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Fantasy Opportunity Spotlight: Los Angeles Chargers

A team-by-team analysis of coaches’ tendencies and using them to help create realistic fantasy football projections. @TubaDeus takes a look at the Los Angeles Chargers.

Welcome to the new home of my yearly Fantasy Opportunity series! For those who didn’t see this series on Reddit last year, I try to take a different approach to fantasy projections than your run-of-the-mill analyst. The basis of my process is that the number one indicator of fantasy success is opportunities to touch the ball. Obviously individual player skill can (and will) affect that, but at the end of the day players are at the mercy of playcalling and play design. Therefore, if we want to make accurate projections, we need to look at each coach’s scheme and how they like to spread the ball around.

As a result, this series is very coach-centric. I’ll touch on individual players, but only as they relate to their coaches’ schemes. On a related note, this series will only aim to establish projections on how touches will be split up, not what individual players will be able to accomplish with those touches. That will come later once depth charts settle through training camp. Think of this series more as a basis for realistic expectations.

Make sense? Good. Let’s dive in.

Most of my stats are pulled from Pro Football Reference. Please support them. They are awesome and are my primary source of statistical information.

Los Angeles Chargers

Last Year’s Accuracy

Total PlaysRush Attempts (Rush %)Passing Plays (Pass %) – Includes SacksSacks Allowed (Sack %)WR Targets (WR Target %)RB Targets (RB Target %)TE Targets (TE Target %)
2020 Projections1045475 (45.5%)570 (54.5%)40 (7.0%)240 (45.3%)165 (31.1%)100 (18.9%)
2020 Stats1127466 (41.3%)661 (58.7%)34 (5.1%)325 (51.8%)156 (24.9%)130 (20.7%)
For league wide stats, see this spreadsheet.

Coaching Changes

Anthony Lynn started his tenure with the Chargers strong, immediately producing two straight winning seasons and a playoff berth. Unfortunately the good times were not meant to last. These last two years have been brutal for Chargers fans, in no small part thanks to Lynn’s horrendous clock management. It comes as no surprise that Lynn was fired following the 2020 season.

What is surprising is Los Angeles’s choice of replacement. Despite conventional wisdom suggesting that an offensive minded head coach would be ideal for budding star quarterback Justin Herbert, the Chargers opted for a defensive mind instead. Specifically, they brought in Brandon Staley, defensive coordinator for the Chargers’ NFC counterpart, the Los Angeles Rams. Development of Herbert will fall on the shoulders of new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who was plucked from his position as the Saints quarterbacks coach. Former Broncos defensive backs coach Renaldo Hill rounds out the lead staff as the Chargers’ new defensive coordinator.

Detroit Lions' Lombardi under fire, knows 'what this business is about'
Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Coaching History

With Staley being a defensive-minded coach, Joe Lombardi will control the reins on offense. Unfortunately, we don’t have much data to work with there as Lombardi has spent 10 of the last 12 years as the quarterbacks coach for the Saints. What we do have are the two years he spent as the offensive coordinator for the Lions in 2014 and 2015.

In those two years, Lombardi’s offense was the definition of pass happy. His 2014 offense passed at a 62% clip. That number was then dwarfed by his offense the following year, which posted a nearly 66% pass rate (not surprisingly, the highest pass rate in the league). The offense did not move particularly quickly under him either year, but they still managed to post an average number of total plays thanks to their ability to extend offensive drives and get their own defense off the field quickly. Of course, a strong, pass happy offense comes naturally when you feature Calvin Johnson and prime Golden Tate along with a slew of talented receiving backs. It comes as no surprise then that Lombardi’s offense heavily featured those two position groups (mid-50’s target share for the wide receivers, upper-20’s for the running backs) at the expense of the tight ends (mid-10’s).

Looking Ahead

Interestingly enough, the personnel of the 2021 Chargers mirrors that of Lombardi’s Detroit teams. Los Angeles features an elite pass catching back (Austin Ekeler), two premium wide receivers with so-so depth (Keenan Allen and Mike Williams), and middling tight end talent (34 year old Jared Cook). It stands to reason, then, that Lombardi is likely to feature his position groups in largely the same way. The wideouts should command around a league average target share, the tight ends a bit below average, and the running backs should challenge for the league lead.

The one thing that might not translate from Lombardi’s Lions offenses is the run-pass ratio. It’s particularly notable that Lombardi has spent 10 years as the quarterbacks coach for the Saints. When he initially left that post to become the offensive coordinator in Detroit, New Orleans had just finished up a four year stint with an average run rate of 36%; very similar to Lombardi’s Detroit teams. Now, as he leaves New Orleans for a second time, the Saints have just finished a four year stint with an average run rate of nearly 45%. Granted, a 41 year old Drew Brees is not the same as a 23 year old Justin Herbert, but that shift in offensive philosophy is still noteworthy. Lombardi likely won’t feature the run game to quite that extent, but he also likely won’t fade it as much as he did in Detroit. He is likely to bring back a slower offense, though, as New Orleans has consistently posted one of the slowest paces in the league the last few years.

Justin Herbert electrifies in Los Angeles Chargers debut
Harry How/Getty Images

When they do run the ball, at least they’ll hopefully have an easier time of it. After once again putting together arguably the worst offensive line in the league, the Chargers made fixing it a priority. They paid big bucks in free agency, and even spent premium draft capital, hoping to finally find an answer up front. This isn’t the first time they’ve tried such an approach, but if the moves do result in the upgrades Los Angeles is hoping for then maybe they won’t post another bottom-3 run efficiency in 2021.

2021 Projections

Total PlaysRush Attempts (Rush %)Passing Plays (Pass %) – Includes SacksSacks Allowed (Sack %)WR Targets (WR Target %)RB Targets (RB Target %)TE Targets (TE Target %)
2020 Stats1127466 (41.3%)661 (58.7%)34 (5.1%)325 (51.8%)156 (24.9%)130 (20.7%)
2021 Projections (17 Games)1106439 (39.7%)667 (60.3%)33 (4.9%)336 (53.0%)174 (27.4%)105 (16.6%)

Previous Entry: Las Vegas Raiders

Next Entry: Los Angeles Rams

Find this article helpful? You can follow me on Twitter and Reddit as @TubaDeus, though I spend most of my time on Discord.

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