2020 Los Angeles Chargers Team Outlook: Buy-In Now on the Justin Herbert Takeover

The Justin Herbert era has already begun! SI Fantasy expert Shawn Childs examines the Los Angeles Chargers from players to coaches and everything in between.
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Coaching Staff

In his first two seasons at the Los Angeles Chargers head coach, Anthony Lynn had a 21-11 record, which was highlighted by an excellent 2018 (12-4 with a bye and one win in the playoffs). Last year LA slipped to 5-11 due to a massive regression in scoring (337 points – 428 in 2018), despite improving one spot in offensive yards (10th).

Over the last 20 years, Lynn spent much of his time coaching running backs leading to an assistant head coaching job with the Jets and Bills from 2013 to 2016. Buffalo promoted him to offensive coordinator in 2016. He brings a running style to the offense while understanding the need to be a better defensive franchise.

Los Angeles promoted Shane Steichen to offensive coordinator at the end of October in 2019. After the season, they decided to reward him with the job this season. Steichen spent most of his college coaching career with the Chargers. His highest ranking job before 2019 was the quarterback’s coach.

Their defense improved to sixth in yards allowed, which as the fourth straight year of growth. Unfortunately, Los Angeles regressed in the points allowed rankings over the past three seasons (272 – 3rd, 329 – 8th, and 345 – 14th).

Gus Bradley returns as the defensive coordinator for his fourth year. Bradley went 14-48 over four seasons with Jacksonville, but his defense did progress in 2016 (6th in yards allowed). He held the defensive coordinator position for the Seahawks from 2009 to 2012 with three other years of experience as the linebacking coach for Tampa Bay.

Free Agency

The Chargers’ franchise will have a different face at quarterback after parting ways with Philip Rivers. He signed a two-year deal with the Colts. Rivers helped LA to a winning season in eight of his 14 years while compiling a 123-101 record.

Los Angeles also lost RB Melvin Gordon to the Denver Broncos. He gave the Chargers scoring ability along the skill set to play on all three downs.

LA brought in Chris Harris to improve the depth and strength at the cornerback position. Harris played well in coverage over multiple seasons for Denver.

They signed T Bryan Bulaga, DT Linval Joseph, and LB Nick Vigil.

Bulaga has ten seasons of experience in the NFL after getting drafted in the first round in 2020. For most of his career, he played well in pass protection while showing fade as a run blocker in four of his past five years.

Joseph is another ten-year vet who projects well in run support. He’ll add value to the pass rush, but his game is trending backward in this area.

Vigil saw the most playing time of his career in 2019, but he continues to be a non-factor in the pass rush. He did set a career-best in tackles (111) last year, despite showing weakness in tackling and in run support.

Their other losses to free agency were S Adrian Phillips, LB Thomas Davis, WR Travis Benjamin, and FB Derek Watt.

Phillips played well in 2019, but he missed multiple games due to a broken forearm. Ove his previous two years, he showed league average success.

Draft

With the sixth overall pick, the Chargers addressed their need for a franchise quarterback by adding Justin Herbert. His arm is NFL ready. Herbert looks to drive the ball downfield with velocity and accuracy. His next step is growth in his touch in the red zone while improving his decision making against better zone defenses. Herbert is a better runner than I first envisioned. He breaks out of the pocket with acceleration and power, which will help score TDs in close and extend drives.

Los Angeles invested in LB Kenneth Murray with their second selection in the first round. Murray flashed speed (4.52 forty) and strength (21 reps in the bench press) in this 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.

Their next choice didn’t come until round four, leading to the addition of running back Joshua Kelley. Both his speed (4.49) and strength (23 reps in the bench press at the NFL combine) grade well. Also, he added some more bulk in 2019 (5’11” and 212 lbs.).

Kelley looks good inside the five-yard line and in short-yardage situations where he has a willingness to drop and drive to create yards in tight quarters. He runs with power with the ability to break tackles against trash in close quarters. 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 his momentum. His hands grade well, and I expect him to make plays in the passing game.

With two of their final three picks in the fifth and seventh rounds, the Chargers added WR Joe Reed and WR K.J. Hill.

Reed brings a running back mentality to the wide receiver position. His experience at both positions in high school led to him developing as a wide receiver in college. He offers plenty of speed (4.47 forty) and strength (21 reps in the bench press), but his route running doesn’t set him apart from the top talent at the position. Reed is at his best in the open field with the ball in his hands. He projects well in the return game, and the Chargers may decide his future lies back at the running back position.

