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Fantasy Forecast: LA Chargers

Venerable QB Philip Rivers has moved on. Can Austin Ekeler lead the switch to a more run focused offense? @DynastyDadStache gives you the lowdown on a team in transition.

The Last Hurrah!

The Los Angeles Chargers are not what they used to be. The gun-slinging high-floor days of the (young) Phillip Rivers are over. One of the best running backs in the game, Melvin Gordon, has taken his talents to a division rival, and no real pass catchers have stepped up to fill the void of production behind the likes of Keenan Allen and (when rarely healthy) Hunter Henry. My my my, how the turns have tabled

Credit: USAToday

For starters, let’s look at how LAC fared for fantasy owners last year.  Here are the point-per-game positional finishes for the most relevant LAC players from 2019: 

Phillip Rivers 24th  15.85
Melvin Gordon 20th  14.2
Austin Ekeler 4th  19.4
Keenan Allen 12th  15.9
Mike Williams 48th 11.1
Hunter Henry 8th  12.3
PPG Positional Finishes (PPR Scoring through week 16 FantasyPros.com)

The “Bolt-Up” crew quietly put up a decent season in at least a couple of positions. If you timed your starting rosters right, Austin Ekeler won you a game or two, especially in the first half of the season, and Keenan Allen was as consistent as ever. The biggest disappointment was definitely the lack of any emergence from 2019 offseason hopeful Mike Williams (let’s be real you weren’t expecting much more than what you got from Phillip Rivers anyway). 

As far as offseason changes, the Chargers got more than just a new set of blazing hot uniforms. Shane Steichen, who led LAC to be the #5 passing team in the league from week-9 on- when he took over the OC job- retained his position, which hopefully is a good sign for the future of the Bolt’s passing attack. The front office overhauled the O-line from a coaching and player perspective by adding Trai Turner and Bryan Bulaga to replace the departed Russel Okung. There is a lot of hope that this will lead to a major improvement from the LA trenches.

Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

And, of course, the quarterbacks. Tyrod Taylor is the officially declared starter, but with pick #6 of the 2020 NFL draft, the LA Chargers grabbed potential play-caller of the future Justin Herbert out of Oregon University. 

Let’s take a look at what the 2020 LA Chargers have in store for dynasty owners.

Quarterback

We’ll start with the QB position, of course, and I’ll kick it off with my first bold statement of this article. I think Tyrod Taylor is the guy for 2020. This meaning Tyrod will be the starter for 10+ games knocking Justin Herbert’s fantasy relevance into non-existence for this year. It’s not a knock-on Herbert as much as it is paying respect to Tyrod for what he’s been able to do in his NFL career. While leading the Buffalo Bills to their first playoff appearance in a long, long, long time, Taylor managed to put up not one, but two top-12 PPG QB finishes. A lot of it came on the ground as Tyrod Taylor’s only real rival at the QB position for rushing points from 2015-2017 was then fantasy superstar Cam Newton.

For the “But what if Herbert gets the job early?” fans out there, only 2019 Kyler Murray, 2016 Carson Wentz, and 2015 Jameis Winston have surpassed 500 attempts as a rookie, and they all started all 16 games. Let’s not forget that Tyrod Taylor fended the starting job away from 2018 #1 overall pick Baker Mayfield until Tyrod got hurt, and that was with only an offseason to make a name for himself not an entire year learning the playbook as he has in LA.

Running Back

Austin Ekeler

Next, let’s take a look at the running backs. With Melgo being Melgone and Austin Ekeler’s new contract ink drying, it looks like it’s his show to run. Some people have taken this and blasted off to high expectations, in my opinion, higher than we should have for AE. The truth is that if Tyrod retains the starting job for a significant amount of time, Ekeler will have a hard time catching up to his 2019 numbers. Not only will there be no significant depth behind him to rotate in and give him rest, but Ekeler was also already performing at a very outlandish rate of fantasy point production per touch opportunity (rush attempts + targets).

In three years as a starting quarterback in Buffalo, Tyrod Taylor averaged 525 yards rushing on 94 carries. The expectation is that some of the carries left from Gordon will go to Taylor. The remaining carries – most of those are getting vacuumed up by Ekeler. Any leftovers will go to Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley, not enough to make either relevant.

