Los Angeles Chargers
|By Shawn Childs, Saturday, June 17, 2023|
2023 Los Angeles Chargers Outlook
Brandon Staley has been a fast mover in the coaching ranks. His first pro job came in 2017 as a linebacking coach for the Bears. He had success in 2020 running the Rams' defense, which paved the way for his promotion to the Chargers' head coach in 2021. Staley has six years of coaching experience with a 19-15 record over the past two seasons. Los Angeles made the postseason in 2022 for the first time since 2018.
Kellen Moore takes over as the Chargers' offensive coordinator after holding the same position for the past four years for the Dallas Cowboys. He is a former NFL quarterback with five seasons of NFL coaching experience at the age of 34. Moore was a stud at Boise State (50-3) with 14,667 passing yards, 142 touchdowns, and 28 interceptions. Unfortunately, he played in only five games in his pro career for the Cowboys in 2015.
Los Angeles slipped to 13th in points scored (391) after finishing 5th in 2021 (474). They ranked in the top 10 in offensive yards over the previous three years (9, 4, and 9).
The Chargers' defense is now in the hands of Derrick Ansley. His NFL coaching career started in 2018 with the Oakland Raiders (defensive backs coach). He held a similar position for the Titans and Chargers over the past four seasons. Ansley also coached over 13 years in college.
For the fourth year in a row, Los Angeles ranked higher in yards allowed (20th) than in points allowed (384 – 21st). Their defense gave up 75 fewer points than in 2021 (459), with only a slight bump in yards allowed (23rd).
Los Angeles lost four players (LB Drue Tranquill, LB Kyle Van Noy, CB Bryce Callahan, and S Nasir Adderley) off their defense to free agency. None of these losses were impact starters. Their only addition was LB Eric Kendricks.
With their top two wide receivers starting this season at age 31 and 28, the Chargers added two wideouts (Quintin Johnson and Derius Davis) in the first and fourth rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Johnson comes to the NFL with an edge in size (6'3" and 210 lbs.). Early in his career, he'll work with a limited route tree while offering another deep threat to the Chargers. Johnson can be slowed off the line of scrimmage by physical defenders, but he has the wheels to win over the long field. His stature points to an edge in scoring in the red zone while needing to improve his success in jump balls. Johnson doesn't project as well over the short areas of the field, and his hands look in question under duress.
Davis was a teammate of Quintin Johnson at TCU, where he worked as the quick, speed wideout. Davis is another undersized wide receiver (5'8" and 165 lbs.) who needs to prove he can handle the rigors of the NFL. The Chargers will get him plenty of chances close to the line of scrimmage to take advantage of his ability to turn a short pass into a long play. Davis will be challenging to slow down off the line while needing to improve his route running at the second level of the defense.
The Chargers added three players to the defense in this year's draft class – DE Tuli Tuipulotu (2nd), LB Daiyan Henley (3rd), and DT Scott Matlock (6th).
Tuipulotu gives Los Angeles another option to attack the quarterback. He wins with his strength while showing the ability to carve through tight quarters to disrupt runs and pass plays. His next area of growth is creating wins when stalemated at the line of scrimmage. Tuipulotu works hard, but his build (6'3" and 265 lbs.) doesn't matchup up with the standard at DE, DT, or LB, making him a different tool for a defensive coordinator to use when game planning.
Henley looks the part of an active playmaking linebacker with excellent range and speed. His vision and understanding of play development are trailing, forcing him to either fire after the snap, leading to some missed steps, or be a thinker, leading to him being flat-footed and out of position. His size (6'1" and 225 lbs.) can't win against offensive linemen if Henley gets caught out of position on his attack to the ball.
Matlock creates after the snaps in the pass rush while offering secondary moves to get to the quarterback. He has yet to develop into his whole frame, leading him at risk vs. bigger blockers at the point of the attack in run blocking. His range east and west rank below par and his base can get run over by power.