Hill is on a path to work out of the slot with the Chargers. Even with a winning foundation in his route running, his game lacks the desired speed and quickness to win vs. tight press/man coverage or in the deep passing game. Hill should excel vs. zone coverage and upgrade the offense over the short areas of the field. His hands and strength look to be assets.

Los Angeles acquired S Alohi Gilman in the sixth round. He almost has the mirror image of K.J. Hill but on the defensive side of the ball. Gilman wants to attack moving forward in run support. His early commitment can turn into a liability if he takes the wrong angle or faces to retreat on a play-action pass. Gilman’s success or failure falls on the development of his discipline and growth as a player in coverage.

Offensive Line

The Chargers fell to 28th in the NFL in rushing yards (1,453) in 2019 while gaining only 4.0 yards per carry. They scored 12 rushing TDs with nine runs over 20 yards. Last year they averaged 22.9 rushes per game due to game score.

LA rose to sixth in passing yards (4,648). Their offensive line allowed 34 sacks and 93 QB hits as well. The Chargers finished with only 24 passing TDs and 20 INTs with receivers gaining over 20 yards on 57 plays.

LT Trey Pipkins

In the third round in 2019, the Chargers placed their bet at tackle on Pipkins. He needs to get stronger while having question speed and quickness. His first step creates some early positioning, but his technique is trailing at this point in his career. Pipkins needs to prove he can handle better competition in the pass rush.

In his rookie season, he made three starts at left tackle after seeing minimal playing time over the other 13 weeks. He struggled in pass protection while also coming up short in run blocking.

The left tackle position looks to be in flux this year, with no one standing out to be a difference-maker. With a rookie quarterback set to see a decent part of the playing time this year, it doesn’t project well his success.

LG Dan Feeney

Over three seasons and the last two coming as a full-time starter, Feeney failed to make an impact in any area. Sacks and pressure remain a problem, and his candle can’t seem to light for his improvement in the run game. When paired with a weak option at left tackle, Feeney lives on an island with rising water.

C Mike Pouncey

Pouncey missed the final 11 games in 2019 due to a neck issue that required surgery in October. It’s been four seasons since he played at a high level. His run blocking is trending down while still having a pulse in pass protection. At age 31, his upside window is closing quickly.

RG Trai Turner

The Chargers traded for Turner in early March in a deal that sent LT Russell Okung to the Panthers. In 2019, Turner struggled with sacks and pressure to the quarterback while also being a weak link in run blocking in back-to-back seasons. Over his first four years in the NFL, Turner offered a steady winning skill set at right guard.

RT Bryan Bulaga

After a ten-year career with the Packers, Bulaga made the jump via free agency to the Chargers in the offseason. He’s been a solid player in pass protection over the last six years, but Bulaga will allow his share of sacks. His run blocking has been more cold than hot of late, but the explosiveness of Aaron Jones in 2019 did help his game push back to a high level.

Offensive Line Outlook

The right side of the offensive line will rank above the league average, but the risk at left tackle is a significant problem. Run blocking and providing passing windows will be up and down all year. Overall, the Chargers’ offensive line ranks in the bottom third of the league.

Offensive Schedule

The data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing touchdowns (TDS).

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This information is based on 2019, which will work as our starting point for 2020. We’ll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.

2019 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2019.

2019 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.

2019 Adjustment is based on the 2019 league average and the 2019 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat category and the basis for the strength of schedule.

Out of the gate, the Chargers have five favorable matchups (CIN, KC, CAR, MIA, and JAX) over the first eight weeks for their rushing offense. Mixed in over this stretch is three games (TB, NO, and NYJ) vs. teams that played well against the run in 2019. Their season ends with four other contests (BUF, NE, and LV X 2) against teams that ranked better than the league average in rushing yards allowed.

The best matchup for their passing offense should come against Tampa, followed by two mid-tier outings vs. the Raiders. The Chargers have one tough three-game stretch from Week 11 to Week 13 against Denver, Buffalo, and New England.

Offense

In the past, this offense wanted to run a ball-control offense that featured the running back position. With Philip Rivers no longer in the picture, the Chargers need to develop a new identity on offense. They have receiving talent at RB, WR, and TE, but their offensive line looks to be trailing. When adding in the change at quarterback, it is tough to predict who will start in Week 1 and which option emerges over the long haul. Also, game score would restrict the upside of the rushing offense.

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On the positive side, Los Angeles should play well defensively.