Pass Catchers

Credit: Bleacher Report

Keenan Allen

Unfortunately, the news does not get much better for the pass catchers in Los Angeles. Philip Rivers left after tossing the rock 591 times in 2019, good for 7th in the league. Even if we are optimistic and add 64 attempts to Tyrod Taylor’s career-high, we will only get to 500 attempts. Who knows how much bleaker the fantasy landscape gets for LAC pass-catchers if Tyrod lands at his average over three years as a starter of 412? At 500 attempts and retaining the same target share and PPG/target from 2019 (we can only hope), Keenan Allen would have ended up at 24th in PPG in 2019 instead of 12th. Big yikes.

Now, don’t be mistaken, Keenan will still be the lead dog in LA. He will just be pulling a smaller sled. Allen is not likely to pull in the 149 targets ans 104 catches like he did in 2019. A stat line of 120 targets with 80 catches is more likely.

Mike Williams

You don’t even want to know what that would look like in 2019 looks like for Mike Wiliams (61st in PPG sorry you had to know). That’s right, that production reduction would have dropped Williams from WR48 to WR61. Williams will need his touchdown total to bounce back from the two TD’s in 2019 closer to the 10TD’s he had in 2018 to be a strong fantasy asset.

Hunter Henry

Hunter Henry finished as TE8 while playing in only 12 games in 2019. If we are projecting roughly a 24% drop in pass attempts, and we are, Henry will have a 16 game stat line almost exactly like his 2019 stats. That should be good enough for a top ten finish.

IDP

Defensive Line

Bosa and Ingram

Credit: Getty Images

On the IDP front for the Chargers, there is more room for hope. In 2019, only Joey Bosa registered a top-50 positional finish in PPG at DL3 while leading the league in QB hits. In 51 career games, Bosa has delivered 40 sacks and 200 tackles in 51 games. Going into his ninth season, linemate Melvin Ingram is still a DL2. He has averaged 50 total tackles and 9 sacks over the past five years. I expect both players to deliver similar seasons in 2020.

Rookie Fever

Of course, the biggest addition is OU rookie Kenneth Murray, who was my top rated LB in the 2020 draft. He comes in as a tackling specialist. He fills perhaps the biggest hole in the LAC defensive front. If you are wondering if those solo-tackle points can keep up with the sack-masters at the position, now is the time for your reminder that seven of the top ten by PPG linebackers in 2019 registered single-digit QB hits. Grabbing the next all-over-the-field guy akin to the young Fred Warner and Devin White is a solid plan for building your IDP core.

Defensive Back

The defensive backfield is led by Desmond King, the only Chargers DB to finish inside the top 100 the past two seasons. Derwin James missed the first 12 weeks of 2019 with a stress fracture in his foot but looks to return strong for a full 2020. Chris Harris signed a free agent deal and should help patch up some pass defense woes and allow swiss-army-knife Desmond King and young-superstar Derwin James to make strides in the IDP game.

Credit: The Athletic

This is the End

In conclusion, the only real dynasty buy for the 2020 LA Chargers is Tyrod Taylor. At an MFL ADP of QB 36, the ROI for at least this year could be astronomical, especially if he leads the team in TD scoring (which he threatened to do a couple of time in BUF and that was with the great Shady McCoy carrying the team on his back.) At soon-to-be 31 years old, I’m not saying that Tyrod is the future for any of your dynasty teams, but at the absolute ceiling, we could be looking at 2-3 years of high-end QB2 production. I would list Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen, and Hunter Henry at holds with their positional MFL ADPs of RB 16, WR 28, and TE 10, respectively. It is likely those numbers are around where they finish this year, and I see no immediate path to improvement for any of them. The only sells on this team would be anyone that a league mate is willing to overpay for. If you’ve got someone willing to believe that Justin Herbert is leading LAC to the promised land, then I highly recommend liquidating all powder blue colored assets immediately.

I would say Mike Williams is near droppable except in deep leagues. There is the chance I will be wrong, and Williams does have a statistically unlikely ascension. Unless he’s your only LAC player, you’re more likely to be concerned with him vulturing the small amount of opportunity LA is presenting fantasy owner this year. The outliers for this team are going to be whoever can score the TDs. So, keep an eye on those weekly red zone splits, and if you time it right, you can still get some juice out of this orange.

As always you can find me on twitter @DynstyDadStache or working in the devy and analytics fields of the one and only Dynasty Nerds. We are here to win you championships so if you have any questions, concerns, comments, or corrections feel welcome to reach out to me.

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