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2015 Team Report: San Diego Chargers

Quarterbacks

Starter: Philip Rivers
Backup(s): Kellen Clemens, Brad Sorensen

Starting QB: Philip Rivers, entering his twelfth season with the Chargers, is the team's leader and most important player. A model of durability, Rivers has started every game in each of his nine seasons as the starter. During that time, he's been a top-twelve fantasy QB in seven of nine seasons. Rivers started hot in 2014: in the first eight games, he completed 68% of his passes for 2,213 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions (good for fantasy QB3 over that period). In the second half of the season, he struggled through a back injury as well as a rib injury, and was fantasy QB19 from weeks 9-17. Rivers lacks mobility, but he has a quick release and throws accurately when he can step into the pocket, making him a low-end fantasy QB1 or high-end QB2.

Backup QB: Kellen Clemens, formerly of the Jets and Rams, is the backup quarterback. Clemens filled in for the injured Sam Bradford over the second half of the 2013 season and was was surprisingly serviceable. Clemens is not a dynamic playmaker, but he can manage the offense if he has a strong running game to fall back on. Brad Sorensen was the Chargers' seventh-round pick two years ago, and he's looked good enough during the preseason so far to stick around on the final 53-man roster. It is not certain that the Chargers will carry three quarterbacks again this season, however, so Sorensen is on the roster bubble.

Running Backs

Starter: Melvin Gordon [R]
Backup(s): Danny Woodhead, Branden Oliver, Donald Brown
Fullback(s): David Johnson

Starting RB: The Chargers traded up a few spots to select Melvin Gordin with the fifteenth pick in the first round. His best asset is his ability to break big plays. In his final year at Wisconsin, he led the nation with the most runs of 10-plus yards (60), 20-plus yards (35), 30-plus yards (21), 40-plus yards (17), and 50-plus yards (10). He rushed for 2,587 yards over the course of that season -- second most in FBS history behind only Barry Sanders. He broke LaDainian Tomlinson's single-game collegiate rushing record by running for 408 yards against Nebraska (in three quarters of play). Finally, he set the career FBS record by averaging 7.79 yards per carry. His weaknesses are that he got stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage on nearly 20% of his runs; he fumbled once every 54.4 touches; and he wasn't used much in the passing game, leading to concerns about his skills as a receiver and as a pass-blocker. Expect Gordon to replace Ryan Mathews as the Chargers' early-down back, likely giving way to Danny Woodhead on most passing downs.

Backup RBs: Danny Woodhead is mainly a passing-down back. He is returning from a nasty ankle injury suffered in Week 3 of last season, but reportedly feels good in OTAs and is no longer affected by the injury. He's 30 years old, but his quickness and intelligence will guarantee him a regular (though limited) role in the Chargers' offense. Branden Oliver was an undrafted free agent last season who showed flashes when Ryan Mathews was injured, but ultimately proved unspectacular and is viewed mainly as a change-of-pace back. The Chargers like Donald Brown's intelligence and pass-blocking ability, but his lack of explosiveness as a runner or receiver puts his roster spot in jeopardy.

Fullback: David Johnson lined up as a fullback more often than as a tight end in 2014, but he can play both positions. He is almost exclusively a blocker, and therefore has no direct fantasy value.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Keenan Allen, Steve Johnson
Backups: Malcom Floyd, Dontrelle Inman, Austin Pettis, Jacoby Jones

Starting WRs: Keenan Allen was a bright spot for the Chargers during his rookie year, but he fell back to the pack in 2014. Allen's strengths are his quick cuts on short and intermediate routes, and his ability to gain yardage after the catch. His weakness is his lack of a great size-speed combination, and his inability to separate on deep routes. Allen could operate out of the slot more often in 2015, helping him get a clean release. The other starting job will likely to to either Steve Johnson or Malcom Floyd. Johnson, formerly of the Bills and 49ers, may be the favorite to win that battle. Johnson had three straight 1,000-yard seasons with the Bills at one point. He got limited opportunities last season with the 49ers, but was generally efficient when he was on the field. He is a smooth route-runner who can play from either the slot or the perimeter.

