Los Angeles Chargers
|By Shawn Childs, Thursday, August 19, 2021|
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 - 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 - 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 - 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 - 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 - 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 - 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.
WR Mike Williams - Sleeper (undervalued)
Over the last three seasons, Williams flashed the talent to score impact touchdowns (10 in 2018) and make big plays (20.4 yards per catch in 2019). Unfortunately, the Chargers have struggled to get him consistent targets over this stretch. He has 140 catches for 2,421 yards and 17 touchdowns over his previous 46 games.
In 2020, Williams had three catches or fewer in seven matchups, with each leading to non-playable scores of (3.4, 2.7, 1.4, 5.8, 5.6, 0.0, and 4.2 fantasy points) in PPR leagues. His only three games of value came in Week 5 (5/109/2), Week 8 (5/99/1), and Week 17 (6/108/1).Fantasy Outlook: The change in coaching staff and the loss of Hunter Henry points to Williams setting a career-high in catches. I'll set his bar at 70 catches for 1,000 yards and a run at 10 scores. His ADP (132) looks favorable, and he plays with a young developing quarterback.
WR Josh Palmer - Dynasty Only
Selected with the 77th pick in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft, Palmer has excellent size (6-1, 210) and adequate speed (4.51). The Chargers have little depth after Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, so the door is wide open for Palmer to earn playing time right away in an offense that looks like a safe bet to finish as a top-10 unit. That gives Palmer enough late-round sleeper appeal to make him worth a look in larger leagues.
WR Jalen Guyton - Low Potential
In his second season with the Chargers, Guyton flashed in three games (1/72/1, 2/84/1, and 4/91). One-quarter of his 28 catches gained over 20 yards, and four of those catches reached the 40-yard mark. He had 12 games with two catches or fewer.
Over two seasons at North Texas, Guyton caught 103 of his 176 passes for 1,580 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Fantasy Outlook: Only a big-play threat with a minimal opportunity.
Other Options: KJ Hill, Jason Moore, Austin Proehl
WR Tyron Johnson - Deep-league Only
Over 12 games in his rookie season, Johnson had 20 catches for 398 yards and three touchdowns on 26 targets. He also hit on seven catches for over 20 yards while reaching 40 yards on four of those chances. His best value came in six matchups (1/53/1, 1/50, 1/54, 2/63, 6/55/1, and 3/61/1).
Over three seasons at Oklahoma State, Johnson had 80 catches for 1,288 yards and 12 touchdowns on 124 targets.
TE Jared Cook - Quality Backup
Los Angeles looked to their tight ends at the highest rate over the past three seasons. They set three-year highs in catches (81), receiving yards (928), touchdowns (8), and targets (129).
Cook scored 22 touchdowns over his last 45 games while gaining over 20 yards on 36 of his 148 catches. He fell short of expectations in his two seasons with the Saints (43/707/9 and 37/504/7) while receiving only 125 targets (4.3 per game).
Fantasy Outlook: Cook improved his scoring and big-play ability after the age of 30. He'll start the year at age 34, making him a tough player to fight for on draft day. His ADP (199) looks plausible when tying him to Justin Herbert. Possible 5/50/5 season, which works as based on his price point.
Other Option: Tre McKitty, Donald Parham, Stephen Anderson
PK Mike Badgley - Bye Week Fill-in
Over his first two seasons in the NFL, Badgley missed 14 games. He played an entire year in 2020, but his leg regressed. Badgley missed nine of his 33 field goals while going 36-for-39 in extra-point tries. His success rate now has risk from 40 to 49 yards (73.1 percent) and 50 percent from 50 yards or more.Fantasy Outlook: The Chargers brought in kicking competition in the offseason. Badgley looks to be only a waiver-wire option until he secures a starting job.
Los Angeles - Quality Backup
LA finished 18th in rushing yards allowed (1,917) with 17 rushing touchdowns and 13 runs over 20 yards. The Chargers gave up 4.5 yards per carry.
