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2011 Team Report: San Diego Chargers


Starter: Philip Rivers
Backup(s): Billy Volek

Starting QB: Philip Rivers became the team's unquestioned leader last season when LaDainian Tomlinson left town. The offense's transition from a running team to a passing team is evident from the team's significant increase in pass attempts over the last three seasons -- from 478 to 517 to 542. The Chargers would like to see their running game improve in 2011, but the offense will still primarily run through Philip Rivers. Rivers has been a solid fantasy starter for the past five seasons, and a strong fantasy QB1 for the past three. His job security is up there with Peyton Manning's, and his goal line targets are among the best in the business. Considering his ability to play through minor injuries (and to avoid major ones for the most part), Rivers is about as reliable a fantasy QB prospect as there is.

Backup QB: Billy Volek will return for his fifth season as the Chargers' backup QB. Volek hasn't played much during his stay in San Diego (Philip Rivers has never missed a start), but he put up some lofty numbers when he got the chance in Tennessee -- including a four-game stretch in which he averaged 380 passing yards per game. Volek was a free agent this past offseason, but the Chargers made it a priority to re-sign him, given his familiarity with Norv Turner's offense. If Rivers does miss time with injury, Volek has the potential to rack up fantasy points over the short term in the Charger's high-powered offense.

Running Backs

Starter: Ryan Mathews
Backup(s): Mike Tolbert, Jordan Todman
Fullback(s): Jacob Hester

Starting RB: Ryan Mathews sputtered out of the gate last season, fumbling in the first game, injuring his ankle in the second, missing significant practice time after that, and failing to master his pass-blocking assignments. As a result, he never became the workhorse RB that his fantasy owners had hoped he would; he instead took turns mostly with Mike Tolbert, as each back was in and out of the lineup with an array of nagging injuries. Mathews did not get 20 carries in a game until week 17, by far his best effort, when he rushed 26 times for 120 yards and 3 TDs. Despite the disappointing season as a whole, Mathews did flash a combination of speed and power that should serve him well in the NFL. He has tremendous balance, and is more of a breakaway threat than Tolbert will ever be. While Tolbert is a capable RB who will play a significant role in the offense this season, Mathews should be the lead back as long as he can stay healthy and protect the ball.

Backup RBs: With Ryan Mathews' struggles, Mike Tolbert got more playing time than most were expecting last season, and the converted fullback was surprisingly effective as a ballcarrier. He has excellent power and balance, above average vision and instincts, and surprising quickness for a big back. He is the kind of RB who can keep the chains moving and eat up clock, but he lacks the speed or moves to be a legitimate big-play threat. Given his power at the goal line, and his pass-blocking skills, the Chargers will find ways to get him on the field. He will limit Ryan Mathews' fantasy value by cutting into his touches, but will likely not see enough work to have much value in his own right as long as Mathews stays healthy. Jordan Todman, a rookie out of Connecticut, is a small, fast back who likely take over some of the responsibilities of the departed Darren Sproles.

Fullback: Jacob Hester is a well-rounded fullback. While not a domineering lead blocker who will clear a linebacker completely out of a hole, he is a capable position blocker who understands leverage and generally takes proper angles. He is also a fine receiver out of the backfield, and a decent short-yardage runner. He will get too few touches, however, to have any fantasy value.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd
Backups: Vincent Brown, Patrick Crayton, Seyi Ajirotutu, Laurent Robinson, Kelley Washington

Starting WRs: The 2010 season will be eagerly forgotten by Vincent Jackson. A protracted holdout followed by a leg injury significantly shortened his season. He did have one monster game, catching 5 passes for 112 yards and 3 touchdowns in week 15 against the 49ers; but was otherwise unhelpful to his fantasy owners. He will play the 2011 season under the team's franchise tag, presumably keen to showcase his talent and reestablish his value with an eye-toward an eventual long-term contract, either in San Diego or elsewhere. Jackson has terrific size and speed, and has become a strong route-runner. He has earned QB Rivers' trust, and should be an every-week fantasy starter this season. Malcom Floyd tested the free agent waters this offseason, but ultimately returned on a two-year deal. He's another big target who can get downfield. He has excellent hands, and has improved his intermediate route-running. The main impediments to his fantasy value are the higher-ups in the pecking order for targets (namely Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates) and Floyd's inability to stay healthy consistently.

