The San Diego Chargers were once a hot bed for fantasy production. Philip Rivers was a perennial top 10 fantasy passer, Antonio Gates was the top tight end, Vincent Jackson was a solid WR2 and the RB position was successfully manned by LaDainian Tomlinson. Those days are long gone, but that doesn't mean the team shouldn't be on your fantasy radar. In fact, based on the current average draft positions for many of San Diego's skill players, the Chargers' roster is full of value.
New Coaches, New Philosophy
The Norv Turner and A.J. Smith Era is over, and with their departure comes a renewed sense of optimism. Mike McCoy takes over as head coach after a successful run in Denver as the offensive coordinator. Ken Whisenhunt joins as the OC after years as the Arizona Cardinals head coach. McCoy and Whisenhunt are cut from the same coaching cloth. Both are disciples of the Ron Erhardt-Ray Perkins school, which is the same coaching lineage that drives some of the NFL's most successful offenses including the Saints and Patriots. At the heart of the offense is concept-based play-calling, which greatly simplifies the calls and allows the quarterback to get plays distributed with incredible efficiency. Rather than calling out a string of alpha-numeric code words, the offense uses one and two word designations.
Adaptability is a core tenet of both McCoy and Whisenhunt's approach. McCoy adapted his playbook in Denver to suit an inaccurate but mobile quarterback in Tim Tebow one season and then the complex, precision passing attack of Peyton Manning the next. Meanwhile Whisenhunt took a Steelers team to the Super Bowl with an offense that led the league in carries, and then a few years later took a pass-happy Arizona Cardinals unit to the Super Bowl. Whisenhunt will call the plays, and the only certainty will be an air of unpredictability from week to week. In keeping with their ability to adapt, McCoy and Whisenhunt have installed a short and intermediate passing offense that uses 3- and 5-step drops to allow Philip Rivers to get rid of the ball quickly. This should help protect Rivers from the pounding he took last year behind a troubled offensive line.
Same Quarterback (Which is a GOOD Thing!)
Philip Rivers remains an elite passer. I realize you're scoffing as you read this, but it's true. Last year he completed 64% of his passes and threw nearly 2x as many TDs as interceptions. Where the rails came off last season was the offensive line (49 sacks, nearly 80 hurries) which gave Rivers no time in the pocket. In Norv Turner's system -- which called for a vertical attack -- that line made it impossible for Rivers to succeed. But the new coaches will ensure Rivers can get rid of the ball quickly and have plenty of outlet receivers. Which brings us to the Chargers receiving corps. On paper, this is a TALENTED group where as many as five receivers will play regular snaps. That would've been six receivers had Danario Alexander not suffered the 4th torn ACL of his football career. Three, in particular, are being drafted in the mid- to late portion of drafts, and the odds are that one or two of them are going to far exceed their average draft position.
Vincent Brown (ADP = 50th WR, 141st Overall) -- The Precision Instrument and Value Play
Go back and look at the early preseason reports last season. They don't read like scouting reports of a 2nd year player coming off a forgettable (19 for 329 yards) rookie season -- they read like a proven veteran capable of delivering huge numbers. Unfortunately a broken ankle ended Brown's season before it began. Fortunately, the bone is fully healed and Brown has picked up where he left off. Brown has been the most impressive receiver on the roster from start to finish this preseason, and it seems impossible that he won't start and be a major focal point of the offense.
Brown (5'11", 184 lbs.) was a 3rd round pick out of San Diego State. He runs crisp routes, has a "my ball" mentality and has plus hands. While Brown can't match Danario Alexander's deep speed, he can match him if not exceed him in all other facets of the game. Brown can and will run the entire route tree, and although we haven't seen it yet on Sundays, the last two preseasons indicate he and Rivers have great chemistry. It's rare that you can draft a receiver 50th at his position that stands a legitimate shot at a) starting, b) starting at the key Z-receiver position and c) finishing as a Top 20 fantasy receiver. Brown is that rare exception.
Malcom Floyd (ADP = 59th WR, 173rd Overall) -- If He's the Lead Receiver Something Went Wrong
Floyd is just a guy. He's a guy that deserves credit for years of solid work. But at the end of the day, when the dust settles and the scouting reports are in, Floyd doesn't scare opposing defensive coordinators. We know what Floyd is at this point in his career, there's really no logical reason to project a breakout entering his 10th season. Consider:
- 9 seasons
- Zero 1,000-yard seasons
- 25 career touchdowns in 88 games
- Only one 16-game season
- 9 100-yard games (average of 1 per season)
Keenan Allen (ADP = 75th WR, 229th Overall) -- The Certain Future...and the Present?
