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2020 Team Report: Los Angeles Chargers

Last updated: Fri, Sep 4

Offensive Philosophy

The Chargers have two big changes on the offensive side of the ball since the beginning of last season. Ken Whisenhunt was fired during the season and Shane Steichen was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator. The team decided to remove the "interim" from his title in the offseason. This is Steichen's first offensive coordinator job at any level. He was previously and offensive quality control coach under Rob Chudzinski in Cleveland (2013), an offensive quality control coach under Mike McCoy (head coach) and Frank Reich (offensive coordinator) (2014-15) in San Diego, and then the last four years as quarterbacks coach under Whisenhunt. The Chargers hired two position coaches, James Campen to oversee the offensive line, who can coach any blocking scheme, and Pep Hamilton to coach quarterbacks, who has been a quarterbacks coach or offensive coordinator for five different teams in the NFL, including coordinating the offense for Andrew Luck during his second, third and fourth years, which ended with him being fired and replaced by Chudzinski. Campen replaces Pat Meyer, who was also the team's run game coordinator after Whisenhunt was fired last year. The new offense will also feature a new quarterback, either Tyrod Taylor or #6 pick Justin Herbert. Look for more wide-zone runs, play action passing, and snaps under center with Steichen calling plays. This matches head coach Anthony Lynn's desire for better ball security and a more balanced offense than the one centered around Philip Rivers ability to make quick reads and deliver accurate passes on time. The passing attempts will go down significantly, perhaps by 100-150, and rush attempts will go up. Fourth-round pick Joshua Kelley will be the most powerful back on the roster, which should give him an immediate role, and Taylor may soak up most of the extra rushing attempts as long as he is the starter.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Tyrod Taylor
Backup(s): Justin Herbert [R], Easton Stick

Starting QB: Taylor is far from a bad quarterback: he's top-20 all-time in adjusted yardage per attempt, ahead of Andrew Luck and Matthew Stafford, with 54 touchdowns to just 20 interceptions. Working under new coach Anthony Lynn as a Bill, Taylor routinely rated highly in deep-passing metrics. They're definitely not afraid to test defenses down the field, music to the ears of downfield dynamo Mike Williams. And that's to say nothing of his running ability, which has produced 1,700 yards and 15 touchdowns over 37 starts. Still, the last we saw of Taylor was a brief but disastrous 2018 stint in Cleveland, and rookie Justin Herbert won't wait forever. The Chargers have talked up Taylor this offseason as more than just a bridge quarterback, but actions speak much louder than words.

Backup QB: Herbert comes to town as something of a stereotype: a cannon-armed, athletic quarterback with question marks as a pocket passer. There's no doubting his live arm, and his 6-foot-6, 236-pound frame is the stuff of NFL dreams. He routinely attacked down the field at Oregon, throwing 61 touchdowns over his last 2 years in a run-heavy offense. Still, Herbert has a lot to prove as an all-around passer. To steal the job from proven NFL starter Taylor, he'll have to show more touch on shorter and intermediate throws than he was asked to in school. And even then, he wouldn't profile to much production as a rookie. Stick produced 129 touchdowns (41 rushing) at North Dakota State en route to an FCS-record 49 wins. He could ultimately profile as a Taysom Hill-esque chess piece for Anthony Lynn.

Running Backs

Starter: Austin Ekeler
Backup(s): Justin Jackson, Joshua Kelley [R]
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: Melvin Gordon has left town, freeing Ekeler to dominate touches in one of fantasy's most productive backfields. The diminutive Ekeler has spent most of his three seasons as Gordon's backup, but when pushed into the lineup, he's been good enough to carry both the Chargers offense and fantasy lineups. Over 7 games with Gordon on the sideline, Ekeler averaged 19 touches and 99 scrimmage yards, scoring 7 times. Last year saw his rushing average plummet from 5.3 to 4.2 with more attention his way, but he showcased his big-play ability throughout the season. Of course, he'll remain most attractive for his receiving ability, which has been as prolific as anyone's. Over his 3 seasons, he's produced more yards per target (8.6) than any other back in football. Entrenched in Gordon's old role as the clear committee leader, he carries all the fantasy appeal of Alvin Kamara, if a bit less touchdown upside in the Chargers' rebuilding offense.

Backup RBs: With Melvin Gordon gone, Jackson currently sits in a prime spot for mid-round fantasy dynamite. The Chargers offense uses its backs for everything, and Jackson continues to intrigue with his athleticism. He took just 29 carries over 7 appearances last year, but produced 9 yards or more on 9 of them; he also had a 40-yard scamper nullified by penalty. If Jackson sticks as the clear No. 2 back, he'll be of huge fantasy utility, as seen when Ekeler starred in Gordon's shadow. Still, his health is a major concern. He's lost 12 of his first 32 games to calf and hamstring injuries, and has taken 10+ touches in a game only once. Fourth-round rookie Kelley looms as the only real competition should Jackson (or Ekeler) go down. Kelley didn't look special at UCLA, but he at least tested well at the combine.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams
Backups: Joe Reed [R], Darius Jennings, K.J. Hill [R]