Here’s a look at the early projections for the Chargers, which will be fluid all summer after taking in all injury updates and training camp news:

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Quarterbacks

Justin Herbert

The Ducks gave Herbert playing time at QB in four different seasons. After taking over as the starting QB in 2016, he missed five games the following season with a broken collarbone. Over the last two seasons, Hebert started 27 games. His best year came in 2019 (3,471 passing yards and 36 combined TDs).

Over his first three seasons, Herbert showed value as a runner (58/161/2, 44/183/5, and 71/166/2). Last year he gained only 50 yards on the ground on 58 carries, but he did score four TDs.

Over his final three games in his senior year, Herbert passed for fewer than 200 yards in each contest (174, 193, and 138) with one combined passing touchdown.

The move to the Chargers gives him two viable top 24 WRs and a top 10 TE, plus a game plan to throw to RB Austin Ekeler on many downs to help move the chains.

When doing the first run of the projections in 2020, I gave Herbert 12 starts (2,868 combined yards with 16 TDs and 11 INTs). His fantasy value over the summer once there is some coach-speak on his progress and potential starting opportunity.

Herbert has an ADP of 243 in drafts completed in May.

Tyrod Taylor

With Rivers now playing in Indy, Taylor stands on the top of the Chargers’ depth chart at quarterback in early June.

Over his three seasons as a starter for the Bills (22-20), Taylor helped his success with his ability to run (283/1575/14). Over this span, he passed for 8,857 yards (201 per game) with 51 TDs and 16 INTs. His M.O. is a ball controlled game manager, which may help Los Angeles win this year.

Taylor looks willing to take the dump-off pass to the running back position or the TE, but the upside of the skill players will take a hit if he somehow survives to start for Los Angeles in September.

Other options: Easton Stick

Running Backs

Over the last three seasons, the Chargers relied more and more on their RBs in the passing game. In 2019, their running backs led the NFL in catches (148), receiving yards (1,357), TDs (9), and targets (182).

Twice over the last three seasons, Los Angeles came up short yards per rush (4.05 in 2017 and 4.12 in 2019).

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The overall opportunity in this offense for the running back position paints a high upside picture, but decision making and game flow change a lot with Philip Rivers no longer in the picture.

Austin Ekeler

Ekeler will be much more of a wild card in 2019 after the downgrade at the quarterback position. He’ll remain a top player in the passing game, but his targets may fall well short of 2019 with regression expected in scoring.

The Chargers will use Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley on early downs as well. Over the final 12 games last year, Ekeler gained 337 yards on 76 carries while failing to score a running touchdown. Most of his production on the ground over the span came in two games (12/70 and 8/101).

His season started with a dominating game (154 combined yards with three TDs and six catches) while adding five other productive outings (133-1-6, 122-2-5, 118-1-7, 108-0-8, and 213-1-4).

Even with the RB1 job and potential opportunity, his touches don’t project much higher than 16 per game. He finished last year fourth in RB scoring (311.0) in PPR league with 224 touches.

His early ADP is 15 as the 12th RB drafted. With 80 catches, 1,200 combined yards, and eight TDs, Ekeler should finish in the top 12 in RB scoring in 2020.

Justin Jackson

With RB Melvin Gordon out of the picture, Jackson should be rewarded with a rotational role on early downs with a chance at 25 or so catches.

The Chargers gave him a bump in touches over a five-game stretch late in 2018, which led to 305 combined yards with two TDs and 13 catches.

He missed nine games last year while battling calf and hamstring issues. The Chargers like to feature the RB in the passing game, but they are at the mercy of who they start at quarterback.

Los Angeles also added RB Joshua Kelley in the fourth round of this year’s draft, who may end up being the player with more upside.

Joshua Kelley

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 also had multiple games (6) with fewer than 80 yards on the ground.

Over the last two years, Kelley didn’t play for a good team (7-17). In the right situation with 15 touches a game, I expect him to outperform his draft value.

Other options: Darius Bradwell, Derrick Gore

Wide Receivers

Over the past three years, the Chargers have completed 52.5, 55.5, and 45.2 percent of their passes to their wide receivers. Even with a below-par overall opportunity, they remained productive in receiving yards (2,792, 2,699, and 2,499) while averaging 299 targets per year. Philip Rivers struggled to make scoring plays for his WRs last year (eight TDs) after delivering 22 TDs in 2018.

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Their lack of chances was directly tied to the pass-catching opportunity by their running backs. This season I don’t expect any regression for the Chargers even with fewer passing yards and passing attempts.

