2020 Los Angeles Chargers Outlook
In his first two seasons at the Los Angeles Chargers head coach, Anthony Lynn had a 21-11 record, which was highlighted by an excellent 2018 (12-4 with a bye and one win in the playoffs). Last year LA slipped to 5-11 due to a massive regression in scoring (337 points – 428 in 2018), despite improving one spot in offensive yards (10th).
Over the last 20 years, Lynn spent much of his time coaching running backs leading to an assistant head coaching job with the Jets and Bills from 2013 to 2016. Buffalo promoted him to offensive coordinator in 2016. He brings a running style to the offense while understanding the need to be a better defensive franchise.
Los Angeles promoted Shane Steichen to offensive coordinator at the end of October in 2019. After the season, they decided to reward him with the job this season. Steichen spent most of his college coaching career with the Chargers. His highest ranking job before 2019 was the quarterback's coach.
Their defense improved to sixth in yards allowed, which as the fourth straight year of growth. Unfortunately, Los Angeles regressed in the points allowed rankings over the past three seasons (272 – 3rd, 329 – 8th, and 345 – 14th).
Gus Bradley returns as the defensive coordinator for his fourth year. Bradley went 14-48 over four seasons with Jacksonville, but his defense did progress in 2016 (6th in yards allowed). He held the defensive coordinator position for the Seahawks from 2009 to 2012 with three other years of experience as the linebacking coach for Tampa Bay.
The Chargers' franchise will have a different face at quarterback after parting ways with Philip Rivers. He signed a two-year deal with the Colts. Rivers helped LA to a winning season in eight of his 14 years while compiling a 123-101 record.
Los Angeles also lost RB Melvin Gordon to the Denver Broncos. He gave the Chargers scoring ability along the skill set to play on all three downs.
LA brought in Chris Harris to improve the depth and strength at the cornerback position. Harris played well in coverage over multiple seasons for Denver.
They signed T Bryan Bulaga, DT Linval Joseph, and LB Nick Vigil.
Bulaga has ten seasons of experience in the NFL after getting drafted in the first round in 2020. For most of his career, he played well in pass protection while showing fade as a run blocker in four of his past five years.
Joseph is another ten-year vet who projects well in run support. He'll add value to the pass rush, but his game is trending backward in this area.
Vigil saw the most playing time of his career in 2019, but he continues to be a non-factor in the pass rush. He did set a career-best in tackles (111) last year, despite showing weakness in tackling and in run support.
Their other losses to free agency were S Adrian Phillips, LB Thomas Davis, WR Travis Benjamin, and FB Derek Watt.
Phillips played well in 2019, but he missed multiple games due to a broken forearm. Ove his previous two years, he showed league average success.
With the sixth overall pick, the Chargers addressed their need for a franchise quarterback by adding Justin Herbert. His arm is NFL ready. Herbert looks to drive the ball downfield with velocity and accuracy. His next step is growth in his touch in the red zone while improving his decision making against better zone defenses. Herbert is a better runner than I first envisioned. He breaks out of the pocket with acceleration and power, which will help score TDs in close and extend drives.
Los Angeles invested in LB Kenneth Murray with their second selection in the first round. Murray flashed speed (4.52 forty) and strength (21 reps in the bench press) in this year's NFL combined. His ability to make impact plays when moving forward is his drawing card. Murray has a disrupter feel with a willingness to fire when seeing an open gap. To reach a higher level, he needs to improve his vision and develop a better restraint when to exit his protected part of the field.
Their next choice didn't come until round four, leading to the addition of running back Joshua Kelley. Both his speed (4.49) and strength (23 reps in the bench press at the NFL combine) grade well. Also, he added some more bulk in 2019 (5'11" and 212 lbs.).
Kelley looks good inside the five-yard line and in short-yardage situations where he has a willingness to drop and drive to create yards in tight quarters. He runs with power with the ability to break tackles against trash in close quarters. Kelley projects as a north/south runner, but I see more dimensions to his game. He offers some head and shoulder fakes when breaking in space while not losing his momentum. His hands grade well, and I expect him to make plays in the passing game.