Starting WRs: Allen remains one of football's most dependable slot receivers, as evidenced by his career 68% catch rate. He's been remarkably consistent, producing 1,100+ yards in 3 straight seasons as a vacuum for Philip Rivers. Where Allen falls behind the top fantasy tier is in playmaking - for all of his reliability, he doesn't produce much down the field. His per-catch mark fell to just 11.5 last year, and he's scored just 19 times since 2017. He's mostly dependent upon volume to excel in fantasy, and the Chargers offense is in the midst of a massive overhaul. A new quarterback may not rely so heavily on Allen and the underneath, and a healthy Hunter Henry looms as competition over the middle. Make no mistake: Allen enters 2020 as the most consistent and predictable piece of that new offense. But without big upside, he's far less enticing as a WR1. And in non-PPR formats, he's barely a WR2 option. Williams is a true playmaker, averaging 18.1 yards a catch over the past 2 seasons. As a fantasy producer, of course, he's been all over the board. Williams has yet to post a 50-catch season, and his touchdowns have yo-yoed from 0 to 10 to 2. Still, his downfield play has been awfully impressive, and he's used frequently near the goal line as well. Success down there is a wildly variable thing to project, but it's safe to expect a healthy jump in touchdowns. There's a high-WR2 ceiling there, especially in non-PPR leagues that don't need big, consistent volume.

Backup WRs: Fifth-round rookie Reed doesn't have a big college resume, but offers some versatility and playmaking. He may find his way to being Allen's clear backup as a rookie. Hill left Ohio State with the school record for receptions, showcasing great fundamentals out of the slot. Still, he may not boast NFL-level athleticism and looks like a longshot for rookie value. Jennings is primarily a special-teamer; he's caught just 13 balls since 2016. Whoever wins the No. 3 job, however, doesn't project to even crack the fantasy landscape. Last year's predominant No. 3, Andre Patton, played over 500 snaps last year but drew just 17 targets.

Tight Ends

Starters: Hunter Henry
Backups: Virgil Green, Stephen Anderson

The Chargers took no chances of losing Henry to unrestricted free agency; they franchise-tagged him in March and opened up long-term contract talks. It's easy to see why, as Henry has been one of football's most productive at the position. Dating back to 2016, among 28 tight ends with 150+ targets, only four (Rob Gronkowski, George Kittle, Vernon Davis, and Travis Kelce) have posted more yards per target. He's capable of both stretching the seams and winning near the goal line - 13% of his career catches have found the end zone. A full season of Henry remains tantalizing to fantasy players, especially at such a wild and thinned-out fantasy position. He still carries top-three upside in all formats, and it's unfair to pin him with an "injury-prone" label. Last season, Henry valiantly fought back from an early knee fracture, missing only four games in the process. Green remains prized for his blocking prowess, but little else. Last season he drew 384 offensive snaps, but just 13 targets; he's caught 28 passes in 40 games as a Charger. He's an athletic specimen, but simply isn't a part of this passing game. Anderson, a converted college wideout, is always an intriguing preseason sleeper, but injuries have dampened most of that appeal. This is his third roster over chunks of four NFL seasons, and he hasn't caught a pass since 2017.

Place Kicker

Michael Badgley: The "Money Badger" missed the first eight games of the season, leaving the Chargers to use punter Ty Long and journeyman Chase McLaughlin with mixed results. Badgley returned for the final eight games and while he wasn't as accurate as he was in his rookie year, he still made 13 of 16 field goal attempts, better than his replacements, and didn't miss an extra point attempt. He's still on a rookie contract and his full season projection numbers from 2019 put him on the fringe of the top 10-12 which is about where he is being drafted. Badgley is a viable option if you wait until the last round to take a kicker and a top bye/injury replacement if he goes undrafted.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Desmond King, Justin Jackson, Darius Jennings

Desmond King is one of the few full-time two-way returners who also plays an important role on offense or defense. If the Chargers decide to scale back his special teams involvement, Justin Jackson or Darius Jennings could help out on kickoff returns.

Punt Returners: Desmond King

Desmond King is one of the few full-time two-way returners who also plays an important role on offense or defense.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Trey Pipkins, LG Dan Feeney, C Mike Pouncey, RG Trai Turner, RT Bryan Bulaga
Key Backups: OT Sam Tevi, OL Forrest Lamp, OL Storm Norton, OT Trent Scott

There are two new starters as right guard Trai Turner (Pro Bowler) arrived from Carolina via trade. Meanwhile, right tackle Bryan Bulaga was signed from Green Bay in free agency. Left tackle Trey Pipkins will get the first shot at the job, but Sam Tevi, Trent Scott, and Storm Norton are all options. Center Mike Pouncey (former Pro Bowler) returns from injury. He and Turner should open holes for this zone-spread offense.

