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2019 Team Report: Los Angeles Chargers

Offensive Philosophy

The Chargers run a slow-paced offense, resulting in a bottom-five finish in total offensive plays last year, including as well as finishes in the bottom half in both pass attempts and rush attempts. The team uses lots of formations and personnel groupings to try to generate pre-snap matchup advantages, and relies heavily on short-to-intermediate passes to running backs and star widout Keenan Allen.


Starter: Philip Rivers
Backup(s): Tyrod Taylor, Cardale Jones, Easton Stick [R]

Starting QB: Philip Rivers enjoyed yet another efficient season at 36, finishing third league-wide in yards per attempt and firing 32 touchdowns. He was a legitimate MVP candidate for awhile, opening the year with 12 straight multi-touchdown games and posting a mega-efficient 9.4 yards per attempt along the way. But it's worth noting he tailed off noticeable down the stretch, averaging just 6.5 and 230 per game over his final six (playoffs included). As the Chargers have balanced offensively in recent years, Rivers has thrown noticeably less often - his attempts have fallen three years in a row. No longer throwing with 2015-17's volume, Rivers has grown increasingly dependent on big downfield plays to make fantasy magic. Rivers was a top-8 passer for much of 2018, but with his age climbing and usage declining, it's hard to justify the 37-year-old in the QB1 range. He's probably best targeted among the massive crop of Round 12-14 phase of a draft.

Backup QB: In March, the Chargers brought in Taylor to back up Philip Rivers. The styles don't match - Rivers is a stationary passer, while Taylor is a mover - and Rivers hasn't missed a start through his 13 years as No.1. But this still represents a sizeable upgrade over Cardale Jones or Geno Smith. Taylor looked disastrous in Cleveland last year, completing less than half his throws, but he consistently ranks near the top of the league in deep-ball efficiency. If the unthinkable does happen to Rivers, Taylor's mobility and strong arm could bring a fresh, dynamic angle to this big-play offense.

Running Backs

Starter: Melvin Gordon
Backup(s): Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Detrez Newsome, Troymaine Pope
Fullback(s): Derek Watt

Starting RB: After years of relative underachievement, Melvin Gordon finally proved his brilliance in 2018. The explosive Gordon spent his first three years plodding to just 3.8 yards per rush behind a badly undermanned line. But last season, he took advantage of big improvements up front and skyrocketed to 5.1. Gordon had always flashed breakaway ability, but his 2018 was a thing of all-around beauty, featuring 115 scrimmage yards per game and 14 touchdowns. Injuries may always be a concern, though - Gordon has missed 9 of 64 full games and large chunks of several others. Last year, he sat out Weeks 13-15 before returning to a reduced workload (and producing just 2.9 yards per carry down the stretch). It wasn't the first time he's closed a season with sore or flat-out injured knees and ankles. The Chargers' backfield is deep, and the team doesn't hesitate to spell Gordon liberally. In 2018, his share of backfield touches fell noticeably, from 72% to 63%. Efficiency is no longer a big concern here - Gordon generates chunk runs regularly and has produced 38 touchdowns over his last 41 games. But the Chargers are likely to monitor and control his usage somewhat going forward, and Ekeler can be a frustrating vulture on seemingly-random weeks.

Backup RBs: Ekeler was nothing short of fantastic in 2018, finally providing the Chargers with a dynamic change-of-pace option behind Melvin Gordon. The sophomore racked up 958 scrimmage yards despite missing 2 weeks, and posted a sterling 6.6 per touch, good for third among runners with 100 or more. (That came on the heels of averaging 7.3 in his 2017 debut.) His usage isn't predictably strong - he topped 10 touches only once across 10 games next to a healthy Gordon. But Ekeler is electric in the open field in both facets of the offense, and splash plays are his forte. He's a fantastic middle-round target, one that can serve as both a high-quality handcuff and a high-upside weekly flex option. Jackson flashed rookie chops as a runner, but like Ekeler, he did most of his damage in a change-up, pass-game role. His grip on the No. 3 job looks strong, but he doesn't offer any fantasy value while the top two are healthy, and that's never a predictable thing.