Backup WRs: Malcom Floyd has primarily been a deep threat throughout his career, but at 33 years of age, that career may be winding down. In part because he's had trouble staying healthy, Floyd has never had a top-30 fantasy finish among WRs. Dontrelle Inman and Austin Pettis will compete for the WR4 spot. Inman is a long-strider with good height and the ability to get deep. He produced late in the year when he got his chance, catching 12 passes for 158 yards over the final two games of the season. Pettis was released by the Rams last October. He is a possession receiver with decent hands, but he lacks big-play ability.

Tight Ends

Starters: Ladarius Green
Backups: Antonio Gates

Antonio Gates is suspended for the first four games. Until now, Ladarius Green has been unable to get enough playing time to be a consistent fantasy contributor. That's about to change. Green has excellent speed and big-play ability for a tight end, but he has been used mostly as a blocker so far. With Gates sidelined initially, Green will finally get more opportunities as a receiver. If he excels during the first four weeks, he could solidify a prominent place in the offense for the whole season. Antonio Gates has been a top-three fantasy tight end seven times in the last eleven seasons, including last season when he finished #2 in non-PPR leagues. Gates has looked a bit slower in recent seasons, but he's still got the lateral quickness to beat double-teams near the goal line, and his ability to shield defenders from the ball with his body makes him a reliable third-down target. If Green performs well enough, however, Gates might never fully reclaim his role as the three-down tight end in the Chargers' offense.

Place Kicker

Nick Novak: Novak dropped off in 2014 after an excellent 2013, mostly because he only got 26 field goal attempts. He made 22 of them, including 3 of 4 from 50+ yards. The team brought in former standout goalkeeper Josh Lambo for training camp, but Novak's job appears to be safe. He's still going in the top 15 kickers, probably on the reputation from his strong 2013, but Novak is not a priority for owners that wait on kicker until the final round.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Javontee Herndon, Danny Woodhead

San Diego upgraded the position this offseason by signing return ace Jacoby Jones, only to release him after Week 8 after Jones had injury issues and wasn't producing on the field. His primary backup, Branden Oliver, went on injured reserve the same week. The Chargers are now looking to receiver Javontee Herndon to handle their returns, with Danny Woodhead listed as his backup.

Punt Returners: Javontee Herndon, Danny Woodhead

Punt returns have gone the same as kick returns, with Jacoby Jones signed and then released while the backup, in this case Keenan Allen, went on injured reserve. Javontee Herndon and Danny Woodhead are now tasked with handling punt returns.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT King Dunlap, LG Orlando Franklin, C Chris Watt, RG D.J. Fluker, RT Joe Barksdale
Key Backups: T Chris Hairston, T Bryce Quigley, G Jeremiah Sirles, G Johnnie Troutman, C Trevor Robinson, G Kenny Wiggins

The Chargers' line actually has some interesting players and their stay near the bottom of the rankings could be a short one if these players settle into their new roles. Left guard Orlando Franklin arrived via free agency from the Broncos, and he immediately becomes the line's best player. Frankln is known as an excellent run blocker and he should stabilize the position between massive left tackle King Dunlap and up and coming center Chris Watt. Right tackle Joe Barksdale recently arrived from St. Louis and he should allow D.J. Fluker to slide over to right guard. If Barksdale can't crack the lineup, and Fluker remains at tackle, replacement level players such as Johnnie Troutman and Kenny Wiggins will likely be in the lineup at guard. With Fluker at guard the Chargers' line would be incredibly massive at every position but center and that would be good news for the teams' skill players. This line is seeing new starters at potentially three positions, which lowers their cohesion score. Should this line gel together they have the potential to rise up to middle tier or even higher as the season progresses.

Team Defense

The Charger defense posted and up-and-down 2014 season, but at no point was it very fantasy-relevant outside of the deepest of best ball leagues. Not surprisingly, the team's talent-laden young secondary shut down passing games while the talent-starved front seven struggled mightily. The Chargers lack proven pass rush options, perhaps the stimulus for their anemic 26 sacks (fourth-fewest in the league) last year. And don't expect turnovers to round out the value; while Jason Verrett brings a ballhawk mentality to the table, this is a unit that forced just 18 turnovers last year. One net plus for the Chargers D/ST this offseason was the addition of return man extraordinaire Jacoby Jones, who gives them their best touchdown threat on special teams in a long time.

