth and fifth round – Rayshawn Jenkins and Desmond King. Jenkins is an attacking run stopper who plays well when moving toward the line of scrimmage. His play making skills aren’t where they need to be and his vision in play development doesn’t come naturally, leading to a missed step on some reads. Jenkins allows too much cushion on pass plays to avoid getting beat for a long TD. His pass coverage skills need improvement to play on every down. King has the feel, the instincts, and play making ability to work well in coverage. His weakness comes in his long speed and when asked to match step-for-step with a slick WR with both quick movements in his route running and breakaway speed. His weakness in this area leads to him trying to hold on too many plays.

In the sixth round, the Chargers drafted T Sam Tevi. He projects as a backup option with more value in pass blocking than in the run game. His technique in all areas needs improvement while understanding his job is to defend his area of the field, which sometimes requires letting the game come to him.

Their last swing in the draft came in the 7th round with DT Isaac Rochell. His game looks to be flat in all areas. Rochell will command a defender, but he lacks the movements or speed to win enough battles to get his hands on the QB. Isaac gets more in the way than creating havoc. At best, an early down run option while being undersized for an interior lineman and lacking the talent to play on the edge.

Offensive Line

Despite Melvin Gordon's breakout season, the Chargers ranked 26th in the NFL in rushing yards (1,510) with 10 rushing TDs. They averaged 3.8 yards per carry with nine runs over 20 yards. The Chargers had more negative runs (49) than rushes over 10 yards (36). Hopefully, the changes on the offensive line this offseason creates more running room.

Los Angeles finished 8th in the NFL in passing yards (4,198) with 33 TDs and 21 Ints. They gained 7.6 yards per pass attempt. The offensive line allowed 36 sacks and 98 QB hits. Rivers was second in the league in completions over 40 yards (16).

LT Russell Okung was an elite player in 2012 after getting drafted in the first round in 2010. Injuries have hurt his value in multiple seasons since. His game now looks to be more among the middle of the pack than offering impact upside.

LG Forest Lamp is expected to start in his rookie season. His game projects well and he should be an improvement in all areas from 2016.

C Matt Slauson has been a solid option at his position over three of his last four years. He’ll offer value in both run and pass blocking.

RG Donovan Clark missed the 2016 season with a torn ACL after getting drafted in the seventh round. Clark has a big body with limited range due to his below par speed. Incoming rookie Dan Freeney should offer more upside leading to him having the inside track for the starting job. Dan will have risk and limitations, but the bar wasn’t set high before him.

RT Joe Barksdale signed a four-year $22 million contract in 2015, but he struggled in all areas in his second season with the Chargers. Prior to 2016, Barksdale was an asset on the line for the previous three years for the Rams and Chargers. Oakland drafted him in the third round in 2011.

This line still has plenty of risk while the failure of past seasons has at least been addressed with fresh bodies. Tough to expect a huge step forward, but the Chargers do have a QB with a quick release and a running back with upside. Overall, this line will grade below average.

Offensive Schedule

The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing TDs touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing TDs (TDS).

This information is based on 2016, which will work as our starting point for 2017. We’ll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.

2016 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2016.

2016 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL last year.

2016 Adjustment is based on the 2016 league average and the 2016 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat and the basis for strength of schedule.

The Chargers have a favorable schedule for their rushing attack. They have three matchups (against Miami, Buffalo, and Cleveland) that offer upside plus the Broncos had risk vs. the run in 2016. However, Denver should be improved in that area this year. Dallas, the New York Giants, and New England look to be the three toughest opponents on the ground.

The foundation for a below par schedule in the passing game starts with two bad game against Denver. The next three games with some risk are against the Jaguars, the Bills, and the Eagles. Los Angeles doesn’t have any games that stand out as a huge edge throwing the ball. The best two matchups look to be against Dallas and Washington.

Offense

It’s been a long time since the Chargers have been able control the game with a strong rushing attack due to a poor offensive line. Last season, Melvin Gordon flashed upside when healthy, but the Chargers only ran the ball 40.7 percent of the time. Rivers tends to have a slightly above league average opportunity throwing the ball, which is helped by strength in his yards per pass attempt.

