Preseason - 2021 Los Angeles Chargers Outlook
Los Angeles Chargers Outlook
The future of QB Justin Herbert lies in the hands of the Chargers' new head coach Brandon Staley. He has been a fast move in the coaching ranks at the age of 38. His first pro job came in 2017 for the Bears as a linebacker coach. Staley had success last season running the Rams' defense, which paved the way for his promotion. He has four years of coaching experience.
Los Angeles brought in Joe Lombardi to run the offense. He's been coaching in the NFL since 2006, with most of his time coming in the Saints' system. The Lions gave him an offensive coordinator job in 2014 and 2015 (only seven games before getting fired). Lombardi coached in New Orleans in 2009 when they won the Super Bowl.
The Chargers pushed up to ninth in offensive yards with less value in points scored (384 – 18th). Their offense ranked in the top 11 offensive yards in each season under Anthony Lynn.
Renaldo Hill takes over the defensive coordinator job. He played in the NFL from 2001 to 2010 before hanging up his cleats for a coaching job. From 2018 to 2020, Hill was a defensive backs coach for the Dolphins and Broncos. He'll have a lot to prove based on his short resume and step up in responsibilities.
For the second year in a row, Los Angeles ranked higher in yards allowed (10th) than in points allowed (426 – 23rd). Their defense regressed in each of the past three years on the scoreboard.
The Chargers lost TE Hunter Henry to New England in the offseason. Henry has top-tier talent at the tight end position. Injuries cost him some development time, but he should be a massive upgrade for the Patriots in the passing game. Over his first four seasons in the NFL, Henry saw growth in his catches (36, 45, 55, and 60) and targets (53, 62, 76, 93) while missing nine games. He ranked 9th (151.20) and 12th (145.30) in tight end scoring in PPR leagues over the last two years. A battle with Covid knocked him out of the final two games.
Los Angeles replaced him with TE Jared Cook. His catch total in 2019 (43) and 2020 (37) for the Saints didn't make an impact, but Cook scored 16 touchdowns over 29 games while gaining 15.1 yards per catch. He'll start the year at age 34.
QB Tyrod Taylor signed with the Texans.
The Chargers lost LB Denzel Perryman and S Rayshawn Jenkins off their defense.
Perryman worked over the bench over the past three seasons. He plays well in run support, but he'll see minimal snaps on passing downs.
Jenkins set a career-best in tackles (84) in 2020 while chipping in with one sack, two interceptions, and four defended passes. He does have risk against the run due to some missed tackles. Jenkins tends to keep receivers in front of him, leading to short yards per catch.
The final area addressed in the offseason was the offensive line by signing C Corey Linsley and G Matt Feiler.
Linsley has been an asset in both run blocking and pass protection in every season in the league since 2014. Part of his success was the great quarterback play in Green Bay by Aaron Rodgers.
Feiler made 13 starts in 2020 with a similar opportunity the previous year. His run blocking regressed each in the year, but Pittsburgh never found a viable lead running back to fill in the void of Le'Veon Bell after he left town. His value in pass protection showed some growth over the past two seasons.
Protecting QB Justin Herbert was a big part of the Chargers' plan in the offseason. With their first selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, they invested in T Rashawn Slater. His game relies on power while owing the vision and technique to reach a high ceiling at the next level. He has the anchor to handle a bull rush, plus the footwork and hands to keep pass rushers on the heels on the outside. Slater projects to play left tackle while having experience at right tackle.
In the second round, Los Angeles added CB Asante Samuel Jr. His best play comes working over the short areas of the field, where he shows play-making ability and wins with strength. Samuel should gain value in the red zone, but he lacks the wheels and confidence over the long field leading to some bad penalties. His lack of size (5'10" and 180 lbs.) hurts Samuel when asked to cover elite physical receivers.
The Chargers picked up WR Josh Palmer and TE Tre McKitty in the third round.
Palmer has flashes of upside, but his production has been empty in too many games. His route running continues to develop with a chain mover feel. Palmer brings good hands with a feel for setting up defenders. His challenge comes off the line in press coverage and his long speed.
McKitty struggles to create separation out of his breaks while owning a below-par skill set in blocking. With a free release downfield, his game should test a defense at the third level with a chance to win with legs after the catch. To reach a higher ceiling, McKitty needs to get stronger and work on his route running.