Keenan Allen

Allen finished 3rd (284.2), 12th (261.1), and 6th (262.0) in fantasy points scoring in PPR leagues over the past three seasons. Over this span, he averaged 101 catches for 1,263 yards and six TDs on 150 targets.

His 2019 season started with 29 catches for 404 yards and three TDs over his first three games. He scored only three more TDs with no other games with over 100 yards receiving over his final 13 weeks.

In 2020, the Chargers’ offense takes on a whole new look with Tyrod Taylor and Justin Herbert battling for the starting QB job. Until I get a cleaner update on who starts, I’m dropping his targets, catches, and receiving yards by 20 percent, which comes to 78 catches for 963 yards and six TDs.

Allen has an early ADP of 54 as the 21st wide receiver off the board. Possible value with a clearer picture of the starting quarterback structure.

Mike Williams

Over the last two seasons, Williams showed the ability to score TDs (ten TDs in 2018) and make big plays (20.4 yards per catch in 2019). His targets (89) remain in a weak area while showing fade in his catch rate (55.1 – 65.2 in 2018).

He didn’t score his first TD until Week 14. Williams finished with ten games with three catches or fewer.

His luster is gone, and the questions at QB leave a fantasy owner looking for upside elsewhere. I like his talent and potential. I don’t like his opportunity and the multiple plays where he gets up slowly with what appears to be an injury.

I have him projected for 54 catches for 804 yards and six TDs. His ADP (127) is much lower than in 2019.

Joe Reed

In his senior season at Virginia, Reed caught 77 passes for 679 yards and seven touchdowns on 116 targets. He gained only 8.8 yards per catch, which is more in line with a running back’s output. In 2018 in a limited role, Reed gained 18.6 yards per catch while scoring seven TDs despite finishing with short chances in catches (25), receiving yards (465), and targets (37).

Over his final three years in college, he returned five of his 79 kickoff chances for a touchdown while averaging 29.9 yards per kick return.

Reed may be more insurance for Ekeler than a viable option at wide receiver early in his career.

Andre Patton

The Chargers gave Patton 17 targets in his rookie season, but he caught only six passes for 56 yards. He signed as an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers. From 2014 to 2016 in college, he caught 61 balls for 1,115 yards and nine TDs on 87 targets. A low upside player that does bring size (6'2" and 200 lbs.) to the wide receiver position.

Other options: Jason Moore, Darius Jennings, K.J. Hill, Jalen Guyton, Tyron Johnson, Jeff Cotton

Tight Ends

The transition from Antonio Gates to Hunter Henry hasn’t been as smooth as expected for the Chargers. In 2018, LA’s tight ends finished with a minimal opportunity (48/567/3 on 68 targets) after being relevant in the fantasy market the previous year (81/943/7 on 119 targets). The loss of Henry for four games early in 2019 led to a lower output than expected, even with success in receiving yards (792), TDs (6), and catch rate (70.1).

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Hunter Henry

Hunter will be a tempting TE option in 2019, but fantasy owners could have a wide range of options on his value after the Chargers drafted QB Justin Herbert with the sixth overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft.

In each year, his catches, yards, and targets have improved, despite a decline each in games played (15, 14, and 12). Both his TD production (19 in 41 games) and catches over 20 yards (23) grade well while posting a high catch rate (71.2) in his career.

Henry came into 2019 with concerns about his recovery from a torn ACL in his right knee, but he suited up for opening day (4/60). By Week 2, he was on the shelf for four games due to left knee injury.

After shining his first two games (8/100/2 and 6/97) back in the starting lineup, Henry caught 37 passes for 395 yards and three TDs over his final nine games.

Top ten TE talent with an ADP of 92 in the early draft season in PPR leagues. My first read on his opportunity came to 65 catches for 744 yards and four TDs.

Other options: Virgil Green, Stephen Anderson, Andrew Vollert, Donald Parham, Jared Rice

Kicker

Michael Badgley

Over his first two seasons in the NFL, Badgley missed 14 games. When on the field, his leg did offer upside while still needing to prove himself from long range. Between college and the NFL, Badgley made only four of his 14 kicks from over 50 yards.

He made 28 of his 32 field goals so far in his career while missing one extra point in his 47 tries.

The Chargers have the offensive pieces to produce points in 2020 if they solve the quarterback position. In 2019, they scored 37 touchdowns while creating 34 field goal chances.

An attractive backend option if Badgley can stay healthy all year. I expect him to be more of a matchup start than a trusted week-to-week choice in the fantasy market.