Fullback: J.J. and T.J.'s brother, Watt isn't much of a ball-toting threat, with just 19 touches over parts of 3 seasons in an offense that doesn't utilize a fullback much. (Interestingly, he was recruited more heavily out of high school than either of his siblings.) Watt saw just 146 snaps in 2018 - he only topped 14 once - and doesn't factor at all into the Chargers' distribution plans.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams
Backups: Travis Benjamin, Geremy Davis, Dylan Cantrell, Artavis Scott

Starting WRs: After four years of nagging injuries that limited him to just 38 games over his first 4 seasons, Allen hasn't missed a start since. As a result, he's tallied 199 receptions over the last 2 years, tied for fifth-most in football. Just as importantly, he's worked hard to shed his "slot-only" reputation, working down the field more and utilizing his outstanding open-field ability. Both were on full display in the postseason loss to the Patriots, when he registered a pair of big gainers against New England's stout secondary. His consistency has been remarkable, too - Allen topped 50 yards in 16 of 18 Chargers games last year, and 28 of their last 34 overall. Allen remains a dependable target for Philip Rivers underneath, but he's successfully proven himself to be more than that. He's a legitimate fantasy WR1, especially now that he's shed the "injury risk" tag, and 100 receptions again looks like his baseline. Across the field, Williams enjoyed a serious breakout as a sophomore, breaking free from an injury-marred rookie 2017. A true downfield playmaker and jump-ball threat at 6'4 and 220 pounds, Williams easily beat out Tyrell Williams in the pecking order and led the Chargers with 10 touchdown catches. His target share wasn't very consistent, drawing 4 targets or fewer in 10 of 18 games. But Tyrell Williams wasn't re-signed, freeing up 64 targets for a receiving corps that hasn't really been restocked. Mike Williams certainly boasts the game-breaking ability to maximize any attention sent his way, and his week-to-week ceiling is always stout. With extended snaps and targets likely on the docket for 2019, Williams has all the looks of an upside WR2 for aggressive fantasy players.

Backup WRs: The Chargers love Benjamin, dating back to Mike McCoy's time at the helm. He wears a number of hats, both in Philip Rivers' offense and on special teams, and his value earned him a one-year extension (through 2020) in April. That said, his role as a producer in the pass game has fallen mightily. Last year, Benjamin saw the field for 39% of team snaps from Weeks 9-17, but drew just 17 targets over that span and topped 11 yards only 3 times. He's little more than a gadget option and occasional special-teamer at this point, far more relevant to the Chargers than to the fantasy world. Davis saw 74 snaps last season as the de facto No. 5 wideout, and he'll step up a notch with Tyrell Williams out of town. Still, it's hard to project much productivity - the Chargers rarely utilize four wideouts at a time. Cantrell will look to latch on as a special-teamer; even if he makes the final roster, his role simply wouldn't factor into this offense at all.

Tight Ends

Starters: Hunter Henry
Backups: Virgil Green, Sean Culkin, Vince Mayle, Daniel Helm [R]

Henry's lost 2018 was a disappointment for early fantasy drafters, but isn't much of a concern going forward. After all, he was able to return to (limited) postseason action just eight months after tearing his ACL. The fact that the team rushed him back to action in the playoffs makes a bold statement about his prominent role in this offense. Henry is a big-bodied target over the middle, and his sneaky downfield speed (a 4.66 combine 40 in 2016, at 6'5 and 250 pounds) is a major boon on the second and third levels of the field. Of course, he's also proven himself a touchdown machine, finding the end zone on 12 of his 115 career targets. The tight end position looks as shaky and clustered as ever in fantasy, and Henry is returning at full health to a juicy role. He deserves to be looked at squarely on the TE1 radar. As expected, Green spent his debut season in Los Angeles as a blocker first and foremost. Even with Hunter Henry sidelined, Green took a backseat to Antonio Gates and was never established as a receiving threat of note. Green finished with a 19-210-1 line - just a hair above his Denver averages of 10-115-1 - and topped 30 yards only once. With Henry back in the saddle, Green will be looked for even less and isn't a fantasy factor. Culkin will spell Green as a blocker only - he's caught just a single pass over 14 NFL games.