Los Angeles took DE Chris Rumph and T Brenden Jaimes in the fourth and fifth rounds.
Rumph is a development pass rusher who needs to get strong and add more bulk to win in the trenches in the NFL. He works hard with quickness and moves to win on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Rumph won't be an asset against the run early in his career.
Jaimes has work to do in run blocking while a much more stable foundation in pass protection. His range looks limited, and he will struggle early in his career against power rushers. Jaimes has experience at both tackle spots.
With their final three picks in the sixth and seventh round, the Chargers drafted LB Nick Niemann, RB Larry Rountree, and S Mark Webb.
Niemann brings speed to the linebacking position. His vision and acceleration grade well, but lack of size (6'3" and 235 lbs.) can lead to traffic tickets. Niemann can lack patience at times, leading to overrun plays or mistakes in his path to ball carriers.
Roundtree has a step-and-go feel while offering the ability to make defenders miss in space. His lack of patience leads to him running into too many dead ends. Roundtree won't offer upside in the passing game.
Webb plays well in run support when moving forward, but his cover skill limits his playability in the passing game. His early playing time will come on special teams.
The Chargers fell to 18th in the NFL in rushing yards (1,784) while gaining only 3.8 yards per carry. They scored 12 rushing touchdowns with 10 runs over 20 yards. Last year they averaged 29.1 rushes per game (9th).
LA ranked 6th in the NFL passing yards (4,548). Their offensive line allowed 34 sacks. The Chargers finished with 31 passing touchdowns and 10 interceptions, with receivers gaining over 20 yards on 54 plays.
LT Rashawn Slater
Los Angeles hopes Slater can handle left tackle in his rookie season, which would set up a much better offensive line. His pass protection skills get him on the field while the Chargers need more help in run blocking. His ceiling projects high when he fills out and gets stronger.
LG Matt Feiler
With a three-year $21 million contract in hand, Feiler gives LA more help in pass blocking than in the run game. His game continues to develop while never seeing 1,000 snaps in any season.
C Corey Linsley
The center position should be in good hands in 2021. Linsley allows minimal pressure on the quarterback while also shining in run blocking. His resume is long with success, and the Chargers need him to lead this offensive line to a higher level.
RG Trey Pipkins
After two dull seasons after getting drafted in the third round in 2019, Pipkins may need to switch positions to earn starting snaps this year. He allows too much pressure at this point of his career, and his run blocking ranks below the league average.
RT Bryan Bulaga
After a ten-year career with the Packers, Bulaga made the jump via free agency to the Chargers in 2020. He's been a solid player in pass protection over the last seven years, but Bulaga will allow his share of sacks. His run blocking has been more cold than hot of late.
The right tackle position is in limbo, but the offseason changes should lead to more upside in this offense. The left side of the line has a chance to rank well, and Linsley is a top-tier player at his position. This offensive line has top 10 potential in pass blocking while having much more questions in run blocking.
The Chargers led the league in offensive plays (1,127) last year, leading to plenty of chances running the ball and airing it out. Los Angeles threw the ball 57.4 percent of the time.
QB Justin Herbert, LAC - Solid/Safe Pick
It took Herbert one game to lock down the Chargers' starting job in his rookie season. Over his first seven starts, he averaged 306 passing yards with 19 combined touchdowns. Over this span, Herbert gained 8.0 yards per pass attempt while also adding value on the ground (33/166/2).
Over the second half of the year, he found less running room (22/68/3), with a slight step back in passing production (274 yards per game and 14 scores). Defenses took away the deep pass, leading to only 6.7 yards per pass attempt.
He finished ninth in quarterback scoring (387.40 fantasy points) in four-point passing touchdown leagues. Herbert scored 30.00 fantasy points or more in one-third of his matchups.
Fantasy Outlook: Herbert has the look/feel of another elite quarterback in a similar mold as Patrick Mahomes. He has an elite pass-catching back, and Keenan Allen continues to catch a high volume of passes. The tight end position takes a step back while Mike Williams is still looking for his first 50-catch season. He projects to be the seventh quarterback off the table this year. Herbert looks poised to gain over 5,000 combined yards with 35 scores with another game added to the schedule.