Backup WRs: Behind Vincent Jackson and (possibly) Malcom Floyd, the Chargers have no WRs on the roster with proven track records. Vincent Jackson, a rookie out of San Diego State, was the Chargers' third-round pick. He lacks great size or speed, but is a solid route-runner with reliable hands, and is expected to make an impact relatively quickly. He will challenge for a starting job if Maclom Floyd leaves, but may be better suited for the slot. Patrick Crayton came to the Chargers last season in a trade with the Dallas Cowboys. He is a competent, well-rounded receiver who can do many things fairly well, but doesn't excel in any particular area. Seyi Ajirotutu enters his second NFL season; he was pressed into action last season due to injuries and, in the game in which he got significant playing time, went over 100 yards and scored two touchdowns. He has good athleticism and potential, but is still a bit raw, making it hard to predict how he'll figure into the offense plans this season. Laurent Robinson, formerly of the Rams, has been plagued by injuries for most of his career, and is not a lock to make the final roster. Kelley Washington, if he makes the roster, will contribute mostly on special teams.

Tight Ends

Starters: Antonio Gates
Backups: Randy McMichael, Kory Sperry

Antonio Gates, originally an undrafted free agent, has become one of the most dominant pass-catching TEs in the history of the league. He was on a blistering pace through the first half of the season in 2010, but a foot injury kept him listed as questionable (and a game-time decision) for most of the rest of the season, during which he played in only two more games. He began training camp on the PUP list this season, an indication that the foot injury is still an issue. He has since come off the list and has started practicing, but may not be 100% to start the season. Gates has a long history of playing -- and playing well -- through pain, however. If concerns about his foot depress his draft position, he will potentially be one of the biggest steals on draft day. Randy McMichael is a very good NFL backup tight end, but he has little fantasy value. If Gates is injured, the offense will rely more on the WRs and RBs. McMichael will not simply be plugged into the Antonio Gates role.

Place Kicker

Nate Kaeding : The Chargers had an apparent long snapper injury curse last year. Long time veteran David Binn is expected to resume the role this year. One of last year's subsequent injury fill-ins, Mike Windt, remains on the roster heading into camp. The team is set as always with the other two specialists: kicker Nate Kaeding and punter Mike Scifres. Regardless of what he does in the NFL playoffs, Kaeding has been one of the safest fantasy bets in recent years sine the Chargers have ranked in the top ten in kicker scoring opportunities in 4 of the last 5 years. The one glitch last year was when Kaeding missed several games due to injury.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Marcus Gilchrist, Richard Goodman, Bryan Walters, Jordan Todman

Punt Returners: Marcus Gilchrist, Richard Goodman, Bryan Walters, Patrick Crayton, Antoine Cason

Long time return specialist Darren Sproles is gone (to the Saints). The early favorite to replace him on punt returns is rookie CB Marcus Gilchrist, although he didn't reinforce that on his first preseason return which he muffed. Other possibilities include WR Patrick Crayton and CB Antoine Cason, who started in that role for part of last year. Gilchrist is also a frontrunner to handle kickoff returns. Rookie RB Jordan Todman is a possibility. In the game against the Seahawks, second year WR Bryan Walters definitely added his name to the mix with four returns including a 103 yard TD. HC Norv Turner commented, "Every time you go out on the field you help yourself make this football team. [Walters] helped himself in the league. He's a good football player. He's going to get more opportunities."

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Marcus O'Neill, LG Kris Dielman, C Nick Hardwick, RG Louis Vasquez, RT Jeromey Clary
Key Backups: Stephen Schilling [R], Brandyn Dombrowski, Tyronne Green, Scott Mruczkowski

Team Defense

Several fans were puzzled by the Chargers' decision to draft Corey Liuget in the first round as many had the Illinois DT pencilled in as a 4-3 three technique. The Chargers, who operate out of a 3-4 primarily, plan to use Liuget's talents to their fullest. The objective is to exploit his pass rushing ability whenever possible on a defensive line that boasts unheralded stars like Antonio Garay. Shaun Phillips figures to be his usual dominant self on the outside. The team signed wily veteran Takeo Spikes to man the inside. The investment in Eric Weddle shows how highly the team values his services.

Defensive Line

Starters: DT Antonio Garay, DE Luis Castillo, DE Corey Liuget
Backups: NT Cam Thomas, DE Jacques Cesaire, DE Vaughn Martin, DT Ogemdi Nwagbuo

Starting DL: The Chargers' defensive line, due to the team's 3-4 scheme, presents little fantasy potential. While Luis Castillo has not lived up to his contract, he is a solid run-defender who does many things well that don't show up in the box score (which is, unfortunately, no help to his fantasy owners). First-round pick Corey Luiget is expected to start opposite Luis Castillo. Like Castillo, Luiget is considered to be a smart player with good instincts. Inside, defensive tackle Antonio Garay had a fantastic year in 2010, but won't rack up the stats that fantasy owners covet. He was a force against the run last season, and also generated significant pressure up the middle as a pass-rusher.

