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2016 Team Report: San Diego Chargers

Quarterbacks

Starter: Philip Rivers
Backup(s): Kellen Clemens, Mike Bercovici [R]

Starting QB: In a down year for the Chargers, Philip Rivers put together a decent season statistically, completing 66% of his passes for a career-high 4,792 yards and a 29:13 touchdown-to-interception ratio. It wasn't easy. The Chargers' whole offensive line struggled through injuries, and the whole receiving corps as well. The return of Keenan Allen (lacerated kidney) and the addition of Travis Benjamin should help the downfield passing game. Rivers signed a five-year extension before the 2015 season, so he is locked in as the Chargers' starter probably until he retires.

Backup QB: Behind Rivers, Kellen Clemens won the number two job over Zach Mettenberger (released). Clemens has been Philip Rivers' backup for the past two seasons in San Diego, but has gotten almost no playing time. In his time with the Jets and Rams, Clemens showed an ability to manage the offense, but has poor arm strength and accuracy. If the Chargers carry three quarterbacks, rookie Mike Bercovici will be the number three. Bercovici lacks classic size and speed, but showed good pocket awareness in college and a strong arm. He arguably outplayed Clemens during the preseason.

Running Backs

Starter: Melvin Gordon
Backup(s): Danny Woodhead, Andre Williams, Kenneth Farrow
Fullback(s): Derek Watt [R], Chris Swain [R]

Starting RB: As a rookie, Melvin Gordon faced high expectations entering 2015, but didn't come close to meeting them. He averaged just under 3.5 yards per carry on the season and failed to score a touchdown on 217 touches. Gordon ran hard and flashed some power and balance, but he seemed to lack the quickness and speed evident on his college game tapes. It is hard to thoroughly evaluate his ability to find the hole based on his 2015 season, however, since on so many of his runs there was no hole. The Chargers seem committed to improving the running game in 2016. They brought in two interior offensive linemen who will challenge for starting jobs, added a couple of fullbacks (a position the team did not use last season), and spent a high second-round pick on a tight end with in-line blocking ability. If Gordon can fully recover from the knee injury that ended his 2015 season (for which he had microfracture surgery over the offseason), he should be expected to improve substantially in his second season.

Backup RBs: Danny Woodhead is not only the primary backup to Melvin Gordon, but is also the team's main goal-line back and third-down back. The Chargers love Woodhead's versatility and use him extensively in the passing game. (He led the team in receptions and receiving yards last season.) A small back who will be 31 years old this season, Woodhead may not be built to shoulder the whole load if Gordon is injured, but he's proven that he can make a significant fantasy impact on limited touches. Kenneth Farrow is an undrafted free agent who is unlikely to be active on game days.

Fullback: The Chargers did not use a fullback last season, but plan to employ a lead blocker to help Melvin Gordon in the running game in 2016. To that end, they drafted Gordon's former fullback at Wisconsin, Derek Watt, who will get the first shot at the job. Watt (who is J.J. Watt's younger brother) started all four years at Wisconsin and is considered a well-rounded fullback, competent as a blocker, runner, and receiver, but not truly exceptional in any category. Watt won the preseason competition against fellow rookie Chris Swain, an undrafted player out of Navy. Swain was more of a runner than a blocker in college, but has the measurables to make the transition to fullback in the pros. He could catch on as a practice squad player in 2016.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin
Backups: Tyrell Williams, Dontrelle Inman, Isaiah Burse, Dom Williams [R]

Starting WRs: Keenan Allen was on pace for a terrific season when he lacerated his kidney catching a touchdown in Week 8. Through eight weeks, Allen was the #6 fantasy WR in non-PPR leagues. Allen does not have outstanding size or speed, but he is a crisp route-runner, quick out of his cuts, with excellent hands and concentration. He is not much of a deep threat, but can beat man or zone coverage on short and intermediate routes. The Chargers' deep threat will be Travis Benjamin, a free-agent signee from Cleveland. Benjamin had been with the Browns for four seasons, but had his breakout year in 2015. He exploded onto the scene immediately, scoring four touchdowns in the first three games. He was inconsistent after that -- like everybody else in Cleveland's passing offense. Benjamin has terrific speed and open-field running ability, and is probably a better fit as his team's number two wide receiver (as opposed to the number one position he was thrust into last season).

Backup WRs: Behind Allen and Benjamin, Tyrell Williams and Dontrelle Inman are locked in as the third and fourth receivers. Tyrell Williams has outstanding athleticism and big-play ability; his play during training camp has moved him up the depth chart into the number three role. With the rash of injuries to the Chargers' top three wide receivers last season, Dontrelle Inman got more playing time than expected -- and generally proved inconsistent. He has some big-play ability due to his combination of height, jumping ability, and deep speed; but he is not a refined route-runner. He is unlikely to get much playing time this season unless, as in 2015, there are multiple injuries ahead of him. Isaiah Burse, in his second NFL season, will try to catch on as the fifth wide receiver, but would likely be relegated to special teams play. Dom Williams is an undrafted free agent out of Washington State with an outstanding combination of size, speed, and jumping ability, but must improve his catching ability to have a shot at making the Chargers' final roster. He dropped far too many balls in college.