Defensive Line

Starters: LE Kendall Reyes, NT Sean Lissemore, RE/UT Corey Liuget
Backups: NT Ryan Carrethers, DE Mitch Unrein, DE Tenny Palepoi, DE Cameron Botticelli [R]

Starting DL: Liuget, the 18th pick in the 2011 draft, turned in a solid DL18 season in 2014. He's a bit of a physical tweener and not much of a run-stuffer, but managed to tie for fourth among all DL in tackles last year with 48, as well as 11th with five sacks. Liuget isn't the most consistent performer and doesn't overwhelm, but his balanced statistical production gives him mid-range DL2 value. Consider him after the first wave of sack artists are off the board. Smallish and not especially skilled in any area, Unrein will likely play a hybrid NT/UT/DE role. His snaps fell off the face of the earth in 2014, from 410 to just 46 as he tumbled way behind the Broncos' talented young linemen. He's ideally a reserve, but will likely see his highest snap counts ever on the Chargers' barely there defensive line. He brings to the table 21 tackles and no sacks over his 22 NFL appearances. Lissemore is first and foremost a pass rusher, but not a very productive one. Entering his sixth season, Lissemore has averaged 20 tackles and 1.4 sacks per season as a pro. Reyes has tumbled wildly since a semi-promising 2012 rookie year. His debut produced 21 hurries and five sacks, but he's been thoroughly overwhelmed by blockers ever since, grading among the league's worst regular linemen by Pro Football Focus in both 2013 and 2014. Unrein is no world-beater, but he'll largely relegate Reyes into subpackages, where he'll fight for snaps with Palepoi and perhaps the undrafted Botticelli.

Backup DL: Carrethers is an intriguing talent, an athletic NT capable of pursuing and racking up tackles at a noteworthy rate. His game is slithering off of blockers and tracking backs inside the box; at Arkansas State, Carrethers compiled a jaw-dropping 161 tackles over his two seasons as a starter. As a rookie, he turned just 73 snaps into 12 combined tackles, including two games of four, before a dislocated elbow ended his season in Week 11. With solid second-year progression, Carrethers would be ready to truly enter the rotation for DL3-level playing time – with the potential for better production. Palepoi, an undrafted rookie in 2014, was forced into 282 snaps and failed to distinguish himself at all. Botticelli played the nose next to Ra'shede Hageman at Minnesota, but at just 286 pounds will see his action outside the guard box on the next level. Neither Palepoi nor Botticelli seem likely to garner notable snaps, let alone fantasy numbers.

Linebackers

Starters: LOLB Jeremiah Attaochu, LILB Manti Te'o, RILB Donald Butler, ROLB Melvin Ingram
Backups: ILB Denzel Perryman [R], ILB Kavell Conner, OLB Kyle Emanuel [R]

Starting LBs: The book on Te'o entering the league – light and movable in the run game, but instinctive and disruptive against the pass – has held true to a T through his first 23 NFL games. He's been a turnstile in the run game but relatively solid in coverage, earning 70% of the team's snaps (when healthy) in his second season. The coaching staff has clearly caught on, as Te'o saw his run defense usage slide drastically in 2014. At this point, he's little more than a coverage contributor. He’s a solid one, but not spectacular at all, and there’s also nothing spectacular about his ability to fill the statsheet. He's averaged just 5.3 tackles per game, recorded just one sack, and disrupted a ho-hum eight passes. As the team rebuilds its linebacking corps, Te’o seems likely to settle in as a situational defender. His case isn’t helped by an extensive injury sheet related to a troublesome foot. For 2014, he has the look of a LB3 with little upside. Butler has long provided high-end tackle numbers – he's averaged 6.1 per game over his injury-addled four-year career - but his run may be ending soon. He has simply graded among the worst ILBs in football over the last two years. In 2014, he ranked last in Pro Football Focus' run stop rate and pass rush productivity, and near the bottom in coverage rating and tackling efficiency. Yuck. It's no surprise the team snagged Denzel Perryman in the second round, a thumping linebacker who could dispatch of Butler in camp. Even if Butler holds the job, store away that he's a poor-performing linebacker who hasn’t played 16 games since 2011, now fighting to hold off talented competition. Regular 2014 starters Dwight Freeney and Jarret Johnson are gone, leaving the edge rush game in the hands of Ingram on the right side and an uninspiring platoon on the left. Former first-round pick Ingram has shown serious pass rush ability when healthy, but the numbers haven't reflected it – he's recorded just six sacks over his first 26 NFL games. At least he appears to be on the upswing, as his pass rush rates improved somewhat in 2014. But his frightening injury compounds his sketchy production, leaving his value well short of draftable. The likely starter opposite him, Attaochu, is name to monitor in sack-heavy IDP leagues. Attaochu is an explosive, athletic edge man who racked up 28.5 sacks and 39.5 TFL over his last three years at Georgia Tech. He's a bit light and has yet to develop an array of rush moves, but will have the opportunity to spin his great upfield burst into a 10-sack campaign and moderate LB3 value.