Backup DL: Jacques Cesaire, a former starter, is better suited to rotate in as a backup. He has decent quickness, but has not been able to translate that into an effective pass-rush. He can be overpowered at the point of attack, and is somewhat of a liability as a run-defender. Vaughn Martin will be Luis Castillo's backup. He played his college ball in Canada, but he's a natural athlete who's been in the NFL for two years now, so he'll be expected to make a significant contribution in the rotation.


Starters: ILB Takeo Spikes, ILB Donald Butler, OLB Shaun Phillips, OLB Larry English
Backups: ILB Jonas Mouton, OLB Travis LaBoy, OLB Antwan Barnes, ILB James Holt

Starting LBs: The top three ILBs from last season (Stephen Cooper, Kevin Burnett, and Brandon Siler) have all departed through free agency, so the Chargers will have a new look in the middle of the defense. The Chargers signed Takeo Spikes away from the 49ers during the offseason. Spikes can play either ILB position, so expect him to be on the field a lot. He is not much of a blitzer, but he is an outstanding run-stopper who could rack up a lot of tackles in the Chargers 3-4 defense. Next to Spikes, it is Donald Butler's job to lose, although he will have competition from Jones Mouton. Butler was the Chargers' third-round draft pick last year, but missed the entire season with an Achilles injury. At OLB, Shaun Phillips is coming off of a solid season, but his 11 sacks blur the fact that he was actually better against the run than he was against the pass last season. Phillips has the quickness and instincts to make big plays, and forced more than his fair share of fumbles last season. To have more success as a pass-rusher, however, he will need help from his teammates to occupy more of the offensive line's attention. To that end, the Chargers are counting on former first-round pick Larry English to break out with at least a half dozen sacks this season. He needs to stay healthy and start living up to his potential. If he can't, his time may be running out in San Diego.

Backup LBs: Rookie Jonas Mouton is expected to challenge Donald Butler for a starting job, and in any case should figure into the rotation immediately. Butler and Mouton are both completely unproven, but the Chargers were willing to let Kevin Burnett leave in part because of their high hopes for the young ILBs. Travis LaBoy joines Takeo Spikes in coming over from San Francisco. LaBoy is a pass-rushing specialist, but is also adequate in run support. He should get plenty of snaps rotating in with Phillips and English, as the Chargers prefer to keep their front seven fresh by using a rotation. Antwan Barnes is a one-dimensional pass-rusher, but his quick burst off the corner serves him well. He lines up in a down position as a DE when the Chargers move to a 4-3 in certain passing situations. He had 4 sacks last season playing only about a quarter of the Chargers' defensive snaps.

Defensive Backs

Starters: S Eric Weddle, S Bob Sanders, CB Quentin Jammer, CB Antoine Cason
Backups: CB Dante Hughes, CB Marcus Gilchrist, S Steve Gregory, S Darrell Stuckey, CB Shareece Wright, S Quinton Teal

Starting DBs: The Chargers made a splash in free agency before the lockout by agreeing to terms with the talented but oft-injured Bob Sanders, who will start at strong safety. Sanders plays very aggressively, generally lining up close to the box, but anticipates well and makes good reads, so he is rarely out of position to make a play. His injury history is extensive, but he is healthy for the moment. The Chargers made it a huge priority to re-sign Eric Weddle this offseason, and ended up making him the highest paid safety in the NFL (an honor held at one point by Bob Sanders). Weddle has gotten comfortable in the Chargers' system, and while he enjoyed a very productive season in 2010, he was close to making a number of big plays that he just missed. If he starts making a few more of those, he'll justify his contract. At CB, Quentin Jammer has been playing at a high level, but his age will soon become a factor. Opposite Jammer, Antoine Cason steadily improved last season and appears to be a fixture at one starting CB spot for years to come.

Backup DBs: Darrell Stuckey will back up Eric Weddle at free safety. The team's hopes were originally high for Stuckey last year (his rookie season) due to what appeared to be an opening in the secondary. But a training camp injury kept him from getting on track, and whatever opportunity there was to compete for a starting job last season was slammed shut by the signing of Bob Sanders this year. Steve Gregory will back up Bob Sanders at strong safety. There will be an open competition for the nickel position. Dante Hughes came on strong at the end of last season, playing very well in November and December. He will try to hold off rookies Marcus Gilchrist and Shareece Wright for the third CB spot.

Last modified: 2011-08-28 18:06:40

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