Tight Ends

Starters: Antonio Gates
Backups: Hunter Henry [R], Sean McGrath

Antonio Gates will be 36 years old when the season starts, but he's coming off his twelfth consecutive season as a worthwhile fantasy starter in twelve-team leagues. He has never been a dominant blocker, but he's been particularly ineffective in that role over the last couple years. To preserve his health and to keep him fresh in the hope of a playoff run, the Chargers may limit Gates' snaps this season, playing to his strength and using him mostly on passing downs. That should not diminish his fantasy prospects by much, however, since it's on passing downs that Gates has historically done most of his damage. The Chargers are hoping that second-round pick Hunter Henry can make an immediate contribution as a rookie. He has experience as an in-line blocker (with mixed reviews) at Arkansas, and will almost certainly be an upgrade over Gates in that capacity. He was also an effective receiver over the middle of the field in college, though it often takes a year or two for tight ends to make the transition to the NFL as pass-catchers. Sean McGrath, if he makes the team, might be more of a special-teamer than anything else. He has no fantasy value.

Place Kicker

Josh Lambo: Lambo was a bit of a surprise camp battle winner last year, ousting Nick Novak. The rookie was near the bottom of the league in accuracy, making 26-of-32 attempts, including a shaky 11-for-16 from 40-49 yards. Lambo was also only 28-for-32 on extra point attempts. The team hasn't shown much concern, bringing in no competition for Lambo. He appears to be entrenched, but his inconsistency and the smallish opportunity in San Diego leaves him well of a fantasy kicker draft lists.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Isaiah Burse, Danny Woodhead, Melvin Gordon

With Branden Oliver lost for the season (Achilles), Isaiah Burse has a good shot at making the final roster as a kick returner. Danny Woodhead and Melvin Gordon have also taken reps returning kicks during training camp.

Punt Returners: Travis Benjamin

New San Diego receiver Travis Benjamin was a stellar punt returner last year for the Cleveland Browns, and the Chargers will likely deploy him in the same way.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT King Dunlap, LG Orlando Franklin, C Matt Slauson, RG D.J. Fluker, RT Joe Barksdale
Key Backups: Chris Hairston, Max Tuerk [R], Tyreek Burwell, Kenny Wiggins, Spencer Pulley, Chris Watt [inj]

When looking at the Chargers' offensive line as a group, it is notable how all of their starters excel at run blocking. The Chargers' improved their line this offseason with a trade for Bears' center Matt Slauson. Slauson was considered a glue guy and should at least be solid at the position for San Diego. The left side of tackle King Dunlap and guard Orlando Franklin have bulk and should be effective opening holes in the running attack. Right guard D.J. Fluker and right tackle Joe Barksdale are also maulers in the running game and the team clearly wants to emphasize that aspect of the offense. The flip side to these players is that few if any can be considered above average pass protectors. The team drafted Max Tuerk to develop at center behind Slauson and they usually find a way to get Chris Hairston and Kenny Wiggins into the lineup. Overall this is a clearly run-happy group who could have shortcomings protecting the quarterback. Tier Ranking: Mid Tier.

Team Defense

The Chargers have been a cellar dweller in fantasy D/ST rankings for a while now. 2016 brings some reason for hope with instant impact DL Joey Bosa coming with the #3 overall pick. CB Jason Verrett, OLB Melvin Ingram, and DE Corey Liuget are quality players at every level of the defense, and if the offense can keep all hands on deck, the Chargers should be a lot more competitive this year, which can only help the defense. A last place schedule that includes the AFC and NFC South can also provide a boost, so the Chargers could creep onto our streaming D/ST radar even though all-pro safety Eric Weddle has moved on to the Ravens.

Defensive Line

Starters: Brandon Mebane, Corey Liuget, Darius Philon
Backups: Joey Bosa [R], Ryan Carrethers, Tenny Palepoi, Caraun Reid

Starting DL: The top fantasy option here is Liuget, who was on pace for a career year before losing the final seven games to a foot injury. He'll return to easy DL2 value - expect 60ish tackles and 5-7 sacks - but won't bring much to leagues that don't require linemen. Mebane is a space-eater in the middle; he's valuable to the Chargers, but not to us. He hasn't topped 3.0 sacks since 2008. Philon is a situational rusher who will start, but struggle for a full complement of snaps.

Backup DL: Edge rusher Bosa is an odd fit in the Chargers' 3-4 base, but he'll be used in a variety of roles. And his future is bright - Bosa was a borderline dominant rusher at Ohio State, and his tested athleticism was off the charts at Indianapolis. Still, as one of the team's only two difference-making pass rushers, Bosa will likely struggle to register sacks out of the gate. He'll be fighting for snaps in the base set and commanding specialized attention when going after the QB. There's definitely 8-10 sack potential, but don't expect it immediately. And it presupposes, of course, that Bosa's rookie holdout didn't severely ding his learning curve. Carrethers will vie for rotational snaps on the nose. He's massive and brings exciting athleticism to the position - he was a tackle machine at Arkansas State and has flashed in limited time through his first two seasons. An injury to Mebane could vault him into ultra-sneaky DL2 value. Palepoi with take a situational role as a sub-package pass rusher.