Los Angeles added G Jordan McFadden in the fifth round. He earned his stripes in college at tackle, but his game projects better in the NFL on the interior of an offensive line. McFadden must raise his game to create more wins against better blockers while improving his technique and footwork after the snap when asked to work outside his contact zone.
The Chargers invested in quarterback depth with their final selection in the seventh round (Max Duggan). Their scout team loved what they saw in TCU's offense, so adding their starting quarterback to his top two wideouts in 2022 made sense. Duggan plays with heart and fire while extending the passing window with his legs and standing tall on late-developing pass plays. His arm and size (6'1" and 205 lbs.) are below NFL standards. He'll get the ball out quickly and at different angles if necessary. Duggan can read defenses but must avoid tunnel vision by trusting his secondary receiving options.
The Chargers fell to 30th in the NFL in rushing yards (1,524) while gaining only 3.8 yards per carry. They scored 15 rushing touchdowns with only six runs over 20 yards. Los Angeles averaged 23.8 rushes per game (27th).
LA dipped to 3rd in the NFL passing yards (4,791). Their offensive line allowed 39 sacks. The Chargers finished with 26 passing touchdowns and 10 interceptions, with receivers gaining more than 20 yards on 50 plays.
LT Rashawn Slater hit the ground running in his first season after getting drafted 13th overall in 2021. Unfortunately, he only played three games last year due to a torn biceps. Slater projects to be a top-tier run blocker with minimal damage in sacks.
LG Zion Johnson underachieved at right tackle in his rookie season. He held his own in run blocking, but pass rushers gave him fits on too many downs. The Chargers added him in the first round in 2022.
C Corey Linsley has yet to allow a sack while playing in Los Angeles. Pass rushers rarely pressure the quarterback. Linsley did fade in the run game, but he does have a long history of being an asset in this area.
The starting right guard job looks like a battle between Jamaree Salyer, who was forced to play left tackles in his rookie season due to the injury to Rashawn Slater, and Jordan McFadden. Both players have a learning curve, and the loser may end up starting at right guard.
This offensive line should be much improved in 2023, with each position having a chance to grade at the league average or better. Last year, an early season shoulder injury led to Justin Herbert losing his edge as a runner, something he should regain this season.
QB Max Duggan - Not Draft Worthy
Duggan had a quiet start to his college career over 32 games at TCU (7,353 combined yards with 60 touchdowns and 20 interceptions). He gained only 7.3 yards per pass attempt, with weakness in his completion rate (58.9). His floor was helped by his ability to move the ball on the ground (351/1,433/19).
Last year, Duggan helped his team play for a National Championship by starting the season with 12 consecutive wins. His inspired play vs. Michigan (282 combined yards and four scores) led to TCU facing Georgia on January 9th, where he was overmatched by the Bulldogs' defense. On the year, Duggan gained 4,101 yards with 41 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Defenses did catch up to him late in the year in pass coverage (212 yards per game with eight passing touchdowns and six interceptions over seven starts).
Fantasy Outlook: Duggan must improve his accuracy and arm strength to earn a starting job in the NFL. He'll compete for the backup quarterback job for the Chargers this season.
Other Options: Easton Stick
UPDATE: Duggan signed wtih the Chargers' practice squad after losing out on QB2 duties to Easton Stick.
QB Justin Herbert - Stud (low risk)
In 2021, Herbert finished with an impressive 5,316 combined yards with 41 touchdowns. His floor was high in scoring in his first two years in the run game (55/234/5 and 63/302/3). Herbert averaged 39.5 pass attempts while gaining over 300 yards in nine matchups (337/1, 338/1, 398/4, 356/2, 382/3, 303/2, 317/3, 336/1, and 383/3). He ranked second in fantasy scoring (447.00) in four-point passing touchdown leagues with four impact games (33.65, 46.80, 35.20, 39.10, and 32.25 fantasy points).