Quarterbacks

QB Philip Rivers

http://www.scout.com/player/22586-philip-rivers?s=532

Over 11 seasons as the starting QB for the Chargers, Rivers hasn’t missed a game in the regular season leading to a 97-79 record. He’s passed for over 4,000 yards in eight of the last nine seasons while averaging 30 passing TDs per season over that span. Only once in his career has Rivers attempted over 600 passes in a season (2015 – 661), which led the league in addition to his career best 437 completions. That season, he threw for a career high 4,792 yards with 29 TDs. Twice in the last three years, Rivers led the league in interceptions (2014 – 18 and 2016 – 21). This falls partly on a poor offensive line and injuries at the receiving position, resulting in forced throws on too many plays. This season, he’ll have the service of a big play making wide receiver on the outside plus a developing TE. If Keenan Allen can regain his form and stay healthy, Philip will have plenty of tools to post another exciting season. LA tried to improve the offensive line as well. His floor in 2017 should be 4,500 passing yards with 30 TDs. I expect him to beat both of those numbers with a very good chance of setting career highs in both categories. The key for Fantasy owners is finding the right second QB options to play in Week 1 and Week 7 when the Chargers face the Broncos.

Other options: Kellen Clemens, Mike Bercovici

Running Backs

RB Melvin Gordon

http://www.scout.com/player/137225-melvin-gordon?s=532

After an unimpressive rookie campaign (833 combined yards with no TD and 33 catches), Gordon was a great value pick in 2016 before going down in Week 14 with a left knee injury and an issue with his hip. His opportunity last year was helped greatly by the injury to Danny Woodhead. Melvin finished with 1,416 combined yards and 12 TDs with 41 catches, averaging 21.2 Fantasy points per game in PPR leagues over the first 12 games of the season. Even with his step forward, Gordon only gained 3.9 yards per rush while flashing big play ability in the passing game (10.2 yards per catch). The Chargers hope to have him ready for the start of training. His next step forward will come with improvement in the offensive line, but he needs to prove he can stay healthy. Melvin didn’t play a down in Week 16 and Week 17 in either of his first two seasons in the NFL. Los Angeles doesn’t have a lot of talent behind him so Gordon should be a high volume three-down back with value in TDs. I’ll give him over 22 touches per game leading to 1,700 combined yards with double digit TDs and 60+ catches. He’s a top five running back as far as opportunity.

RB Branden Oliver

http://www.scout.com/player/112997-branden-oliver?s=532

Oliver was given a better than expected opportunity in 2014 for the Chargers due to a couple of injuries to the RB position. He had his best game in Week 3 against one of the best RB defenses in the league when he gained a combined 182 yards with two TDs and four catches. San Diego rewarded him with 30 touches the next week, which led to 124 yards with one TD. Over the last 12 games of the year, Oliver failed to find any open field in the running game (103/333 yards and one TD – 3.2 yards per rush). His lack of success is a strike to his upside. His best value will come in the passing game, but he can’t deliver any playable Fantasy value without an injury. In 2015, Oliver only had 44 touches for 220 combined yards and 13 catches. He missed the 2016 season with a torn right Achilles.

RB Kenneth Farrow

http://www.scout.com/player/164574-kenneth-farrow?s=532

The Chargers gave Farrow 51 touches over three games after Gordon was hurt in 2016. He finished with 188 combined yards and no TDs while gaining only 3.1 yards per rush and 5.5 yards per catch when getting starting snaps. His season ended after Week 16 with a shoulder injury. Over four seasons at Houston in college, Farrow had 2,526 combined yards with 37 TDs and 74 catches. If Gordon went down with an injury, Farrow would be next in line for early down action. He does have pass catching experience, but he still has a lot to prove in the NFL.

RB Andre Williams

http://www.scout.com/player/129854-andre-williams?s=532

After falling short of expectations in his second season with the Giants (88/217/1), Williams was picked up off the scrap heap late in 2016 by the Chargers. He earned the start in Week 17 after Farrow went down with a shoulder injury. Williams rushed for 87 yards on 18 carries against the Chiefs to at least show a pulse. Andre is a power runner with short yardage value. In 2013 at Boston College, he rushed for 2,177 yards on 355 carries while scoring 18 TDs. In 2014 with the Giants, Williams had 851 combined yards on 235 touches with seven TDs and 18 catches. He's a player to watch as he could emerge as the primary backup to Gordon in 2017.