Linebackers

Starters: Melvin Ingram, Denzel Perryman, Manti Teo, Kyle Emanuel
Backups: Jeremiah Attaochu, Josh Perry [R], Tourek Williams, Jatavis Brown [R]

Starting LBs: Like most 3-4 defenses, this one funnels the tackle opportunities inside. That's great news for the talented Perryman, who excelled as a rookie against the run (No. 2 league-wide over the final seven weeks, per Pro Football Focus) and will enter 2016 as a starter. Perryman didn't contribute much statistically against the pass, but he graded well and likely guaranteed himself a three-down role going forward. His upside may be capped, but he's got a great shot to reach 120 tackles and obliterate his ADP. His inside partner Te'o is an ascending option on paper - he's averaged 6.6 tackles/game in limited time over the past two years. But Te'o is a thoroughly ineffective LB who's likely to lose time going forward. He graded 126th of 129 ILBs per PFF last year, failing to provide any real splash plays against the pass despite heavy usage there. He's little more than a chase-and-tackle guy who could be quickly surpassed by fourth-rounder Perry. On the outside, there's plenty of young talent in Ingram and Attaochu, and it's likely at least one steps up in one of the league's weakest pass rushes. Former first-rounder Ingram finally broke out with 10 sacks, but he's a very shaky fantasy prospect. Injuries have cost him 24 of his first 64 games, and he hasn't produced nearly the tackles needed to make up for stunted sack totals. The one to monitor is Emanuel, who excelled last preseason and showed well across 300 rookie snaps. He'll see competition from Brown and Attaochu, who registered 6 sacks and 16 hurries across 667 snaps in his second year. He was an absurdly productive rusher at Georgia Tech who simply broke the 2014 combine, and the sky is the limit for his edge-bending abilities. A leap to 60 tackles and 10-12 sacks is a fair stab if he wrestles the job from Emanuel.

Backup LBs: Most of the depth is on the outside, where three intriguing young rushers will vie for position. But inside backup Perry is a name to file away as a potential waiver asset down the line. A productive thumper at Ohio State, Perry is a real threat to Teo's snaps from Day One. Assuming Perryman holds up in coverage, Perry makes the most sense inside in base sets, and there would be decent LB3 value available. Brown is a fifth-round rookie who absolutely dominated at Akron as well as his pro day, and Williams, who had reportedly worked his way into the gameplan prior to a training camp injury, is in the mix.

Defensive Backs

Starters: Jason Verrett, Brandon Flowers, Dwight Lowery, Jahleel Addae
Backups: Casey Hayward, Craig Mager, Darrell Stuckey, Adrian Phillips, Pierre Desir

Starting DBs: Verrett is rapidly ascending into the ranks of the league's elite cover men, but it's taking its toll on his fantasy value. He boasts great ball skills and is a threat to reach 20 breakups/5 INTs in any season, but it's more likely those numbers stay still while his tackle opportunities decrease. Still, it's notable that his tackles per game in 2015 leapt from 1.3 over his first six games to 4.1 down the stretch. He's a progressive DB3 choice with DB2 upside. Flowers is likely in line for similar numbers on the other side. Coming off the worst season of his impressive, if up-and-down, career, Flowers looks primed for something of a bounceback, and he offers similar splash-play potential to Verrett's. Flowers averaged over a breakup per game over his first five seasons. Lowery will get first crack at replacing Eric Weddle, but it's hard to project him beyond low-end DB2 production. Like Weddle, Lowery is generally strong in coverage and a solid candidate to pick off a handful of passes - and the team's iffy depth chart all but locks him into 16 starts. But his deficiencies against the run, as well as the team's talent injection in the front seven, make it unlikely he'll top 80 tackles. In other words, he'll desperately need those splash plays to even serve as waiver wire fodder. Addae is a thoroughly mediocre SS who also projects to solid, if capped, tackle opportunity, but he's not worth fantasy consideration.

Backup DBs: Hayward was a sneaky pickup for the Chargers; he's flirted with upper-tier NFL ability through four seasons. His 2012 rookie year featured a dazzling 21 breakups and 6 INTs, in addition to grading as the league's No. 1 overall CB. He's fluctuated from mediocre to great since then, with most of his success coming in the slot. But note that Flowers was atrocious last year, and that Hayward has the talent and pedigree to seize a larger role. If he does, there's DB2 potential at virtually no draft cost. The same could be said on a shakier scale for Mager, a supremely athletic third-round choice from last year. Stuckey played just 10 defensive snaps a game last year, but is a valued special teamer and could push Addae for snaps. He likely has a leg up on fellow specialist Phillips.

Last modified: 2016-09-05 14:50:40