Last season, Herbert threw the ball well over his first two starts (279/3 and 334/3), but a hit late in Week 2 led to a rib injury that appeared to effort his play over the next few weeks. His running value (54/147) sharply declined from his two previous seasons, especially in scoring (no rushing touchdowns). On the positive side, Herbert set a career-high in completions (477), pass attempts (699), and completion rate (68.2). He threw two touchdowns or fewer in 15 of his final 16 starts, with only one game (Week 12 – 312/3). Herbert passed for more than 300 yards five times on the year.
Fantasy Outlook: Despite a down season, Herbert played through an injury, and his top two wideouts missed about 14 games (including two quick exits). He finished the season ranked eighth in fantasy points (343.25) in four-point passing touchdown leagues. The Chargers upgraded his receiving depth in this year's draft, and his passing window should be much longer in 2023. Herbert now has six live receiving options to work with, inviting a return to the greatness he showed in 2022. Trending toward 5,500 combined yards with a push over 40 touchdowns, but Los Angeles must stay healthy on the offensive side of the ball. In the early draft season, Herbert is the seventh quarterback selected.
RB Larry Rountree - Not Draft Worthy
Over four seasons at Missouri, Roundtree gained 4,009 combined yards with 40 touches and 47 catches on 793 touches. His highlight year was 2018 (225/1,216/11 and 14 catches for 62 yards).
Roundtree has a step-and-go feel while offering the ability to make defenders miss in space. However, his lack of patience leads to him running into too many dead ends. Roundtree won't provide upside in the passing game.
He gained only 87 yards and one score on 36 rushes in his rookie season, followed up with an unimpressive showing over four games in 2022 (33 combined yards with two catches on 15 touches).
Fantasy Outlook: Rountree projects as an early-down runner with much to prove in his third year with the Chargers.
Other Options: Elijah Dotson, Tyler Hoosman
Rountree was released in August and surfaced in Houston. There, he once again failed to make a roster. At this point, there's simply no reason to roster him, even in the deepest dynasty formats.
RB Austin Ekeler - Stud (low risk)
In 2021, Ekeler gained 1,558 combined yards with 20 touchdowns and 70 catches. The Chargers had him on the field for only 61.1% of their plays. He produced better stats at home (955 combined yards with 14 scores and 41 catches – 24.50 FPPG in PPR leagues). Ekeler posted two impact games (33.90 and 41.50 fantasy points) while having a floor of 20.00 fantasy points in nine matchups. He finished second in fantasy scoring (346.80) with one missed game with Covid-19.
Los Angeles gave him almost the same opportunity in the run game (204/915/13), with nearly the identical role in snaps (61.8%). Ekeler set a new top in catches (107) and targets (127), but he gained only 6.7 yards per catch, well below his 2021 (9.2) and his career average (9.7).
Over the past two seasons. Ekeler has 25 rushing and 13 receiving touchdowns. He gained more than 100 rushing yards in two matchups (16/173/1 and 10/122/2) and five other outcomes with 100 combined yards or more.
Fantasy Outlook: Over the past four seasons, Ekeler has been an exceptional player for the Chargers. He works hard and grinds out yards when there is minimal space. Unfortunately, his window for a payday is closing, and Ekeler has one year left on his contract. Los Angeles bumped up some incentives in 2023, but he'll never get paid what he is worth or should have earned over the past two seasons (3,195 combined yards with 38 touchdowns and 177 catches). Ekeler is the second running back drafted this year after ranking 2nd and 1st in fantasy points in 2021 and 2022. His pass-catching sets a high floor while his growth in scoring leads to more impactful days (Ekeler scored over 30.00 fantasy points four times last season – 34.90, 35.90, 36.70, and 32.10), three of which came over the first seven games.
RB Joshua Kelley - Fantasy Handcuff
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). In 2019, 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 into space while not losing all of his momentum. His hands grade well, and I expect him to make plays in the passing game.
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.