Other options: Kenjon Barner

Wide Receivers

WR Keenan Allen

Allen had a massive start in 2015 when he caught 67 passes for 725 yards and four TDs on 89 targets over eight games. He had an elite catch rate (75.3) with a huge bump in his targets per game (11.1). Allen had three games with 12 catches or more, which is just insane for a WR plus five games with double digit targets. His best game came in Week 3 against the Vikings (12/133/2) while posting two other impact games (15/166 and 14/157). His only failed game came in Week 2 against the Bengals (two catches for 16 yards on four targets). His season ended due to a lacerated kidney, which is somewhat of a fluke injury. In his 37 games played throughout his NFL career, Allen has averaged 5.8 catches for 69 yards and 0.43 TDs per game. This adds up to about 15.3 Fantasy points per game. In 2015, Allen was on pace for 134 catches, 1,450 yards and eight TDs on 178 targets. Last year, he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee in Week 1 crushing Fantasy owners' dreams again. While being on the field for 27 plays, Keenan caught six of seven targets for 63 yards. In 2016, the Chargers completed 184 passes for 2,642 yards and 15 TDs on 308 targets to the WR position. This gives Allen plenty of upside even with Mike Williams added to the roster and a couple of new options putting their names in the mix after progressing in 2016. He’s an easy player to under or overprice. I’ll set his bar at 90/1000/7 while understanding the options behind him on the roster.

WR Mike Williams

http://www.scout.com/player/149384-mike-williams?s=532

His resume is a bit scarred after missing most of the 2015 season with a neck injury. He played at a high level in 2016 for Clemson (98/1361/11) in what I would call a very good offense. Mike has size (6'4" and 218 lbs.) and Rivers has a way of making the players around him better. Talent wise, Williams should emerge as the WR2 in this offense. Before doing my research, I had a mindset of Williams developing into a better version of Malcom Floyd with a chance to be a better version of Vincent Jackson. Williams has great hands and he is going to be a factor at the goal line. The Chargers will get him the ball everywhere on the field. I see Demaryius Thomas in his game. If Tyrell Williams can catch 69 passes for 1,059 yards and seven TDs in his rookie season, Williams should be able to push that number to 85/1300/10. There’s a lot to like here and I expect him to lead LA in receiving TDs.

Note: In early June, Williams has a mild herniated disc in his back, which is something to keep an eye on. If he sees limited practice in July and August, I would trend carefully headed into the 2017 draft season.

WR Tyrell Williams

http://www.scout.com/player/198589-tyrell-williams?s=532

The Chargers signed Williams in 2015 after he went undrafted. After spending his first year on the practice squad, he was rewarded a great opportunity last year due to Keenan Allen's injury. Williams caught 69 of his 119 targets (58.0 percent) for 1,059 yards and three TDs. He had three games over 100 yards receiving (5/117/1, 7/140, and 5/125/1). He also had three games with double digit targets while averaging 7.4 targets per game. His success is strong enough to be considered a starter in Week 1, but he can’t match the overall upside of Mike Williams. The Chargers would need to air it out this season for Tyrell to catch over 60 balls unless Mike doesn't develop as expected or Allen has an issue. Solid handcuff option with sneaky value in some games as he will be a matchup problem when drawing weaker coverage.

WR Travis Benjamin

http://www.scout.com/player/96274-travis-benjamin?s=532

Travis failed to repeat his success in Cleveland in 2015 (68/966/5 on 125 targets) while playing for a better quarterback in San Diego (47/677/4). Over the first eight games last year, he caught 38 passes for 509 yards and three TDs on 58 targets. Benjamin suffered a knee injury in Week 9 leading to minimal value over the last eight games of the season (9/168/1 on 17 targets). Interesting fourth wide receiver, but Travis will be downgraded to a low volume deep threat with some value in the return game.

Other options: Dontrelle Williams, Geremy Davis, Isaiah Burse, Da’Ron Brown, Jamaal Jones

Tight Ends

TE Hunter Henry

http://www.scout.com/player/151131-hunter-henry?s=532

Over three seasons at Arkansas, Henry caught 116 passes for 1,661 yards and nine TDs highlighted by his junior year (51/739/3). Hunter is a very good blocker with the ability to run solid routes. In his rookie season, he caught 36 passes for 478 yards and eight TDs on 53 targets while starting in 10 games. Most of his damage came from Week 3 to Week 6 (18/290 and three TDs 24 targets) with Antonio Gates out of the lineup or at least limited in his playing time. With Gates back in the lineup, Henry became more of a scoring threat in the red zone over the second half of the year (14/138/5). With Antonio in the twilight of his career, Hunter should have a step up in opportunity while possibly seeing two-thirds of the TE action. In 2016, the Chargers completed 91 passes for 1,055 yards and 15 TDs on 148 targets to the TE position. If he was able to get the whole show, Henry would rank highly at the TE position in 2017. He did suffer a minor knee injury last year and a concussion. Without burying Gates, I’m thinking 60 catches for 700 yards and a chance at double digit TDs for Hunter. I do feel Mike Williams will steal some of his upside in scoring.