Backup LBs: Second-round selection Perryman doesn't have the look of a particularly dynamic linebacker. A limited athlete who contributed little against the pass in college, Perryman projects as an early-down run specialist who may not see any significant opportunity on passing downs. Still, there's plenty of fantasy value for such a guy, as long as he's swallowing up tackles in the run game. And Perryman, a 32-game starter at Miami, could develop into that and snag low-end LB2 value as a rookie. Donald Butler has been an injury-stricken disaster at IB, and a training camp battle seems inevitable. Conner, a backup-caliber 28-year-old of similar traits, will provide further competition. He's also a thumper between the tackles but showed horrendously in coverage last year. Emanuel, a Division I-AA sack artist, is an interesting option to throw into a platoon if Attaochu and/or Ingram faceplant.

Defensive Backs

Starters: LCB Brandon Flowers, RCB Jason Verrett, SS Jahleel Addae, FS Eric Weddle
Backups: CB Patrick Robinson, SS Jimmy Wilson, CB Craig Mager [R], FS Darrell Stuckey

Starting DBs: Defensive captain Weddle has long been a bedrock of top-tier fantasy utility. Over the last four seasons, he's finished as the overall DB9, DB5, DB3, and DB7. His tackling production has been consistently elite for seven straight years, but hardly the whole story. A great playmaker on the ball, Weddle has averaged 9.8 pass breakups since 2010. Weddle is not currently with the team - he feels drastically underpaid at $7.5 million and has stated he won't report anytime soon - but it's not a real concern. He's under contract and will play out at least his final season in San Diego. Marcus Gilchrist was an unmitigated disaster at SS, and the team is likely to let Addae and Wilson battle for the gig in 2015. Addae is probably the slight favorite, having two years and 946 snaps in the system. He's not much of a playmaker, boasting just three pass breakups and no interceptions thus far, and is unlikely to provide typical SS tackle numbers with Weddle swallowing up ballcarriers. Flowers had a great and occasionally dominant 2014, ultimately grading 16th of 108 cornerbacks in Pro Football Focus' coverage ratings. But he wasn't a fantasy factor at all; despite being targeted more often than most shutdown corners, Flowers disrupted an anemic 6.7 percent of them. No better than a DB3/4, he's much better in reality than in fantasy lineups. On the other side, however, Verrett brings some potential fantasy appeal. He was a revelation as a rookie, allowing just a 50 percent completion rate and a weak 76.2 passer rating into his coverage. Verrett is a short but explosive ballhawk, armed with an athletic profile (a 4.38 40 and an outstanding 39 inch vertical) capable of posting great big-play numbers. He could well throw up a seven-interception season or two in the near future. And playing the slot affords the scrappy Verrett enough run support opportunity to avoid being a black hole for tackling. He's speculative at this point, but IDPers in leagues that expressly reward splash plays should consider Verrett an enticing call at the tail end of drafts.

Backup DBs: Robinson has mostly been a mild bust since drawing a first-round pick from the Saints in 2010. He's alternated promising seasons with poor ones and landed just a one-year, $2 million deal from the Bolts this March. He'll likely see a starter's serving of snaps on the outside and could provide sneaky DB3 value if he holds the job. 2014 was his best year thus far, as he disrupted a robust 17.6 percent of his 51 targets. Third-round rookie Mager has a lot of promise - he started 48 games and disrupted more than a pass per game for Texas State. He then dazzled at the combine and profiles as a dynamic NFL starter, though he'll likely spend 2015 no higher than fourth on the depth chart. Wilson joins the Chargers on a two-year, $4.9 million deal after four up-and-down but promising years in Miami. He struggled with a starter's complement of snaps in 2014, allowing a 108.0 passer rating and disrupting just two passes. Wilson will see time in dime packages, playing both deep and in the slot, but would need a few injuries to come into any fantasy relevance. Stuckey is an elite special teams gunner who saw just 178 defensive snaps over 12 games last year.

Last modified: 2015-11-06 00:50:48