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Spotlight: Philip Rivers

posted by Jason Wood on Jul 8th


Jason Wood's thoughts

Stop me if you've heard this before - "Philip Rivers had an awful season."

As I listen to the media punditry talk about the 2011 NFL season, it seems impossible to discuss quarterbacking without someone mentioning how poorly Philip Rivers played. To be fair, if you were to ask Rivers to rate his own season, he probably wouldn't be much more complimentary than the consensus media viewpoint. After all, Rivers - usually known for his accuracy and efficiency - threw a career worst 20 interceptions. And the Chargers finished a disappointing 8-8.

Was it Rivers' best year? Certainly not. Did his 9th place fantasy ranking fall short of preseason expectations? Yes. But Rivers hardly had an "awful" season by any stretch of the imagination.

  • 366 completions (a career high and 4th in the NFL last year)
  • 582 attempts (a career high and 5th in the league)
  • 4,624 yards passing (his fourth straight 4,000 yard season, and 6th in the NFL last year)
  • 62.9% completion rate (7th in the NFL)
  • 27 touchdown passes (8th in the NFL)
  • 7.9 yards per attempt (8th in the NFL)
  • 9th placed fantasy QB ranking

Fantasy owners need to flip their thinking. What we saw in 2011 was - quite likely - the worst-case scenario for Rivers in a full 16-game season. In other words, even if things go completely wrong for the Chargers, Rivers is going to deliver QB1 fantasy value. Yet, we know quite clearly that he's capable of much more.

So if his numbers in 2011 weren't that bad after all, why did it feel like he was such a disappointment? There are three reasons:

Reason #1 - He underperformed his average draft position
Rivers was drafted, on average, 5th among quarterbacks and 22nd overall - meaning he went off the board in the 2nd round in many leagues, right after Tom Brady (18th) and Drew Brees (20th). While his 9th place finish was a "QB1" performance, there's no question many fantasy owners were scrambling as they chose Rivers instead of help elsewhere in the early going.

Reason #2 - It was a remarkable year for quarterbacking
In many seasons, 4,624 yards and 27 touchdowns would be good enough to finish atop the fantasy rankings, but last year it was only good for 9th. As we know, 2011 was the Year of the Quarterback, with three passers topping the mythical 5,000 yard mark, not to mention Eli Manning (who fell just short), Aaron Rodgers (who won the MVP) and Cam Newton (who shattered our perceptions of what a rookie quarterback can accomplish).

Reason #3 - He fell short of his own bar
Rivers had established himself as one of the very best passers in the league, particularly over the prior three seasons. From 2008-2010, Rivers threw for 4,000+ yards, 28+ TDs and no more than 13 interceptions in each season. He led the league in yards per attempt in each season (8.4, 8.8 and 8.7, respectively), and had a passer rating north of 100 all three seasons. That kind of perennial MVP-caliber production lulled fantasy owners into thinking Rivers was infallible.

Here's the good news - Rivers offers fantastic value in 2012

Rivers' current ADP is 9th among QBs, coming off the board 56th overall - which is clearly a reaction to last year's performance versus recognition of his career numbers. There is very little reason to think Rivers can't bounce back. Ask yourself this, what's more likely - Rivers' interception total returns back to the long-standing norms he showed in his prior seasons, OR, his other numbers (which remained elite and in line with expectations) fall off?

Rivers is only 30 years old, remains in the same offensive system, and has a cupboard full of enticing offensive weapons:

  • TE Antonio Gates is healthier than he's been in years
  • RB Ryan Mathews emerged last season as a bell cow and a more than capable outlet receiver
  • WR Vincent Jackson left in free agency, but was replaced by Robert Meachem - who Norv Turner believes can be a dominant NFL starter
  • WR Malcom Floyd remains, and has always been one of Rivers' favorite downfield threats
  • WE Vincent Brown - who many believe is already the best receiver on the team - enters his 2nd season ready for a larger role
  • Rookie TE Ladarius Green gives the Chargers an athletic, pass catching safety valve if Gates gets hurt

Layer in continuity on the offensive line - which improved markedly as the unit grew together in 2011 - and there's every reason to expect Rivers to bounce back.

Positives

  • Rivers finished as the 9th best fantasy QB last year, and that was widely considered a disappointment. Very few quarterbacks offer a higher floor.
  • The Chargers have added Robert Meachem for the departed Vincent Jackson, while Vincent Brown should show the natural progression of a second year player.
  • Continuity matters tremendously, and the Chargers return the same key coaches, skill players, offensive linemen and system.

Negatives

  • Rivers forced throws last year moreso than at any point in the past, and that led to 20 interceptions. If the Chargers get off to a slow start, he may feel the pressure to force throws again.
  • Antonio Gates has dealt with injuries for years now, and if he misses significant time, the entire construct of the Chargers offense could be thrown off balance.
  • Ryan Mathews is emerging a workhorse runner, which could mean a return to a more balanced run/pass ratio that was common in Rivers' first few seasons as the starter.

