Regardless of a disappointing 7-9 record last season, the Los Angeles Chargers entered the offseason somewhat optimistic. Even though there were still multiple needs on their roster, they knew they had found their franchise quarterback in Justin Herbert.
With the offseason all but concluded, it’s safe to say the Chargers have made drastic improvements on the offensive side of the ball.
First and foremost, the Chargers fired head coach Anthony Lynn and tabbed former Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley as his replacement. Along with Staley comes new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. Lombardi has been a longtime New Orleans Saints assistant and hasn’t called plays since his time with the Detroit Lions in 2015.
Outside of changes to the coaching staff, the Chargers also addressed the biggest weakness on the roster, not just the offensive side of the ball, the offensive line. These are the three most significant additions made to the offensive line:
- Drafted tackle Rashawn Slater in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft
- Added guard Oday Aboushi after releasing guard Trai Turner
- Added guard/tackle Matt Feiler
Additions made on the offensive line, a new offensive coordinator, and an expected second-year leap from Herbert make almost any Chargers player an attractive fantasy option.
There’s one name and one name only that needs to be discussed when talking about the Chargers quarterback position.
Herbert had one of the most stellar rookie seasons we’ve seen from a quarterback in quite some time. He ended his 2020 season playing in 15 games, starting 13 of them. Herbert amassed over 4,000 passing yards and 30 TDs. That incredible performance in his rookie year led to him finishing tenth at his position in fantasy leagues.
Fast-forward to July of 2021, Herbert likely makes a leap in year two with a new play-caller and improved offensive line.
A New Offensive Coordinator
As I mentioned before, Lombardi will be calling plays for Herbert and the Chargers’ offense in 2021. That’s something he hasn’t done since 2015 with the Lions.
The positive news for Herbert is that Lombardi has spent the last six years under head coach Sean Payton in New Orleans. An offense that allows quarterbacks to thrive. Also, the last time Lombardi called plays, his team finished fourth in the NFL in pass attempts.
That last little tidbit is good news for Herbert. Last year, Los Angeles finished fifth in the NFL in pass attempts. Although it often felt like the Chargers offense didn’t let Herbert do enough, they put a lot on the rookies’ plate.
Lombardi’s addition ensures that Herbert will still have a sizeable workload under center.
A Revamped Offensive Line
An integral part of Herbert taking a step forward depends on the offensive line. Pro Football Focus ranked the Chargers line dead last in 2020. It can only go up from there.
The additions to three key additions mentioned earlier made to the offensive line are massive for Herbert and company. Although Slater is a rookie, he’s expected to make an immediate impact at left tackle for the Chargers.
Aboushi will be replacing Turner at right guard, who had an abysmal season in 2020. Turner received a grade of 34.8 from pro football focus, while Aboushi had a grade of 66.6. Although Aboushi doesn’t set the world on fire, he’s a vast improvement over what Turner gave the Chargers last year.
The signing of Feiler is also a safe, underrated addition. Feiler only allowed two sacks on 848 offensive snaps for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020. He’s exactly what Los Angeles needed, a dependable interior pass blocker.
A Leap Forward
With a new offensive coordinator all but assuring Herbert will have near the same pass attempts as last season and a revamped offensive line with a focus on protecting the guy under center, Herbert is destined to take a step forward.
Without a doubt, I expect Herbert to finish as a top-five option at quarterback in 2020. He will have the same volume and almost all of the same skill position players as last year. Except this time, he’ll have an upgraded offensive line giving him more time to throw the football.
The Chargers running back room currently has four names, but only one matters for fantasy: Austin Ekeler.
Ekeler had a disappointing season in 2020, but it didn’t result from poor play. Instead, it was a hamstring injury that led to his disappointing season.
Ekeler missed six games due to the injury and left a sour taste in the mouths of his fantasy owners. His numbers in the passing game also suffered a little bit after the departure of QB Phillip Rivers in the offseason.
Ekeler’s yards per reception dipped to a career-low of 7.5, which is still good. However, the three years prior, he averaged at least ten yards per reception. I fully expect Ekeler’s numbers to return to form as he reaches full health in 2021.
However, if he doesn’t, the workload coming his way will carry him to relevance. In Lombardi’s two seasons in Detroit, running backs received over 100 targets. In 2015, that number was north of 160.
