By now, most of us know the story.
A lifetime ago, the Chargers draft Drew Brees. Brees struggles for several seasons. Chargers draft Philip Rivers to eventually replace Brees. Rivers holds out of training camp, Brees holds onto the job and leads the Chargers to their first playoff appearance in a decade. After two successful seasons, Brees injures his shoulder and the Chargers allow him to leave via free agency. Rivers takes over as the starter. After five mostly stellar seasons as San Diego's franchise quarterback, including multiple playoff appearances, Rivers suddenly becomes a turnover machine for the better part of two seasons. Despite a resurgence over the two most recent seasons, it's those two poor seasons that continue to plague his reputation around the league. It's why a guy who has continuously put up fantastic passing numbers struggles to be mentioned alongside the league's best passers. It's also why he tends to come at something of a discount every year in fantasy drafts.
It's fair to say that Rivers is one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL who hasn't won a Super Bowl. The general football community has labeled him as a very-good-but-not-great quarterback, mostly due to the fact that after eleven years as an NFL player and nine of those as a starter, all of those big statistics haven't even resulted in a Super Bowl appearance let alone a ring. Meanwhile, the two players he'll be forever linked to from his original draft class, Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, have a combined four Super Bowl rings and five Super Bowl appearances between them.
This past offseason, rumors swirled that the team was possibly looking to trade Rivers and begin a rebuilding process via Marcus Mariota. Those rumors never really made much sense and didn't gain a ton of credible steam in the football community, but it was still surprising to see the talk get as loud as it did for one of the league's franchise quarterbacks. At this point, Rivers remains with the Chargers -- but without a long-term deal in place. Somewhat surprisingly, the two sides don't appear to be in much of a hurry to get one done. It adds a wrinkle of intrigue to this season's storylines if nothing else, and the unresolved contract situation could either be a motivating factor for the ultra-competitive Rivers...or a distraction for the ultra-passionate Rivers.
Contract status and legacy aside, the fantasy community has generally been a little bit more forgiving to Rivers than the general population, since all we tend to care about are those all-important statistics. Throughout much of his career, Rivers has certainly posted plenty of big stats. After those aforementioned down years, the past two seasons have seen a large resurgence in Rivers' fantasy status, and owners once again feel comfortable (if not excited) relying on him for their fantasy teams. That being said, he's still only going off the board as a borderline QB1 in 2015. This, despite the fact that he has finished outside of QB1 territory only twice in the entire time he's been a starter (and was still as high as QB11 in an injury-plagued 2014).
Let's take a look at why I feel people may be missing the boat on Rivers this season, and how it'd be very difficult for him to go anywhere but UP this season in terms of his fantasy ranking.
- Over the season's first half in 2014, Rivers was the #3 ranked fantasy quarterback. He had a 20-5 touchdown to interception ratio, and was well on his way to career best stats in nearly every category. He didn't finish up there, but the point is that he's less than a year removed from a sustained run of elite play.
- Starting tight end Antonio Gates has been suspended and key receiver Eddie Royal has left town to sign with the Bears. No, those aren't positives. But the (possibly) temporary replacement for Gates is a huge upside talent in Ladarius Green, and many talent evaluators believe he is the better fit for this team already. The Chargers also brought in the more talented Stevie Johnson to replace Royal, running back Danny Woodhead returns from a season lost to injury, and the team drafted running back Melvin Gordon in the first round. There is lots of talent here.
- After years of playing behind an awful offensive line, the Chargers have made significant strides in recent seasons towards upgrading the unit. They still aren't anywhere near the league's top-ranked groups, but they certainly shouldn't be terrible anymore.
- As mentioned, Antonio Gates was suspended for the season's first four games for violation of the league's substance abuse policy on performance-enhancing drugs. While Ladarius Green has seemingly limitless potential and will attempt fill in for Gates in the early going, there is a bit of an unknown factor at play here.
- The team traded up in the first round to select running back Melvin Gordon. This means the team is focused on improving the run game, and that could come at the detriment of the passing totals.
- After starting off hot in the first half of 2014, Rivers struggled down the stretch while fighting through injuries. Whether due to poor offensive line play or being another year older (he's 34), he is not at the pinnacle of his career anymore. The offseason trade rumors surrounding Rivers didn't seem to get all that serious, but the fact that there WERE rumors and that he remains without a long-term deal are further reminders that he's not quite on that untouchable level of the league's truly elite class of quarterbacks.
There isn't likely to be a whole lot of variance in Rivers' average draft position this preseason. The Chargers didn't make huge upgrades to suddenly vault Rivers into the league's most elite passers, nor did they likely lose anything of such huge value that he will suddenly bottom out and completely collapse. There aren't many people who are terribly high on him, nor are there many who think he's finished. A great example of his "middle of the road-ness" (possibly a made up word) is the fact that he is listed on BOTH the overvalued and the undervalued articles submitted by Footballguys staff writers earlier this month. And he is listed on each article by exactly one writer. What that means is that, out of all the writers who contributed to those features, all but two of us felt he is being drafted right around where he should be. And even the two guys who thought his average draft position was out of whack, don't even agree on which direction it was out of whack.
So generally speaking, that should mean most people feel that Rivers is a solid-but-boring pick for your fantasy team. He'll mostly get the job done, but won't lead you to victory on his own. While I agree with this thought in theory (he won't single-handedly win your league after all!), I think he's got a good bit of upside that isn't being accounted for.
Rivers was on FIRE in the early going of 2014 before injuries to both himself and his teammates (we haven't even gotten into the injuries to last year's number one wide receiver Keenan Allen) relegated the San Diego offense to a fairly average unit. But in addition to the aforementioned additions of Melvin Gordon and Stevie Johnson, as well as the return to health of both Allen and Danny Woodhead, Rivers himself is healthy again. To anyone watching the games a season ago, it was evident that he was playing hurt. Sure, all NFL players get banged up to some degree. But Rivers wasn't even attempting throws that he normally completes with his eyes closed (sometimes literally). He doesn't need to come all the way back to last year's high-end levels to return value. He just needs to do exactly what he did on the whole, and he'll have already exceeded his draft slot. And if the new additions and returns to health come to fruition, he could conceivably crack the top-5 and EASILY the top-10.
At 34 years old, his window for elite play is closing somewhat, but to a man you will not find a more ferocious competitor in the league than Rivers. He appears to be fully healthy entering training camp, and assuming some relatively good health, the San Diego offense should be a lot closer to the unit that tore through the league in the first half of 2014, than the one that sputtered out down the stretch.
- Comp - 374
- Att - 550
- Yd - 4235
- TD - 32
- INT - 15
- Rush att - 25
- Rush yd - 50
- Rush TD - 0
Nick Dilorenzo of Profootballspot thinks that the upgraded running game will actually be a boon to Rivers:
"What caught my eye were the years when the team rushed for over 1,800 yards (2010-11, 2013). In those years as mentioned, Rivers finished fifth among quarterbacks in 2010, ninth in 2011 and fifth in 2013."
Brad Berreman of Rantsports feels that Rivers' high floor makes him attractive as a fantasy QB1:
"Even with the possibility of another late-season drop-off, Rivers has very little overall downside and he’s a solid low-end QB1 for at least one more year."