Place Kicker

Michael Badgley: What an NFL season be without some sort of kicker drama and disappointment from the Chargers? Caleb Sturgis never made it to the second year of the two-year deal he signed last offseason after a horrendous afternoon that included two missed extra points. Luckily for the Chargers, they had Michael Badgley on the practice squad and he responded well to the opportunity. Badgley made 15-of-16 field goals, missing only from over 50 yards, and converted 27-of-28 extra points. He was also strong in the playoffs, making five field goals to basically cinch the job going into the 2019 season. He's going undrafted, but savvy fantasy players will keep him on the short list of last round picks at kicker.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Desmond King, Travis Benjamin

The Chargers have to be pleased with the play of Desmond King, who took over full-time return duties in 2018 on the way to being named a second-team All Pro punt returner. If they want him to focus more on his work as a defensive back, (where he was also named first-team All Pro), they have the luxury of an experienced replacement already on the roster in Travis Benjamin.

Punt Returners: Desmond King, Travis Benjamin

The Chargers have to be pleased with the play of Desmond King, who took over full-time return duties in 2018 on the way to being named a second-team All Pro punt returner. If they want him to focus more on his work as a defensive back, (where he was also named first-team All Pro), they have the luxury of an experienced replacement already on the roster in Travis Benjamin.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Russell Okung, Dan Feeney, Mike Pouncey, Michael Schofield, Sam Tevi
Key Backups: Forrest Lamp, Spencer Drango, Trent Scott, Scott Quessenberry

The Chargers return all five starters from last season, helping their cohesion. Center Mike Pouncey is the strength of this line, having made the Pro Bowl as a reserve last season. The interior trio of Pouncey, left guard Dan Feeney and right guard Michael Schofield do a good job creating push in the run game. At left tackle, Russell Okung has earned the trust of his teammates and the Captain's patch. Right tackle Sam Tevi was a good cheap find by the front office, as he appears to be an athletic young starter. Forrest Lamp remains on the bench but was at one point a high draft pick and his day could still come. Overall this is a very good mid-tier line, with their grade just on the cusp of the top-tier. This line can easily join the top-tier if they can stay healthy.

Team Defense

The Chargers team defense had a solid run in the first half of the season despite not having Joey Bosa. Darwin James was an instant impact player at safety to help ease the loss. This year, first round pick Jerry Tillery could be a first week starter on the defensive line and second round pick Nasir Adderley is an excellent fit with James in the secondary. The team is a good candidate to post a top 10 fantasy D/ST once again with a healthy Bosa and the additions, but they open with a poor matchup against the Colts and don't get a choice matchup until Week 4 against the Dolphins, so they might not be worth taking as one of the first defenses off of the board even though that's what it will cost.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Joey Bosa, NT Brandon Mebane, DT Jerry Tillery [R], DE Melvin Ingram
Backups: DE Isaac Rochell, DE Anthony Lanier, DT Justin Jones, NT T.Y. McGill

Starting DL: After losing the first 9 weeks of 2018 to injury, he returned and didn't miss a beat over the final seven, racking up 5.5 sacks while on a truncated snap count. He's now produced 28 takedowns over his 35 career games. Playing on the edge doesn't provide him much tackling opportunity, which dings his value in many scoring formats. But there are few pass rushers with more playmaking upside, and a 15-sack season is always within his range of outcomes. He's worth targeting at a premium in formats that prioritize sacks and takeaways. Down the formation, Ingram dipped to just 7.0 sacks and 43 tackles in 2018, but remains a strong rusher in his own right and a solid bounce-back candidate. He was a driving force in the playoff win over Baltimore, recording seven tackles and two sacks and recovering a key fumble to ice the game. One of the league's best at forcing fumbles on the sack, Ingram joins Bosa as an upper-tier DL target. Mebane remains a strong interior presence against the run, consistently tying up blockers with his 311-pound frame. But he rarely sees more than 30-35 snaps and doesn't compile many numbers - just 93 tackles and 2.0 sacks over his last 31 games. First-rounder Tillery was drafted to generate push and playmaking on the inside. A combine superstar at 6'7" and 295 pounds, Tillery lacked consistency in school, but flashed the potential to blow up interiors and disrupt passers. He'll be counted on to replace the disappointing Corey Liuget, and will likely push for 600 snaps off the bat.

Backup DL: Rochell, a former seventh-round pick, was serviceable in 2018 as a part-time rusher. Filling in for Joey Bosa, Rochell recorded 4.5 sacks over the first 10 weeks, and the team has yet to much edge depth over the offseason. Ex-Redskin Lanier flashed in 2017, producing 5.0 sacks and 3 pass breakups over just 342 snaps. He was out of football last year, but may be better equipped than Rochell to serve as the top edge reserve. Jones and McGill are mere rotational run-stuffers; neither looks likely to top 300 snaps or produce any numbers.