Defensive Schedule

The Chargers’ run defense has one of the top schedules in 2020. They don’t have any games vs. teams that had a high level of success running the ball last year. Los Angeles has two plus-matchups (NYJ and MIA) and seven other favorable contests (CIN, TB, ATL, DEN X 2, and LV X 2). Even the feeling of multiple winning matchups, I expect most of their opponents to be improved running the ball this season.

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Los Angeles has five games (TB, NO, ATL, and KC X 2) against teams expected to pass the ball well in 2020. Based on last year's stats, their defense will have an advantage in four matchups (BUF, NYJ, and DEN X 2), but Denver should be much improved in the passing game this year based on their additions at the wide receiver position.

Defense

LA fell to 18th in rushing yards allowed (1,805) with 15 rushing TDs and nine runs over 20 yards. The Chargers gave up 4.2 yards per carry, which was their lowest rate over the past three seasons (4.9 in 2017 and 4.3 in 2018).

The Chargers worked their way to 5th in passing yards allowed (3,204) with 21 TDs and 11 INTs. Their defense recorded 30 sacks while allowing 41 completions over 20 yards.

DE Joey Bosa

Over 47 games in the NFL, Bosa has 40 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 regained the bounce in his step as a run defender. Los Angeles drafted him third overall in 2016.

DE Melvin Ingram

Ingram only missed three games over the last five seasons, which led to 43 sacks and an average of 54 tackles per year. Last year he finished with seven sacks, one Int, and five defended passes. He tends to play well vs. the run, but his game did slip in this area in 2019.

DT Linval Joseph

The Chargers added Joseph to their defense in the offseason to help stop the bleeding against the run. He’s a ten-year veteran 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 the pass rush.

DT Justin Jones

In his second year in the league, Jones made 11 starts while missing four games with a shoulder issue. Over 27 career games, he only has a half of a sack while still trailing in his responsibility as a run defender. LA will rotate him on early downs with DT Jerry Tillery, who they drafted in the first round in 2019.

Tillery came into college as an offensive lineman, but he never played a down on the offensive side of the ball. By his sophomore season at Notre Dame, Tillery worked his way into the starting lineup at a defensive tackle. His game improved over his last two years in college, leading to success in run support 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 side.

In March of 2019, Tillery had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder, which was part of his slow development in his rookie season (17 tackles and two sacks).

LB Denzel Perryman

Perryman missed 16 games in 2017 and 2018 after flashing upside in his rookie year in 2015 when the Chargers drafted him in the second round. Last year he made 14 starts, leading to 68 tackles and one Int. Over his last 30 games, Perryman doesn’t have a sack. His run defense improved over the previous two seasons, but he still misses too many tackles. LA will rotate Perryman with Uchenna Nwosu in 2020.

Los Angeles bought another edge pass rusher with Uchenna Nwosu in the second round in 2018. His game is built on 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 lineman 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 two years in the NFL, Nwosu had 59 tackles and 5.5 sacks.

LB Kenneth Murray

If Murray can hit the ground running, the Chargers have the talent on defense to reach an elite level. He’ll cover a lot of ground in the middle of the field while also feeding in the space created by the Chargers' top two defensive linemen. Murray has the speed and strength to make an impact this year.

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 or in coverage in a trailing position. Tranquill is undersized (6’2” and 234 lbs.) with not much room for growth in his frame.

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 nine seasons in the league, Harris has 20 Ints and 88 defended passes. He returned four passes for touchdowns in his career. Harris also adds value in run support.

CB Casey Hayward

Over his first two years with the Chargers, Heyward had 11 interceptions and 22 defended passes, leading to an elite rating in pass coverage. His success led to fewer passes thrown his way in 2018 and 2019. Heyward will give up some TDs and big plays, but he tends to keep his receivers to a low catch rate. His play continues to be an asset in the run game.

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. James gives LA a third top player in the secondary while owning the skill set to be a top player in all areas.

S Nasir 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 QB can lead him into mistakes. Foresight and vision would go a long way in helping him reach a higher level in his career.

In his rookie season, he missed the final 12 games with a hamstring issue while seeing minimal action in the other four games.

There is a lot to like about this defense, and they have the talent across the boards to be a top-five fantasy defense. I love their addition in the drafts and via free agency, which points to improved play vs. the run. Their pass defense already had the talent to defend, which is helped by a short passing window created by their defensive ends.

Fantasy owners in the early draft season have them priced as the 12th defense drafted. I view them as an excellent value in 2020, and their defense will help the Chargers steal some wins