TE Antonio Gates

http://www.scout.com/player/33854-antonio-gates?s=532

Gates needs one TD to pass Tony Gonzalez on the all-time scoring list at the TE position, which is a great career accomplishment. Over 14 years in the NFL, Antonio has 897 catches for 11,192 yards and 111 TDs on 1,362 targets. His game has faded in the last two seasons (56/630/5 and 53/548/7) while still offering steady production at the TE position. His catch rate (56.9 in 2016) was well below his career average (65.9) while setting a career low in yards per catch (10.3). This season, Los Angeles will limit his playing time to keep him healthy, which will allow the upside of Henry to be on the field for more plays. More of a bye week fill in and I hope he gets his next TD early in the year before suffering an injury.

Other options: Jeff Cumberland, Sean McGrath, Asante Cleveland

Kicker

Josh Lambo

In his two seasons in the NFL, Lambo produced identical seasons in field goals attempted (32) and field goals made (26). This gives him an 81.3 success rate for his career while missing eight of his 78 extra point chances. Lambo missed all three of his kicks from 50 yards or longer in 2016 after going 4-for-5 in his rookie season. Overall, he needs to improve from beyond the 40 yard line and convert a higher percentage of his extra points. Only a league average kicker at this point of his career with a poor run possibly leading to a job loss. The Chargers should score more in 2017 so Lambo could finish as a borderline top 12 kicker with matchup value.

Defensive Schedule

Los Angeles draws two teams (Dallas and Buffalo) that ranked first and second in the NFL in rushing yards in 2016. They have three games (one against the Giants and two against the Broncos) vs. teams that had risk rushing the ball.

The Chargers have one of the more favorable schedules for their pass defense. They have 11 games against teams that graded below the league average in passing yards in 2016 with Cleveland, Buffalo, Miami, and the New York Jets having the most weakness. Their toughest two games will come against the Washington Redskins and Tom Brady's New England Patriots.

Defense

LA improved to 10th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed (1,567), but they allowed 20 rushing TDs and 12 runs over 20 yards. However, ball carriers only gained 3.8 yards per rush.

The Chargers ranked 20th in passing yards allowed (3,987) with 21 TDs and 18 Ints. Their defense managed only 35 sacks.

After holding out, DE Joey Bosa finished with 10.5 sacks with 41 tackles in his 12 starts. Bosa has elite quickness with an edge in athletic ability. His hands help him win at the point of contact with enough strength to finish the job. He needs to improve his pass rushing technique while offering questionable decision making. His second gear doesn’t separate himself from other pass rushers and it looks like he needs to get stronger. Joey ended up being an edge at his position with more growth expected in his second year in the league. DT Brandon Mebane has settled into a rotational player on early downs with minimal value rushing the QB. DT Corey Liuget failed to record a sack in his 16 games played with fade in his tackles (36). Corey is a former first round pick (2011).

Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports

LB Melvin Ingram played at a high level in each of the last two seasons. He had 18.5 combined sacks and 125 combined tackles in 2015 and 2016. Melvin was drafted in the first round in 2012. Kyle Emanuel finished 58 tackles in his second year in the league as a part time player. His best value came in run support. LB Jatavis Brown played well in his rookie season. He had 79 sacks, 3.5 sacks, and six defended passes. Brown looks to be closer to an oversized safety than a linebacker due to his size (5’11 and 227 lbs.). His speed plays well when moving forward while offering the range of gears to get to the QB when asked to blitz plus adding value to his game in pass coverage. Jatavis needs to improve his tackling technique. LB Denzel Perryman has been a steady all-around player over the last two years, but he did play through a knee injury in 2016 leading to four missed games.

CB Jason Verrett was one of the best cornerbacks in the league over the first four games of the 2016 season before blowing out his left knee (torn ACL). His injury was early enough in last year where he should be ready for Week 1 in 2017. Jason was drafted in the first round in 2014. CB Casey Heyward did a nice job in coverage as well. He had 20 defended passes and a career high 65 tackles, but he failed to secure an interception. S Jahleel Addae missed half of the 2016 season with a broken collar bone. His success over eight games would have led to a career high in all areas. S Dwight Lowery remains a steady option at his position. He set a career high in defended passes (9) with a pick six for the second straight season.

This defense has weakness on the line outside of Bosa with the linebacker options looking like league average at best at the position. Ingram is an edge while Brown has a chance to improve. They have above average talent in the secondary as long as everyone is healthy. The Chargers don’t have upside depth so things could unravel quickly on the defensive side of the ball with a couple of injuries. The Chargers are only a matchup value in Fantasy when facing a team with a weak running back and limited options in the passing game.

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