Starters: MLB Denzel Perryman, WLB Jatavis Brown, SLB Thomas Davis
Backups: OLB Kyzir White, OLB Drue Tranquill [R], MLB Emeke Egbule [R]

Starting LBs: Perryman is a serviceable starter in the middle. He's a solid tackler who posted a career-best 6.4 a game in an injury-shortened 2018. But there's not much else to his game, and not much dynamism for a fantasy LB prospect. He's forced just 3 turnovers over 39 career games, and he hasn't recorded a sack since 2016. The fact that he's yet to play more than 13 games in a season doesn't inspire much confidence; there are far more inspiring LB2 plays with significantly more upside. Brown offers a bit more playmaking opportunity - he posted 97 tackles and 5 pass breakups in 2018. He's also struggled a bit with injuries, but offers sneaky upside on the LB2/3 borderline. Davis comes to town after a storied 14-year career in Carolina. He'll draw the start on the strong side and brings across-the-field ability, but the Chargers don't often utilize three linebackers at once. Last year's top strong-side guy, Kyle Emanuel, drew just 216 snaps.

Backup LBs: White was a fourth-round pick last season and opened his career in a prominent linebacker/safety hybrid role. He played 142 snaps over the first 3 weeks before landing on IR, but he impressed enough to return to the top of the rotation. Especially strong in coverage, White recorded 17 tackles and 3 pass breakups before going down. He could push any of the team's nominal starters for a bigger role in 2019. Rookie Tranquill is built in a similar mold as an athletic former safety; he could conceivably work his way past White. Nwosu, last year's second-round pick, drew just 268 defensive snaps as a rookie. He did show well off the edge late in the season, however, notching 3.0 sacks over the Chargers' final 5 games (playoffs included). He was a big-time playmaker at USC and could be primed for a sophomore leap. Egbule was a solid tackler in school and could see meaningful first-year snaps behind the injury-prone Denzel Perryman.

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS Derwin James, FS Adrian Phillips, CB Casey Hayward, CB Trevor Williams
Backups: CB Desmond King, SS Rayshawn Jenkins, FS Nasir Adderley [R], CB Michael Davis, FS Jaylen Watkins

Starting DBs: The Chargers' top-tier secondary only got better in 2018. James was nothing short of a rookie revelation, immediately boosting an elite secondary up to arguably the league's best. Adept in both the pass and run games, James filled the stat sheet in his debut, recording 106 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 13 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions. He shone like a seasoned veteran from Week 1 on, and his IDP future is exceptionally bright. He's a slam-dunk DB1. Phillips impressed as well, seeing the field plenty in lieu of a third linebacker and putting up 94 tackles (with 10 passes defensed) in the process. As an every-down starter, he projects as a sneaky DB2 with a depressed price point. Hayward is an elite cover man, which actually hurt his fantasy value in 2018. With quarterbacks afraid to test him often, Hayward was a mediocre tackler and producer, far more valuable to the Chargers than to fantasy rosters. Still, he's fully capable of making plays on the ball - he broke up 42 passes and picked off 11 more from 2016-17. In formats that require cornerbacks, he's among the top tier. Williams dazzled in 2017, but struggled through a poor, injury-marred 2018. He'll return to start on the boundary, but is the clear weak spot in this group.

Backup DBs: King was one of the league's premier slot cornerbacks in 2018, and he's a true playmaking force. He's totaled 137 tackles, 4.0 sacks, 14 pass breakups, and 4 interceptions over his 2 seasons, and carries intrigue in formats that require cornerbacks. The Chargers trot out far more nickel and dime packages than base ones, so Jenkins should see a solid chunk of play. Last season, Adrian Phillips drew 683 snaps in the third safety role and produced usable fantasy numbers (94 tackles and 10 pass breakups). Jenkins isn't quite the same player, but will see the field plenty and carry big DB2/3 appeal in the event of an injury. Adderley will also play a fair amount - he was taken in the second round to provide even more playmaking depth after intercepting 11 passes at Delaware. He shredded the combine with truly special speed and jump marks, and could develop into an elite centerfield type. Davis has the inside track on the No. 4 cornerback spot, while Watkins faces an uphill roster battle after losing his 2018 to an ACL tear.

Last modified: 2019-05-24 15:23:59