2018 Stats (Rank)
Total Offense: 5,962 (11th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 48 (7th)
Offensive Plays: 945 (28th)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 546 (26th)
Rush Attempts: 399 (19th)
Unaccounted for Targets: 110 (17th)
Unaccounted for Carries: 11 (29th)
Ken Whisenhunt is back for his fourth season in a row and fifth since 2013 running the offense. During that run, the Chargers have consistently fielded one of the better attacks in the league, finishing no worse than 14th in total offense and 13th in points scored. Considering they ran just 945 plays, last year’s offense was one of the most efficient in the league, finishing third in yards per play, seventh in yards per drive, and fifth in points per drive. Moving forward, the question becomes was that low play total an outlier or the expectation? The answer might be a little of both. According to Football Outsiders, the Chargers’ situation-neutral pace was roughly the same last year as it was in 2017, but the team led on 47 percent of their offensive snaps in 2018 after leading on 38 percent the year before. That suggests winning 12 games had something to do with the low play total, perhaps indicating a nice volume bump for Philip Rivers and company. On the other hand, the Chargers should be pretty good again this year, which could lead to the same volume concerns.
Despite attempting just 508 passes, by far his lowest total since 2009, Philip Rivers finished as the QB13 last season on the back of 4,308 yards (8.5 yards per attempt) and 32 touchdowns. He threw for multiple scores in each of his first 12 games. In four seasons with Whisenhunt running the show, Rivers has averaged 4,422 yards, 31.25 touchdowns, and 13.5 interceptions. With that track record and the weapons around him, it is tough to imagine Rivers falling on his face, and he should be available in the double-digit rounds in almost every draft. That said, his path to elite quarterback production is narrow because he adds nothing in the running game – he has five total rushing yards over the last two seasons and has not scored a rushing touchdown since 2011 – and might not top 550 passing attempts. At this point, Rivers looks like a rock-solid QB2 and streaming option.
There were some changes down the depth chart, but Keenan Allen remains the unquestioned No. 1 receiver after catching 97 passes for 1,196 yards and six touchdowns a season ago. Allen has been the target on 27 percent of the Chargers’ pass attempts over the last two seasons, and there is no real reason for that to change, especially since Allen has been one of the more efficient receivers in the league over that span. Coming off the board as a back-end WR1, Allen looks like a safe pick who could outplay his draft cost if the Chargers are forced to throw more this year.
While Allen’s role is not really in question, the departure of Tyrell Williams in free agency opens up some room on the depth chart. The most likely beneficiary of that departure is Mike Williams, who hauled in 43 catches for 664 yards and 10 scores last year in a strong rebound from his lost rookie season. With the other Williams gone and little other than deep threat Travis Benjamin on the depth chart, it seems likely the third-year player is a bigger factor in the passing game moving forward.
That said, touchdowns might be an area of concern. Williams out-paced his expected touchdown total based on his usage last year thanks to two 40-plus-yard scores and an impressive conversion rate in the red zone, and he will face more competition for scoring-area targets with Hunter Henry returning to the fold. Rivers targeted tight ends on just 24 percent of his throws inside the 10 last year after targeting them on 43 percent and 38 percent of those throws the previous two seasons. Williams should be an above-average touchdown scorer throughout his career, but it could be tough for him to hit double digits again this year.
Speaking of Henry, he is back to full health after missing all but 14 Divisional Round snaps in 2018. Henry has dominated every time he has gotten targets to this point in his career, catching 70 percent of his career opportunities while averaging 13 yards per catch, and has proven himself to be a dangerous weapon in the red zone – as mentioned above, Rivers has tended to target tight ends in that area of the field. He was rightfully a popular breakout candidate before going down last year, and he again looks like a strong pick assuming he is back to normal.
Despite missing four games last year and playing just one full season in his career, Melvin Gordon has become one of the most reliable fantasy running backs. He has finished as a top-eight runner each of the last three seasons while averaging 21 touches per game, and he has scored 38 total touchdowns over that span. He also took a step forward from an efficiency standpoint last season, averaging career-highs with 5.1 yards per carry and 6.1 yards per touch. His touch per game numbers did take a bit of a step back last year in part because of the Chargers running fewer plays and in part because of Austin Ekeler’s role, and he did not get as many chances near the goal line. Still, Gordon is the prime touchdown scorer on a good offense who should receive a healthy touch total in the 12-16 games he plays. That is a solid RB1.
One area of concern for Gordon and especially Ekeler is the passing game. With very little going on at tight end, the Chargers targeted their backs on 27.3 percent of their passing attempts last year, the third-highest rate in the league. As Derek Brown from The Quant Edge pointed out, that number was 22.6 percent in 2017 and 18.1 percent in 2016. It is certainly possible Gordon’s steady improvement as a receiver and Ekeler’s emergence led to an increase in usage, but the healthy return of Henry is at least a small concern for both backs’ target total.
Finally, Ekeler was one of the more heavily utilized backups in the league last year, averaging 8.5 touches and 12 PPR points per game in the 11 he played with Gordon. He topped 10 PPR points in seven of those contests. Given the weekly downside of a secondary runner, Ekeler is unlikely to be a reliable starter in standard-sized leagues as long as Gordon is healthy, but he could provide standalone value in deeper formats while offering some handcuff upside.
The Chargers’ win total sits at 9.5 most places with a hefty fee on the over, which makes sense considering they won 12 games a year ago with nothing in their profile to suggest it was a fluke. The roster also did not change much from last year’s unit and remains one of the most talented in the league. Finally, their schedule is at worst neutral despite having to play two late-season games against the Chiefs. The over is the bet here, but the price makes it considerably less appealing.