Keenan Allen ran a 4.77 40-yard dash at Cal's Pro Day. That's the equivalent of being stuck in molasses in NFL parlance. Yet, the Chargers selected Allen in the 3rd round -- a testament to good scouting by the Chargers and Allen's obvious talents. The truth is that 40-time belies what we saw on film from Allen during his college career. He wasn't yet 100% healthy after tearing his PCL in October, and once he's back to form should time out in the 4.5 range. But this obsession with Allen's lack of elite speed is irrelevant because that's not what makes him a special player. Footballguys' own Matt Waldman ranked Allen as the #2 prospect at his position in the Rookie Scouting Portfolio:
Allen may lack long speed, but he is lightning-quick, and sharp with his moves, and he sees the openings in tight quarters better than many players at his position. Allen's deep speed is his greatest question mark. At worst, he'll be a deep-ball threat only in the play action game, but given his skill to get early separation, maintain position, adjust to the football, and make plays in the open field, I have little doubt that he'll thrive as a high-volume receiver.
Allen is hungry, and wants to be a starter but he's likely going to need some time to work into that role. Early camp reports have been uneven, and it seems that had Danario Alexander not torn his ACL we might have looked at Allen 'red shirting' this year. But, the NFL is a cruel master and Alexander DID tear his ACL, so the onus is on Allen to raise his game -- quickly.
Why no love for Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem?
Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem are technically in the mix, I just don't believe they're worth drafting in 10- or 12-team redrafts. Royal has had difficulty learning the playbooks in both Denver and San Diego, and therefore I have no reason to think he'll thrive in Whisenhunt's system. Meanwhile Meachem is the kind of player that A.J. Smith got fired for signing. He was a complete wash out last year and realistically only has a roster spot because of the Chargers don't want to eat his contract.
- The new offensive architects are implementing a spread, timing based passing attack which should allow Philip Rivers to thrive
- Danario Alexander's injury opens the door for 100+ targets that would've otherwise gone his way
- Vincent Brown is a precise route runner, is healthy, and has the hands and aggressiveness to dominate
- Malcom Floyd is a trusted veteran, Rivers knows Floyd's tendencies and where to get him the ball so Floyd can make plays
- Keenan Allen projects as a future starter, and might have been a first round pick in April had he not torn his PCL in October
- The offensive line, while improved, remains a question mark
- The loss of Danario Alexander's deep speed may hurt the offenses ability to keep defenses honest
- Vincent Brown hasn't proven it on game days
- Malcom Floyd is entering his 10th year, we know by now he's never going to have a breakout year
- Keenan Allen is still recovering from his torn PCL
The Chargers are a team with many unanswered questions. Can Mike McCoy thrive as a head coach? Is Ken Whisenhunt a better fit for the San Diego personnel? Did the Chargers make enough changes on the offensive line to protect Philip Rivers? Has Rivers really lost a step? The answers to those questions will inform whether you want to bother with the Chargers wide receivers on draft day. Personally I think you can safely ignore the likes of Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal. Rookie Keenan Allen shouldn't be counted on to contribute early in the season, but the injury to Danario Alexander opens the door for Allen to be a factor in the second half, at the least. Based on ADP data, the screaming BUY here is Vincent Brown, who has looked like a top tier WR1 in consecutive training camps. His broken leg was a fluke injury, not chronic, and not a reason to discount his future. Floyd has been a good soldier but at the end of the day is just a guy.
Keenan Allen Projections
Vincent Brown Projections
Malcom Floyd Projections
THOUGHTS FROM AROUND THE WEB
Richard Wade of Bolts from the Blue offers Five reasons to be optimistic about the Chargers receivers:
3. Vincent Brown is back and healthy
The former San Diego State standout showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie campaign and was everyone's pick to be a breakout player in 2012. He was unfortunately sidelined with an injury during the preseason that kept him out all year. Brown doesn't have a history that suggests he's injury prone, so we can feel comfortable writing last year's setback off as a fluke. Brown has the tools to play on the outside or in the slot and has the kind of consistent, reliable hands that will likely make him a favorite target for Philip Rivers. We can reasonably count on big things from the third year player.
I know that he runs really good routes and he has some solid hands. There are certainly things that scouts are going to love about his game, but I have grave doubts about his ability to produce for fantasy owners. Instead of selecting Brown, take a shot on Sidney Rice, Reuben Randle, Josh Gordon, or Mike Williams; all of those guys are going in a similar range to Brown and have much, much, much higher upsides.