I fully expect Ekeler to receive over 100 targets this season as he’s the only one in the backfield with actual pass-catching chops. In PPR leagues, Ekeler will finish as a top 12 running back. If you’re in a league where you’re a contending team that needs a running back, kick the tires on the Ekeler owner.
If the Ekeler owner’s also competing, it might be a tough go of it. However, if the Ekeler owner looks to be entering a rebuild, offer two young assets with a 2022 first. The young ascending assets could be something akin to Las Vegas Raiders WR Bryan Edwards.
The Other Guys
If you’ve watched the movie, The Other Guys, going from Ekeler to the other names in the Chargers running back room is like going from Danson and Highsmith to Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell.
Sure, it’s worth rostering RB’s Justin Jackson, Joshua Kelley, and rookie Larry Rountree. However, it’s doubtful these guys have any start-worthy games.
The only way that comes to fruition is an injury to Ekeler, hence why you should at least roster them.
Much of the wide receiver room’s the same as it was last season. Keenan Allen is and always will be the lead dog. Not much needs to be said about Allen. He will do what he did last year and pretty much every year before that. I fully expect Allen to be a WR1 in all formats.
Now, we know Mike Williams is the second option. Williams is a bit of a tough case to crack, though. He’s been more of a deep threat than anything else. Williams has had at least 15 yards per reception in three of the last four seasons while not eclipsing 50 receptions.
Still, Williams is an intriguing WR3 option. The upside he will provide week to week with Herbert is explosive. In the right matchup, he will be a boom/bust flex option. However, I do have my concerns in dynasty leagues.
Williams is in the final year of his rookie contract, and I don’t expect the Chargers to bring him back in 2022, barring a fantastic season. I would do what I can now to sell Williams with the hype surrounding this Charger offensive unit and Herbert.
If you’re contending, I would try to acquire Atlanta Falcons RB Mike Davis and a 2022 first. However, if you’re looking to rebuild, target a 2022 first and an additional pick for Williams.
Competition For The Third Spot
When you get past Allen and Williams, the names become somewhat meh. Only two guys stick out: Jaylen Guyton and Josh Palmer.
Guyton was the third wide receiver in targets for the Chargers last season with 55. He turned that into 28 receptions, 511 receiving yards, and 3 TDs.
Meanwhile, the Chargers went out and drafted Palmer in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
The third spot on the depth chart will come down to one of these two guys. I fully expect Guyton to open the season as the leader for the Chargers here. However, I would expect to see Palmer more and more as the season progresses.
Both of these guys are worth stashing, but I wouldn’t trade for them currently. Palmer has more long-term value, while Guyton has more value this season. They should have their fair share of start-worthy games. However, it will be unpredictable.
Everyone’s favorite sleeper or stash coming into the offseason was Donald Parnham. Then, Hunter Henry left town and signed a deal with the New England Patriots. The hype only elevated.
Los Angeles then proceeded to go out and sign Jared Cook and drafted Tre’ McKitty in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Long story short, Parnham is out of the picture. Cook has the most value this year as he will fill in for Henry and pick up that lost production. However, the name to focus on here is McKitty.
McKitty has the most long-term upside of anyone on the Chargers roster outside of Herbert and Allen. At Georgia, McKitty never really had a fair chance. His quarterbacks were subpar, and the offense never focused on tight ends.
Now, he has the chance to sit and learn behind Cook, receiving some experience and playing time. The athletic ability is there, but he’s still incredibly raw.
I would look to add McKitty anywhere you can. Trade value is a bit tough to evaluate for McKitty, but throw around a future third-round pick and see what response you get.
The same also applies to Cook if you’re contending and in need of some tight-end help.
Setting fantasy aside, the chargers have a big year ahead of them. If they can stay healthy, I expect them to be a playoff team. It’ll be a challenge winning the division as they must fight the Kansas City Chiefs for that title. However, they’ll at least earn a wild card spot.
For fantasy, there are some intriguing pieces. They’re one of a few teams that will have a QB1 (Herbert), RB1 (Ekeler), WR1 (Allen), and TE1 (Cook). Outside of those players and Williams, there will be little to no fantasy value.
Long-term, it’s worth stashing McKitty and Palmer as the Chargers invested draft capital into them for a reason. While that reason may not be evident this year, it will open up down the road.
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