Team Defense

The Chargers defense lost Derwin James before the season and never seemed to recover. They forced only 14 turnovers and notched only 30 sacks with no defensive touchdowns despite having one of the best pairs of rush ends in the league. They were still 6th in yards allowed and 13th in points allowed to help their fantasy case in leagues that score those stats, but it was a bitterly disappointing year for the defense. This year brings a change at quarterback, a first round pick (Kenneth Murray from Oklahoma) to replace Thomas Davis, and a big upgrade at slot corner with the addition of Chris Harris in free agency. The team is going to rely more on defense and a safe offensive gameplan, which could help their fantasy defense return to prominence. They are available in the 10-15 range, which makes them a solid last round pick in fantasy leagues and viable pick in best ball leagues as part of a two or three team approach.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Joey Bosa, DE Melvin Ingram, NT Linval Joseph, DT Justin Jones
Backups: DE Isaac Rochell, DT Jerry Tillery, DT Cortez Broughton

Starting DL: In Bosa and Ingram, the Chargers still boast one of football's most potent edge duos. Bosa remains on the edge of superstardom: as a pro, he's averaged a 16-game line of 12.4 sacks and 63 tackles. The fact that he grades so well as a rusher, but has yet to top 12.0 sacks in a season, suggests a monstrous line is coming. He's easily a top-five DL option. Ingram is no slouch himself, consistently posting DL2 numbers year over year. He doesn't offer Bosa's upside, but comes at a sizable discount. Joseph and Jones are space-eaters inside, though Joseph does offer some tackling upside. He's only produced 25 sacks over 10 seasons with the Giants and Vikings, but has averaged 60 stops over a 16-game season.

Backup DL: Rochell, Tillery, and Broughton are lightly-used reserves behind the Chargers' gifted front line. Of the group, Rochell will likely see the most opportunity as depth off the edge. But the team would rather see a pass-rushing leap from third-year man Uchenna Nwosu.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB Kenneth Murray [R], WLB Nick Vigil
Backups: MLB Denzel Perryman, SLB Uchenna Nwosu, OLB Drue Tranquill, MLB Kyzer White

Starting LBs: Murray, an energetic thumper the team gave up for in Round 1, should start immediately on the inside. The three-year starter from Oklahoma enters the league with serious closing speed and a powerful pop, and he's quick enough to make plays against the pass. Murray is a bit of a freelancer, making plays across the field rather than churning through blocks, and there will likely be growing pains. But at just 21, he has plenty of room for fine-tuning. He boasts sneaky LB1 potential even as a rookie. Vigil has long been a replacement-level player on the second level, but he'll be called upon to start in this shallow group. He lacks the speed and athleticism to chase down plays and has struggled with finishing tackles. It's no certainty he'll hold the weakside job for long - or that he'll even see the field much if he does. The Chargers are flush with talented defensive backs they prefer to put on the field.

Backup LBs: The Chargers invested a second-round pick in Perryman back in 2015, but simply hasn't panned out as a defensive quarterback. He's lost 24 of 80 games to various injuries and looked like a two-down specialist when on the field. With Murray brought in to captain the defense, Perryman will be relegated to a complementary role on early downs. Nwosu enters his third season as a pass-rushing prospect. He was productive at USC and has registered 5.5 sacks over 633 career snaps. Tranquill and White will compete for snaps if Murray and/or Perryman goes down. Both are special-teams types and would shuffle in and out of a platoon if injuries were to strike.

Defensive Backs

Starters: FS Rayshawn Jenkins, CB Casey Hayward, CB Chris Harris, CB Desmond King, SS Alohi Gilman [R]
Backups: FS Nasir Adderley, CB Michael Davis, CB Brandon Facyson, SS Derwin James (inj)

Starting DBs: Jenkins played all but seven defensive snaps last year, but was subpar across the board and will have to hold off Adderley, last year's second-round pick, to keep his job next to James. Derwin James' injury will sideline him for the season. They could turn to Desmond King, Nasir Adderley, or rookie Alohi Gilman if they choose to fill the hole from in-house options. Gilman was a tackling machine as something of a linebacker hybrid in school. Most likely, he'll platoon with Adderley based on situation as the team again works through a James replacement. The Chargers' cornerbacks are a truly gifted bunch, though they have some sorting out to do before September. Hayward is an occasionally-dominant cover man on the outside, capable of winning tough battles with top wideouts. But King and ex-Bronco Harris both make their hay in the slot, and it remains to be seen who will line up outside in base sets. Harris has the resume, but he's had past success on the boundary. For his part, King has been smothering in the slot, and he also makes plays on the ball. With Hayward and Harris typically being avoided by passers, King boasts the strongest fantasy potential for leagues that require cornerbacks to start.

Backup DBs: James was robbed of most of his second NFL season, but returned late to play 99% of team snaps over the final 5 weeks. He'll now miss the season with a meniscus injury suffered in late August. It's a shame to see yet another season wiped out for the mega-talented playmaker, but perhaps 2021 will be his year. The Chargers took Adderley in the second round of the 2019 draft, but got only 10 defensive snaps before he hit injured reserve with a lingering hamstring issue. Now healthy, he looks poised to push for a starting job in place of James. Adderley was borderline-dominant in coverage at Delaware and made his share of plays on the ball - even as a blitzer. Davis and Facyson could see heavy snaps against four-wide offenses, but neither is particularly strong in coverage. The team may look to upgrade there during camp.