Final thoughts

Philip Rivers is an elite quarterback. Anyone that argues that hasn't watched him play or taken an opportunity to compare his achievements against his contemporaries. It's a shame that his 2004 draft classmates Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning have both won dual Super Bowls, because it makes it too easy for lazy analysts to discount Rivers in the conversation. A very credible argument could be made that Rivers is the best of the trio. Playoff accolades aside, fantasy owners know that Rivers is money in the bank. Last year, characterized as disastrous by some, resulted in a 9th place fantasy finish. That's great news because over reactive fantasy owners have dropped Rivers ADP this year to 9th, which means you can secure productivity as good, if not better, than many of your league mates even if you wait and draft Rivers several rounds after they take a signal caller.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

lbouchard said:

A major value this year, even with the loss of VJax. He's pretty much a lock for 4,600 yards passing. The major thing plaguing him was turnovers, and I think he cuts down on them and finishes No.6 overall.

BigSteelThrill said:

Are his receiving targets good-to-go?

Malcom Floyd, Vincent Brown, Richard Goodman, Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, Ryan Mathews and a 32 year old Antonio Gates who has missed 8 games over the past two years. Good enough to continue the job, but not great. Though there is some potential for a dandy big play connection with Meachem, which could result in 40-50 catches and double digit touchdowns of a very long variety. Particularly given Rivers proclivity to throw bullseyes to his first option. In distance scoring bonus' leagues they could be huge. Floyd should be steady, while Brown or Royal could be the "difference makers" of Rivers being elite or just very good. If either can break loose with Rivers to the tune of 70+ high percentage catches, it would have a marked effect on his over all year-end production.

Is his OLine up to snuff? Rivers needs to be given time to play his best. It appears they might be downgraded some without Marcus McNeil on the blindside.

Running threat? They have it with Mathews, being backed up McClain and Ronnie Brown. And there is just enough consideration of Mathews durability to keep the passing attempts very high once again.

Negatives, his interceptions have climbed the past 2 years. The loss of Vincent Jackson and McNeil probably dont help that scenario. It would be to Rivers and the Chargers advantage if the defense could improve, as they were bottom 10 in yards per play allowed. Though a continuation of that would also be a factor in keeping his passing attempts rather lofty.

Big positive -- he doesn't miss games. At all.

Rivers is a marvelous consolation prize on the owner who misses out out on big 5, while picking up talent at other positions. And to make the selection even better, there could be another 4 QBs taken in front of him to add even more value.

TheDirtyWord said:

Coming into the 2010 season, Philip Rivers was seen as the single most player who was going to be decimated by the holdout of Vincent Jackson. Jackson's holdout was different in that it seemed like everyone knew that he would not come back until late in the season...this in an era when even the most acrimonious holdouts typically end right prior to Labor Day.

So even after a season in which Rivers put up a 4254/28/9 season with an 8.8 YPA, Rivers ADP dropped close to one round because most owners thought that he was going to be severely hamstrung without Jackson to throw to. He was even better without Jackson. Whether there was a direct correlation, what was evident was that the key cog to the SD passing game was Antonio Gates. Gates in 2010 was dynamic. He never had a better stretch and Rivers leaned on him like never before. Malcom Floyd slipped effortlessly into V-Jax's deep threat role and it was if nothing ever happened.

When V-Jax returned in 2011 though, Rivers struggled in the early part of the season. This also coincided with Antonio Gates slow recovery from his foot injury. But the questions swirled around Rivers own physical well-being. Despite throwing for over 4600+ yards & 27 TD's...we've now seen Rivers ADP slip...the end of Round 6, beginning of Round 7? Really?

Rivers appears to be a perfect example of the FF community having but a 1-year rear view mirror. But from 2008-2010, Rivers put together a 65% Completion Rate and 8.6 YPA. Which means 500 attempts gets you 4300 yards. And the last two seasons Rivers has averaged 561 pass attempts. Granted his YPA slipped below 8 last year...but sometimes I think you simply have to chalk up underperformance to a subpar year and not necessarily the beginning of a career decline/slide.

The Chargers offense without V-Jax? In comes Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal...not to mention the potential emergence of Vincent Brown. Antonio Gates...? The foot scares people and he is getting older. But he's not Alge Crumpler like in his conditioning habits in the latter stages of his career. Gates has always kept himself in top shape when he's been physically able to. Early reports this off-season have him healthier than he ever was last season. What also will help Rivers is if Jared Gaither can play at the level he played at upon being signed in-season last year. If so, the LT position will be back to a level of stability when Marcus McNeil was close to an All-Pro.

With the advent of the 5000 yard passer in the NFL, my temptation was/is to try and secure QB earlier than I normally would. I'm typically a wait for your QB drafter...and I would say earlier this off-season, I was leaning toward going QB early. But when I see value in spades at QB1 in guys like Romo, Big Ben, Ryan, Rivers...it's tough to ignore that and hit the high demand/low supply positions first. I see a return to form for Rivers, or close to it where he limits his mistakes, ratchets up his efficiency and leads the Chargers back to the playoffs.


Philip Rivers projections

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Jason Wood34854543803113550
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