Despite an empty 2021 (33/102/0 with five catches for 38 yards over 10 games), Kelley had the second-most running back snaps (286) for Los Angeles last season. He held his own in the run game (69/297/2) while picking up 14 catches for 101 yards. Kelley missed five weeks midseason with a knee injury.
Fantasy Outlook: Kelley remains the favorite to win the RB2 role for the Chargers. His lack of explosiveness in the NFL does point to a short window to prove his worth before LA tries another option.
RB Isaiah Spiller - Dynasty Only
Over three seasons in college, Spiller had almost the same role (203, 208, and 204 touches). He rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2020 (188/1,036/9) and 2021 (179/1,011/6) while having the most success in scoring in his rookie year (174/946/10). Spiller finished his time at Texas A&M with 74 catches for 585 yards and one score. In 2021, he rushed for over 100 yards in six matchups.
Spiller runs with a leggy motion that tends to lead to him gearing down in space rather than sticking his foot in the ground and bursting out of a cut. With a run of steam, he can make defenders miss with change of direction moves. Texas A&M used him on many inside runs, but his wins weren't driven by power. His next step is improving his pass blocking despite having a feel for which lanes to pick up an oncoming blitzer.
A late August ankle injury led to sitting on the sidelines for the first six games with LA despite looking healthy enough to play. The Chargers gave Spiller 21 touches over the following seven contests, leading to 54 combined yards with three catches. His season ended with five more games on the bench.
Fantasy Outlook: Spiller starts further down on the depth chart in his second season with no clear path to touches without an injury. He'll be found in the free-agent pool unless Spiller makes some noise in training camp.
Injury Status: Out - Coach's Decision
WR Keenan Allen - Solid/Safe Pick
From 2017 to 2021, Allen caught 509 passes for 5,918 yards and 32 touchdowns over 78 games. He averaged 6.5 catches for 76 yards and 0.41 touchdowns or 16.56 fantasy points in PPR leagues. However, his yards per catch were low in 2020 (9.9) and 2021 (10.7). Allen gained over 100 yards in four contests (9/100, 4/108, 12/104, and 9/112) in 2021 while failing to score more than 22.50 fantasy points in any game.
Last year, he left Week 1 (4/66) after 21 snaps with a hamstring injury that led to him missing almost all of the following eight matchups. Allen regains his high floor in catches (66/736/4 over 96 targets) over his final nine games. His best three outputs came in Week 14 (12/92), Week 16 (11/104), and Week 18 (8/102/2). His stats down the stretch projected over 17 games came to 125 catches for 1,390 yards and eight touchdowns, which would have been the best season in his career.
Fantasy Outlook: The best two selling points for Allen remain his high floor and consistency rating in catches and the developing wide receiver opportunity in the Chargers' offense. He'll start this season at age 31 while ranking 19th at wide receiver in the early draft season in the high-stakes market. Allen should set a career-high in catches with a run at 1,200 yards and six to eight scores. I like his 2023 expected price point, especially knowing that Los Angeles could lead the NFL in pass attempts.
WR Mike Williams - Solid/Safe Pick
Justin Herbert unlocked the ceiling of Williams in 2021, but most of his damage came in over four of the first five weeks (8/82/1, 7/91/1, 7122/2, and 8/165/2). Over his next 11 starts, he posted three other playable games (5/97/1, 5/110, and 9/119/1). Williams set career-highs in catches (76), receiving yards (1,146), and targets (129). Over the first 56 games of his career, he averaged only 4.7 targets compared to 8.1 in 2021. Williams came to the NFL in 2017 as the seventh player selected in the first round.
Last year, he batted .500 over his first six matchups, leading three high-level outcomes (8/113/1, 7/120, and 10/134) and three disappointing showings (2/10, 1/15/1, and 2/17). Williams missed most of the next five games with a high ankle injury. From Week 14 to Week 17, he caught 21 of his 28 targets for 353 yards and one touchdown. Williams left Week 18 with a back issue, costing him a start in the postseason. Over his 11 full games, he had 87 targets (7.9 per week), falling in line with his breakout season in 2021.