With two of their final three picks in the fifth and seventh rounds, the Chargers added WR Joe Reed and WR K.J. Hill.
Reed brings a running back mentality to the wide receiver position. His experience at both positions in high school led to him developing as a wide receiver in college. He offers plenty of speed (4.47 forty) and strength (21 reps in the bench press), but his route running doesn't set him apart from the top talent at the position. Reed is at his best in the open field with the ball in his hands. He projects well in the return game, and the Chargers may decide his future lies back at the running back position.
Hill is on a path to work out of the slot with the Chargers. Even with a winning foundation in his route running, his game lacks the desired speed and quickness to win vs. tight press/man coverage or in the deep passing game. Hill should excel vs. zone coverage and upgrade the offense over the short areas of the field. His hands and strength look to be assets.
Los Angeles acquired S Alohi Gilman in the sixth round. He almost has the mirror image of K.J. Hill but on the defensive side of the ball. Gilman wants to attack moving forward in run support. His early commitment can turn into a liability if he takes the wrong angle or faces to retreat on a play-action pass. Gilman's success or failure falls on the development of his discipline and growth as a player in coverage.
The Chargers fell to 28th in the NFL in rushing yards (1,453) in 2019 while gaining only 4.0 yards per carry. They scored 12 rushing TDs with nine runs over 20 yards. Last year they averaged 22.9 rushes per game due to game score.
LA rose to sixth in passing yards (4,648). Their offensive line allowed 34 sacks and 93 QB hits as well. The Chargers finished with only 24 passing TDs and 20 INTs with receivers gaining over 20 yards on 57 plays.
LT Trey Pipkins
In the third round in 2019, the Chargers placed their bet at tackle on Pipkins. He needs to get stronger while having question speed and quickness. His first step creates some early positioning, but his technique is trailing at this point in his career. Pipkins needs to prove he can handle better competition in the pass rush.
In his rookie season, he made three starts at left tackle after seeing minimal playing time over the other 13 weeks. He struggled in pass protection while also coming up short in run blocking.
The left tackle position looks to be in flux this year, with no one standing out to be a difference-maker. With a rookie quarterback set to see a decent part of the playing time this year, it doesn't project well his success.
LG Dan Feeney
Over three seasons and the last two coming as a full-time starter, Feeney failed to make an impact in any area. Sacks and pressure remain a problem, and his candle can't seem to light for his improvement in the run game. When paired with a weak option at left tackle, Feeney lives on an island with rising water.
C Mike Pouncey
Pouncey missed the final 11 games in 2019 due to a neck issue that required surgery in October. It's been four seasons since he played at a high level. His run blocking is trending down while still having a pulse in pass protection. At age 31, his upside window is closing quickly.
RG Trai Turner
The Chargers traded for Turner in early March in a deal that sent LT Russell Okung to the Panthers. In 2019, Turner struggled with sacks and pressure to the quarterback while also being a weak link in run blocking in back-to-back seasons. Over his first four years in the NFL, Turner offered a steady winning skill set at right guard.
RT Bryan Bulaga
After a ten-year career with the Packers, Bulaga made the jump via free agency to the Chargers in the offseason. He's been a solid player in pass protection over the last six years, but Bulaga will allow his share of sacks. His run blocking has been more cold than hot of late, but the explosiveness of Aaron Jones in 2019 did help his game push back to a high level.
Offensive Line Outlook
The right side of the offensive line will rank above the league average, but the risk at left tackle is a significant problem. Run blocking and providing passing windows will be up and down all year. Overall, the Chargers' offensive line ranks in the bottom third of the league.
QB Justin Herbert, LAC - Bye Week Fill-in
The Ducks gave Herbert playing time at QB in four different seasons. After taking over as the starting QB in 2016, he missed five games the following season with a broken collarbone. Over the last two seasons, Hebert started 27 games. His best year came in 2019 (3,471 passing yards and 36 combined TDs).
Over his first three seasons, Herbert showed value as a runner (58/161/2, 44/183/5, and 71/166/2). Last year he gained only 50 yards on the ground on 58 carries, but he did score four TDs.
