One of the biggest fantasy football surprises of the 2013 season was the performance of the Chargers offense. Philip Rivers put it all together for another awesome season, Ryan Mathews stayed healthy and put together a career year and rookie Keenan Allen came out of nowhere to rescue a wide receiving corps that was brutalized by injuries.
The problem heading into 2014, however, is that last year's offensive coordinator, Ken Whisenhunt — the brainchild behind the Chargers’ top-five NFL offense — parlayed that one-year success into another head coaching job in Tennessee.
The glass-half-full person would think the Chargers still have essentially the same offensive personnel, upgrading Browns (Donald over Ronnie) for 2014. But the glass-half-empty person looks at 2013 as an anomaly, and that each of the players mentioned will take a small step back — except for Allen.
What those pessimists aren’t taking into account is that head coach Mike McCoy is still around, and it’s his offense that employs a lot of no-huddle work that Rivers excelled in last season.
With Rivers running the up-tempo attack, he was able to take advantage of matchups and hit wide receivers quickly before they reached the secondary, which helped him lead the NFL in completion percentage (69.5 percent).
Is Rivers going to be able to duplicate that success in 2014 without Whisenhunt? The odds are against it happening, and fantasy football owners prefer to go with sure options at quarterback. With only 12 starting QBs per league, Rivers looks more like a backup this season. The reality is that Mathews is still an injury-prone runner, and Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates are really just placeholders until the youth behind them can catch and pass them in quality.
In the running game, the Chargers took big steps forward last year on the back of former first-round pick Mathews, and Danny Woodhead’s impression as the passing downs’ back.
Mathews stayed healthy for the entire regular season for the first time in his four-year career, which rewarded the fantasy owners that drafted him despite the fact that he averaged only 13 games played over his first three seasons.
Mathews enters 2014 at the end of his rookie contract, so there’s actually plenty of reason to think he won’t let any nicks and bruises keep him out of games. When players are in contract years, it’s also not uncommon to see them get even more serious about training, nutrition and watching game film longer than usual. If that’s the case for Mathews, then he could be in for an even better 2014.
Both tight ends take away fantasy value from the other, but they’re also both heading in opposite directions. If you believe Gates has it in him for one more year, you can safely take him near the end of a 14- to 16-round draft. He lost weight this offseason, and seeing what guys like Tony Gonzalez and Shannon Sharpe did in the latter parts of their careers makes us think he has something left in the tank. Rivers loves his tight ends, and Gates led the team with 77 catches last year. Expect him to start strong, but for Ladarius Green to be the man by the end of the season.
There were a lot of changes in San Diego this past offseason, but the core fantasy players, including both tight ends, remain the same. That’s a good thing from a fantasy perspective, as continuity from year to year helps their fantasy value remain close to their 2013 version.
Most overvalued player
Keenan Allen, WR
Things we know: Second-year wide receivers often break out with huge seasons, especially compared to their rookie efforts. Allen was outstanding in his first year — he finished with the 17th-most fantasy points among all wide receivers. But how much better can we expect him to be in his second year, especially with the return of Malcolm Floyd from a neck injury? Taking him in the third round might be jumping the gun, especially if Rivers takes a step back from his top-five QB finish last season.
Most Undervalued player
Danny Woodhead, RB
It seems like only yesterday we were rooting for this guy to make the Jets camp on HBO’s Hard Knocks, then after the Jets cut him and the Patriots picked him up, his career took off. Last year’s up-tempo offense helped him finish the season as a top-20 fantasy running back — in standard leagues. Only Pierre Thomas had more receptions than Woodhead’s 76.
While Brown should cut into his touches a bit, Mathews could get hurt again at some point, which would mean Brown moving into that featured back role. Woodhead is getting picked in Round 8 this summer, which is down with guys like Bernard Pierce and Fred Jackson, who both need other things to happen for them to earn that draft slot. Woodhead’s not a bad RB3, but he makes for an excellent RB4 this season.
QB: Philip Rivers, Kellen Clemens
RB: Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead, Donald Brown
WR: Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd, Eddie Royal, Vincent Brown
TE: Antonio Gates, Ladarius Green
K: Nick Novak
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The Chargers defense is not a very good unit — not last season, and not for this season — but it should be a little better in 2014, with secondary additions like rookie cornerback Jason Verrett and free-agent cornerback Brandon Flowers. The worst part for the Chargers defense is that they’ll face one of the toughest schedules for fantasy defenses in the NFL. They have to go up against AFC West divisional foes, like the Broncos and Chiefs, as well as pretty good offenses from the AFC East (New England and Buffalo) and the NFC West (Seahawks, 49ers and Cardinals).