Fantasy Outlook: With one top-tier season on his six-year resume, Williams slipped to WR3 status again in 2023. He ranked 30th at wide receiver in early June while finishing 33rd in wide receiver scoring (176.5) in PPR formats over about 12 games of action last year. Williams had big play and scoring ability, and Justin Herbert will give him plenty of chances in multiple matchups. A 75/1,100/10 line is within reach, but he does have a risk/reward feel.
Injury Status: Injured Reserve
WR Quentin Johnston - Bye Week Fill-in
Over his first two seasons at TCU, Johnson caught only 52.3% of his 105 targets for 1,121 yards and eight touchdowns while adding five rushes for 15 yards and a score. Last year, he finished with 60 catches for 1,069 yards and six touchdowns on 96 targets, upping his catch rate to 62.5%. When at his best, Johnson had four high-profile games (14/206/1, 8/180/1, 4/139, and 6/163/1). In his other 10 matchups, he had four catches or fewer in all contests, leading to seven dull outings (3/22, 2/22, 3/29, 4/41, 0/0, 4/48, and 1/3).
There is no doubt Williams will create problems for defenses when given a free release, and he can get past the second level with daylight to roam. Williams has the moves and acceleration to unseat coverage well downfield while having a feel for winning the hand-checking battle. His hands under fire will determine his early season in the NFL.
Fantasy Outlook: In the rookie season, the Chargers will give Johnston chances to beat a defense deep. His presence should help Mike Williams see fewer double teams, a win for Justin Herbert and whomever he throws to downfield. Unfortunately, I don't see enough targets going his way to trust as a fantasy asset. I'm thinking of Gabe Davis in 2020 (35/599/7) and 2021 (35/549/6) with fewer scores. A Mike Williams injury would give Johnson a bump in chances but also tighter coverage.
WR Josh Palmer - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Palmer had flashes of upside in his college career, but his production was empty in too many games. His route running continues to develop with a chain mover feel. Palmer brings good hands with the talent to set up defenders. His challenge comes off the line in press coverage and his long speed.
Over four seasons with the Tennessee Volunteers, he caught 99 of his 196 targets for 1,514 yards and seven touchdowns.
In his first year with the Chargers, Palmer gave Los Angeles good snaps off the bench (33/353/4 on 49 targets). His best output came in Week 14 (5/66/1), Week 16 (5/43/1), and Week 18 (4/45/1).
The injuries to Keenan Allen and Mike Williams allowed Palmer to more than double his output in catches (72), receiving yards (769), and targets (107), but he only hit paydirt on three plays. His best production in 2022 came from Week 6 to Week 11 (9/57, 8/106, and 8/106/2), but Palmer did miss a game over this stretch with a dull showing in Week 10 (3/44). With Keenan Allen back on the field over the final eight games, he only had 29 catches for 304 yards and no scores on 45 targets.
Fantasy Outlook: The new additions to the Chargers' wide receiving corps clouds Palmer's WR3 role. He continues to have a possession skill set (10.7 yards per catch), giving him handcuff value to Keenan Allen.
WR Derius Davis - Not Draft Worthy
TCU never featured Davis in their passing game over five seasons. His role and opportunity grew each year while also getting chances to run the ball (28/183/2). For his career, he caught 112 passes for 1,513 yards and nine touchdowns, highlighted by his peak in 2022 (42/531/5).
Fantasy Outlook: Davis may earn two to three chances a game where the Chargers draw up plays to win with his legs. His best path in 2023 will be improving their return game. He returned 44 kickoffs over the past two seasons for 1,045 yards and one score. His success has been better on punt returns (44/658/5).
Other Options: Jalen Guyton, Keelan Doss, John Hightower
TE Gerald Everett - Quality Backup
After four dull seasons with the Rams (16/244/2, 33/320/3, 37/408/2, and 41/417/1), Everett set career-highs in all areas in his first year with Seattle (48/478/4 on 63 targets) in 2021. He missed two games early in the season with Covid-19.