The Chargers slipped to 9th in passing yards allowed (3,578) with 29 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Their defense recorded 27 sacks while allowing 44 completions over 20 yards.
DE Joey Bosa
Over 59 games in the NFL, Bosa has 47.5 sacks while recording double-digit sacks in three different years. In his two full seasons of action, he averaged 68.5 tackles. Last year he played well against the run. Los Angeles drafted him third overall in 2016.
DE Jerry Tillery
Tillery improved over his last two years in college, leading to success against the run and adding value in the pass rush. He offers a combination of speed, power, and quickness for his position. His first step is key to his wins. With better hands and improved moves in the pass rush, Tillery could become a beast on the outside.
Over his first two seasons, Tillery posted 47 tackles and five sacks in 31 games while struggling to defend the run. The Chargers will move him to defensive tackle this year.
DT Linval Joseph
The Chargers added Joseph to their defense in 2020 to help stop the bleeding against the run. He's an 11-year veteran in the league with multiple seasons on his resume as an elite-run defender. He'll chip in with some sacks while trending slightly backward in run support.
DT Justin Jones
Over 40 career games, he only has 1.5 sacks. His run defense pushed to a high level in 2020 with growth in his tackles (34).
LB Uchenna Nwosu
Los Angeles bought another edge pass rusher with Nwosu in the second round in 2018. His success comes from his speed and quickness, but Nwosu needs secondary pass-rushing moves to be more effective at the next level. His strength can be neutralized by offensive linemen if caught at the line of scrimmage on the inside. Nwosu needs improvement in run support to earn more snaps on early downs. Over his first three years in the NFL, Nwosu had 92 tackles and 10 sacks.
LB Kenneth Murray
The Chargers invested in Murray with their second selection (23rd overall) in the first round in 2020. Murray flashed speed (4.52 forty) and strength (21 reps in the bench press) at last 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.
Murray made 107 tackles in his rookie season with one sack. His run defense was a liability out of the gate.
LB Drue Tranquill
In his rookie season, Tranquill only had three starts. He played well at times vs. the run while failing to pick up a sack. Tranquill Is built for power and an attacking game when moving forward. His motor rates highly with vision and quickness, but he can get in trouble when asked to change direction in coverage in a trailing position. Tranquill is undersized (6'2" and 234 lbs.) with not much room for growth in his frame. In 2020, he missed 15 games with an ankle injury.
CB Chris Harris
Harris has a long history of playing well in coverage while shining the most out of the slot. The Chargers plan on moving him back inside to help improve their overall pass defense. Over 10 seasons in the league, Harris has 21 interceptions and 90 defended passes. He returned four passes for touchdowns in his career. Harris also adds value in run support. Harris missed seven games last year with a foot injury.
CB Mike Davis
In his fourth season with the Chargers, Davis set career-highs in tackles (64), interceptions (3), and defended passes (14) while scoring his first NFL touchdown. He will give up some big plays, but Davis does minimize the damage in touchdowns allowed. His game takes a hit if facing elite players in coverage.
S Derwin James
James turned in a beast season in 2018 (105 tackles, 3.5 sacks, three Ints, and 13 defended passes) after the Chargers drafted him in the first round. Unfortunately, he missed the first 11 games last year with a broken right foot and all of 2020 with a right knee injury that required surgery. His ceiling is high if James can stay on the field.
S Naris Adderley
Adderley has an underachiever feel with questions with his instincts and understanding play development from the safety position. The Chargers may switch him back to cornerback, where his coverage skills play better when focusing on one player in his responsibilities. Adderley needs to attack as a tackler while avoiding being a looker in the backfield where the quarterback can lead him into mistakes. Foresight and vision would go a long way in helping him reach a higher level in his career.
Over 15 games last year, he made 69 tackles with one interception and three defended passes. His run defense fell into a favorable area.
The cornerback position is moving in the wrong direction in Los Angeles, and the depth of their pass rush remains an issue. The development of their linebacking core against the run is a must if the Chargers want to keep offenses off the field. I don't trust their defense to start every week in the fantasy market.