Over his final three games in his senior year, Herbert passed for fewer than 200 yards in each contest (174, 193, and 138) with one combined passing touchdown.
The move to the Chargers gives him two viable top 24 WRs and a top 10 TE, plus a game plan to throw to RB Austin Ekeler on many downs to help move the chains.
When doing the first run of the projections in 2020, I gave Herbert 12 starts (2,868 combined yards with 16 TDs and 11 INTs). His fantasy value over the summer once there is some coach-speak on his progress and potential starting opportunity.
QB Tyrod Taylor, NYG - Deep-league Only
With Rivers now playing in Indy, Taylor stands on the top of the Chargers' depth chart at quarterback in early June.
Over his three seasons as a starter for the Bills (22-20), Taylor helped his success with his ability to run (283/1575/14). Over this span, he passed for 8,857 yards (201 per game) with 51 TDs and 16 INTs. His M.O. is a ball controlled game manager, which may help Los Angeles win this year.
Taylor looks willing to take the dump-off pass to the running back position or the TE, but the upside of the skill players will take a hit if he somehow survives to start for Los Angeles in September.
RB Austin Ekeler, LAC - Stud (low risk)
Ekeler will be much more of a wild card in 2019 after the downgrade at the quarterback position. He'll remain a top player in the passing game, but his targets may fall well short of 2019 with regression expected in scoring.
The Chargers will use Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley on early downs as well. Over the final 12 games last year, Ekeler gained 337 yards on 76 carries while failing to score a running touchdown. Most of his production on the ground over the span came in two games (12/70 and 8/101).
His season started with a dominating game (154 combined yards with three TDs and six catches) while adding five other productive outings (133-1-6, 122-2-5, 118-1-7, 108-0-8, and 213-1-4).
Even with the RB1 job and potential opportunity, his touches don't project much higher than 16 per game. He finished last year fourth in RB scoring (311.0) in PPR league with 224 touches.
With 80 catches, 1,200 combined yards, and eight TDs, Ekeler should finish in the top 12 in RB scoring in 2020.
RB Justin Jackson, DET - Fantasy Handcuff
With RB Melvin Gordon out of the picture, Jackson should be rewarded with a rotational role on early downs with a chance at 25 or so catches.
The Chargers gave him a bump in touches over a five-game stretch late in 2018, which led to 305 combined yards with two TDs and 13 catches.
He missed nine games last year while battling calf and hamstring issues. The Chargers like to feature the RB in the passing game, but they are at the mercy of who they start at quarterback.
Los Angeles also added RB Joshua Kelley in the fourth round of this year's draft, who may end up being the player with more upside.
RB Joshua Kelley, LAC - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Kelley had two productive seasons at UCLA (225/1243/12 and 229/1060/12) with his best value coming in the passing game (27/193) in 2018. His path in college started at the University of California at Davis.
His career at UCLA began as a walk-on player with minimal value in his first two games (6/20 and 5/7). Kelley rushed for over 100 yards over his next four contests while ending the year with a touchdown in each of his final eight games, highlighted by a monster showing vs. rival USC (40/289/2).
Last year he had four games with over 100 yards rushing (27/127/1, 18/176/1, 34/164/4, and 23/126/2) but also had multiple games (6) with fewer than 80 yards on the ground.
Over the last two years, Kelley didn't play for a good team (7-17). In the right situation with 15 touches a game, I expect him to outperform his draft value.
WR Keenan Allen, LAC - Bust (overvalued)
Allen finished 3rd (284.2), 12th (261.1), and 6th (262.0) in fantasy points scoring in PPR leagues over the past three seasons. Over this span, he averaged 101 catches for 1,263 yards and six TDs on 150 targets.
His 2019 season started with 29 catches for 404 yards and three TDs over his first three games. He scored only three more TDs with no other games with over 100 yards receiving over his final 13 weeks.
In 2020, the Chargers' offense takes on a whole new look with Tyrod Taylor and Justin Herbert battling for the starting QB job. Until I get a cleaner update on who starts, I'm dropping his targets, catches, and receiving yards by 20 percent, which comes to 78 catches for 963 yards and six TDs.