Everett improved his catches (58), receiving yards (555), and targets (87) totals for the fifth consecutive season, with his new height being a career-best. His output in touchdowns (4) matched 2021, but he saw his yards per catch (9.5) fall to a career-low. Over the past three years, his catch rate (69.3) graded well. Everett scored double-digit fantasy points in PPR leagues in four of his first seven games (3/54/1, 6/71, 5/61/1, and 5/63) with the Chargers. His only other two games of value came in Week 13 (5/80) and the Wild Card week of the postseason (6/109/1).
Fantasy Outlook: Everett finished 2022 ranked 13th in tight end scoring (139.50) in PPR formats. The fantasy market expects regression this draft season based on his price point (19th tight end selected) in early June. His success points to 80% of the tight end opportunity this season, putting him on a path to catch 65 passes for 700 yards with about five touchdowns.
TE Tre' McKitty - Not Draft Worthy
McKitty struggles to create separation out of his breaks while offering 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. McKitty needs to get stronger and work on his route running to reach a higher ceiling.
In his rookie season, he caught only six passes for 45 yards, with only a bump to 10 catches for 72 yards on 18 targets in 2022.
Other Options: Donald Parham, Stone Smartt, Hunter Kampmoyer
PK Cameron Dicker - Quality Backup
Dicker missed only one of his 22 field goal attempts after landing in LA. Assuming he beats out Dustin Hopkins for kicking honors, Dicker is a decent bet for fantasy productin. However, the Chargers scored 40 touchdowns last season and only created 33 field goal attempts. The efficiency of the offense makes the Chargers' kicker a solid, if unremarkable fantasy option.
Los Angeles - Quality Backup
Los Angeles inched to 28th in rushing yards allowed (2,478) with 17 rushing touchdowns on 26.9 carries per game. The Chargers gave up 5.4 yards per carry.
The Chargers worked their way to 7th in passing yards allowed (3,406) with 24 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Their defense recorded 40 sacks.
The injury to DE Joey Bosa lowered the ceiling of the Chargers' pass rush. Over his five starts, he had 10 tackles and 2.5 sacks, with strength in his run defense. DE Morgan Fox set a new top in tackles (38) and sacks (6.5) while struggling to support the run. The injury to Bosa helped the bump in stats. Los Angeles hopes incoming rookie DE Scott Matlock can improve their pass rush. Their defensive line lacks elite players at the tackle positions, which is a big part of their struggles slowing down the run game.
LB Tuli Tuipulotu adds quickness to the second level of the Chargers' defense. LB Kenneth Murray picked up the pace in the pass rush last year, but he has been unable to repeat his rookie season after getting drafted in the first round in 2020. Murray has turned into a liability against the run. LB Khalil Mack applied plenty of pressure in his first year with LA, but he recorded 8.5 sacks with some missed tackles and questionable run support. LB Eric Kendricks has more than 100 tackles in seven consecutive years, with only occasional value in the pass rush.
The Chargers' significant investment in CB JC Jackson lasted only five games in 2022 due to a kneecap injury. Over the two previous years, he had 98 combined tackles with 17 interceptions and 37 defended passes. CB Asante Samuel can be hit or miss in coverage. Receivers tend to have a low catch rate, but he will give up some big plays and touchdowns. His run support remains a liability. S Derwin James has been an all-around stud since arriving in Los Angeles in 2018 (17th overall). He missed three games last season with a quad injury and a concussion. The other safety position looks to be in flux, with Alohi Gilman being the favorite.
Los Angeles must clean up their run defense to be competitive in the postseason. Their pass rush has potential, and the second level of their defense should be better in 2023. Their secondary has three winning pieces if the Chargers can shorten the passing window on more plays. They should work as a second defense with possible rotational value in the fantasy market. Derius Doss should upgrade the return game.