2019 Stats (Rank)
Total Offense: 5,879 (10th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 36 (21st)
Offensive Plays: 997 (23rd)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 631 (11th)
Rush Attempts: 366 (28th)
Unaccounted for Targets: 104 (16th)
Unaccounted for Carries: 191 (4th)
Relative to the quality of the Chargers’ 2019 roster, Anthony Lynn underperformed. The Bolts went 5-11 and only led on 30% of their second-half snaps, which was 23rd in the NFL. If not for being one of the most respected coaches by his players and lucking into a 12-4 record the year prior, Lynn could’ve been canned this offseason. He was 28th in my NFL Offenses By Analytics Usage rankings. Lynn will get one more chance to right the ship as the Chargers move into a new stadium with a new quarterback this season, and he’ll likely have to change his offense’s identity to reflect the changes. I project the Chargers to pass the ball just 56% of the time (a potential 6% decrease from 2019) but to keep their second-slowest neutral situation offense in hopes to control the clock (usually not smart) and let their stud defense keep them in the mix. Overall, it’s quietly a very fragile situation for Lynn and the entire Chargers’ offense, which is why I’ve drafted few of their plentiful fantasy options this offseason.
Coach Lynn loves Tyrod Taylor and that stems from their days together in Buffalo, when Taylor proved to be a capable starting quarterback. Taylor will add strong fantasy value as a scrambler -- he’s averaged 36.5 rushing yards and 0.3 rushing touchdowns on 6.4 carries over his 45 games as a starter -- but I’m expecting the passing offense to have bottom-12 production. Last season, Philip Rivers averaged 36.9 pass attempts and 288 passing yards per game. In his three seasons in Buffalo, Taylor was only at 28.0 attempts and 201 yards. The talent around Taylor in L.A. is far better, but he’ll still likely be tasked with controlling the clock and avoiding turnovers (his 1.5% career interception rate is off the charts good by the way). Overall, Taylor likely maxes out as a QB2 streamer in fantasy for as long as he’s the starter. Given the pandemic and the Chargers’ opening schedule, that could be anywhere from four to 12 games.
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Justin Herbert will eventually take over as starter, but that’s completely tied to how well Taylor is playing. When the Oregon Duck subs in, I’m expecting growing pains. Herbert at times struggled with pressure and was just average with his accuracy, two things that didn’t get worked on much during this pandemic. He does have a rocket arm and some rushing ability, however, so Herbert could be a potential streamer in two-quarterback leagues once he’s fully entrenched as the lead guy. He shouldn’t be drafted in standard-sized redraft leagues.
Keenan Allen is a slight loser with the quarterback swap. His chemistry isn’t as strong with Tyrod as it was with Rivers after playing together for seven seasons, and Allen’s target totals are projected to drop after averaging 9.25 looks per game across the last three seasons. Part of that is simply Tyrod’s passing abilities and the likely transition to a more run-first offensive approach. The other reason is Hunter Henry’s presence (Allen’s target average dropped from 11.0 to 8.3 in the games Henry played). It’s going to be difficult for Allen to be an every-week WR2 in fantasy if he slides into the 7-8 weekly target range given his forgettable 4.4% career touchdown rate. I’ve been drafting Terry McLaurin, the Seattle receivers, T.Y. Hilton, and D.J. Chark over Allen in early drafts. Their ceilings are simply higher, especially so in half-point and non-PPR leagues.
There are three things that Mike Williams truthers can buy into going into 2020; Williams is entering the prime of his career (26 years old), already owns a career 9.8 yards per target average, and his new quarterback quietly finished 2nd, 6th, and 13th in average depth of pass attempt in his three years as starter, meaning he’s willing to take shots downfield. Outside of that, I’m struggling to see how Williams enters the WR3/4 mix this season, barring an injury to Ekeler, Allen, or Henry. If Williams’ keeps his 16% target share from last season and Tyrod only attempts 28-30 passes per game, Williams will only be seeing five targets weekly. That’s simply not enough volume to bet on for fantasy purposes, even at his WR50 average draft position. It’s likely that Williams ends up being more valuable in real-life football than in fantasy.
Hunter Henry needs to stay on the field to earn a big payday next offseason. The Chargers opted to slap the franchise tag on him this year, largely because he’s only played in 41 of his potential 64 career games. When he’s on the field, Henry makes plays (8.9 yards per target), but there are serious volume concerns in this offense, particularly with Allen and Ekeler winning in the same portion of the field as Henry (underneath). I’m betting on Henry finishing worse than his TE8 overall per-game average from last season, making his TE9 average draft position too expensive for my liking. I’d rather take an upside shot on Mike Gesicki, who is being drafted after Henry right now, than to settle for Henry’s borderline TE1 median projection. Drafting Henry in the 8th-10th round likely won't win or lose your fantasy league.
Austin Ekeler was a league-winner last season (19.6 PPR points per game) after shredding defenses with high-level play as a receiver out of the backfield and out wide (92 receptions on 108 targets). The volume will be there once again, especially with Melvin Gordon leaving behind 13.5 carries and 3.5 receptions per game, but Ekeler’s efficiency will be regressing. Ekeler had a whopping 926 yards after the catch last season, which was 276 yards over expectation per my YAC model. That easily led the NFL regardless of position. My two primary questions are if the Chargers Offense can play well enough and if Ekeler can see enough goal-line work to pay off his RB12 average draft position. I worry that Ekeler’s size (5’10/200) and ball security issues leave the door open for vultured short-yardage touchdowns, and those goal-line opportunities may be far and in between given the Chargers’ 32nd-ranked offensive pace. In PPR leagues, I’ll still buy him in the middle to late second round, but I currently have him ranked behind Joe Mixon, Kenyan Drake, and even Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
This February, coach Lynn said he views Ekeler as a “tandem guy” and that he hoped to find Ekeler a running mate this offseason. Since that statement (one that was echoed by GM Tom Telesco), the Chargers only added fourth-round rookie Joshua Kelley from UCLA to a depth chart that only featured Ekeler and third-year pro Justin Jackson, who has 103 career touches. The winner of this No. 2 training camp battle will hold some redraft value in 2020, primarily as RB insurance to Ekeler, but potentially as an 8-10 carry per week rusher. I didn’t view Kelley as anything more than a replacement-level talent during my NFL Draft studies, so I’m rolling the dice on Jackson late in deep fantasy leagues. Given the pandemic-shortened offseason, simply having NFL experience and chemistry with the coaching staff is an advantage. Jackson’s career 5.1 yards per carry and 80% catch rate is the icing on the cake.
Typically we like offensive line continuity, but the fact that the Chargers only return three of five starters is a good thing. Bryan Bulaga (PFF’s No. 13 OT) will slide in at left tackle, and Trai Turner (PFF’s No. 35 OG) will man right guard. Both players are upgrades over the 2019 starters. The issue remains at right tackle where current starter Sam Tevi has allowed eight sacks in each of his last two seasons and was PFF's 47th OT out of 60 qualifiers last year. Overall, it’s an improving but still iffy unit.
The Chargers always seem to have some sleeper appeal going into seasons, but injuries, coaching mistakes, missed kicks, and other things always seem to derail things more than they should. Last year’s group was no different, as the Chargers played slightly better than their 5-11 record would suggest. Still, the Chargers’ six expected wins from last season is well below their current win total of 7.5 games, and it’s hard to argue this roster improved this offseason. I can argue that the Raiders’ and Broncos’ rosters did. Give me the under for the Chargers, even though they have the fifth-easiest schedule according to opponent win totals. I think their most likely outcome is a 6-10 or 7-9 finish.