Other Options: Chase Daniel, Easton Stick
RB Austin Ekeler, LAC - Stud (low risk)
The Chargers' running backs combined for 2,463 combined yards last year with 10 touchdowns and 128 catches. The charge at quarterback led to a slight dropdown in production in the passing game (128/890/4 on 157 targets). Their running backs have seen a dropdown in yards per rush and yards per catch over the past two seasons.
A hamstring injury in Week 4 cost Ekeler six more games. Over his first three starts, He gained 378 combined yards with one touchdown and 16 catches while averaging 21 touches. Over this span, Ekeler gained 5.0 yards per rush and 8.9 yards per catch.
Over the final six weeks, he lost some explosiveness with a dropdown in his opportunity (17.3 touches per game). Ekeler gained 541 combined yards with two touchdowns and 37 catches or 17.18 fantasy points per game.
In his nine full games, Ekeler averaged 18.10 fantasy points, which would have been the fourth-highest running back ranking in PPR leagues. He also gained over 100 combined yards in three matchups.
Fantasy Outlook: Fantasy owners tend to lose track of high-volume pass-catching backs. Ekeler will have a high floor with questionable value in rushing touchdowns. His early ADP (12) paints him as the 10th running back off the table. On a path for 100-plus catches with 1,500 combined yards and mid-level scores.
RB Justin Jackson, DET - Fantasy Handcuff
With Ekeler hurt last year, Jackson played well over three games (291 combined yards and 13 catches while receiving 16.7 touches per contest. He missed five games with a hamstring injury plus a pair of weeks early in the year with a quad issue. After returning to action, Jackson had a productive matchup in Week 17 (104 combined yards and one catch on 10 touches).Fantasy Outlook: Over his three seasons in the league, Jackson missed 19 of a possible 48 contests. The Chargers will rotate in a second running back, giving him a chance at 8 to 10 touches per game if Jackson wins the RB2 job. In his time in the pros, he averaged 4.9 yards per rush while owning a pass-catching resume in college (122/858/1 over 51 games). A viable handcuff to Ekeler, but Jackson needs to stay healthy.
RB Larry Rountree, LAC - Dynasty Only
Over four seasons at Missouri, Roundtree gained 4,009 combined yards with 40 touches and 47 catches on 793 touches. His highlight year came in 2018 (225/1,216/11 and 14 catches for 62 yards). He projects as an early-down runner while starting the year fourth on the Chargers' depth chart.
Other Options: Darius Bradwell
RB Joshua Kelley, LAC - Deep-league Only
In his rookie season, Kelley gained 502 combined yards with two touchdowns and 23 catches. His best opportunity came over the first two weeks (173 combined yards with one score and two catches). On the year, he gained only 3.2 yards per rush and 6.4 yards per catch.
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 Kelley also had multiple games (6) with fewer than 80 yards on the ground.
Kelley looks good inside the five-yard line and in short-yardage situations where he is willing to drop and drive to create yards in tight quarters. He runs with power with the ability to break tackles against trash when seeing minimal daylight. 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 all of his momentum. His hands grade well, and I expect him to make plays in the passing game.Fantasy Outlook: Kelley has a lot to prove in his second year in the league, but his skill set should work well paired with Austin Ekeler. Only a player to follow until he claims handcuff status.
WR Keenan Allen, LAC - Stud (low risk)
Los Angeles set a three-year high in catches (203), receiving yards (2,730), touchdowns (19), and targets (325) for their wide receivers. The last of depth at wideout led to only 49.2 percent of the catch opportunity in 2020.
For 14 weeks last season, Allen had 99 catches for 975 yards and eight touchdowns on 144 targets. His catch rate (68.8) remains elite. He continues to be a much better play at home (69/701/4 over seven matchups) than on the road (30/274/4 on 50 targets in six games). The Chargers struggled to get him the ball downfield, leading to a career-low 9.9 yards per catch.
Allen had four impact games (13/132/1, 10/125, 9/103/1, and 16/145/1) while catching eight passes or more in seven of his 14 complete games.
His season ended in Week 15 with a hamstring issue.
Fantasy Outlook: Allen was on pace to rank sixth in WR scoring in PPR leagues (17.46 FPPG). Over the past four years, he has 403 catches for 4,780 yards and 26 touchdowns. This season, he'll be the 10th wide receiver drafted in PPR leagues with an ADP of 32. His high volume role sets a high floor in many weeks while also offering explosiveness. Allen has the game to catch 120-plus balls for 1,300 yards with five to seven touchdowns.