2021 Los Angeles Chargers Fantasy Team Outlook: Justin Herbert Expectations High for Good Reason

A fantasy football breakdown of the Los Angeles Chargers by high-stakes legend Shawn Childs.
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Coaching

Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley

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 linebackers 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 '14 and '15 (only seven games before getting fired). Lombardi coached in New Orleans in '09 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 '10 before hanging up his cleats for a coaching job. From '18 to '20, Hill was a defensive backs coach for the Dolphins and Broncos. He’ll have a lot to prove based on his short résumé 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.

Free Agency

The Chargers lost TE Hunter Henry to the Patriots 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 New England in the passing game. Over his first four seasons, 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-19 knocked him out of the final two games.

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Los Angeles replaced him with TE Jared Cook. His catch total in 2019 (43) and '20 (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 during 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.

Draft

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.

CB Asante Samuel Jr. 

His best play comes working over the short areas of the field, where he shows playmaking 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.

WR Josh Palmer

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.

TE Tre' McKitty

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.

DE Chris Rumph

Rumph is a development pass rusher who needs to get strong and add more bulk to win in the trenches. 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.

T Brenden Jaimes

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.

LB Nick Niemann

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 ballcarriers.

RB Larry Rountree

Rountree 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. Rountree won’t offer upside in the passing game.

S Mark Webb

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.


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Offensive Line

The Chargers fell to 18th 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).

L.A. ranked sixth in passing yards (4,548). Their offensive line allowed 34 sacks. The Chargers finished with 31 passing touchdowns and 10 interceptions, with receivers gaining more than 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 L.A. 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 résumé 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 10-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 as of late.

OL Snapshot

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 many more questions in run blocking.

Offense

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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% of the time.

Quarterbacks

Justin Herbert

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 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. Outside of their best three players on offense (Herbert, Austin Ekeler and Allen), Los Angeles is lacking offensively and somebody has to step up for Herbert's production to come close to reaching its full potential. 

Herbert projects to be the seventh quarterback off the table this year. I don't love the value because fantasy fans expect him to duplicate last year with only some modest improvements in the offensive line. Herbert looks poised to gain more than 5,000 combined yards with 35 scores with another game added to the schedule.

Other Options: Chase Daniel, Easton Stick

Running Backs

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The Chargers’ running backs combined for 2,463 combined yards last year with 10 touchdowns and 128 catches. Improvement at quarterback led to a slight decrease in receiving production (128/890/4 on 157 targets). Their running backs have seen a decline in yards per rush and yards per catch over the past two seasons.

Austin Ekeler

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, he averaged 18.10 fantasy points, which would have been the fourth-highest running back ranking in PPR leagues. Ekeler gained more than 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+ catches with 1,500 combined yards and midlevel scores.

Justin Jackson

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, 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 résumé in college (122/858/1 over 51 games). A viable handcuff to Ekeler, but Jackson needs to stay healthy.

Joshua Kelley

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.

Last year he had four games with more than 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.

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.

Larry Rountree

Over four seasons at Missouri, Rountree 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 Option: Darius Bradwell

Wide Receivers

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Los Angeles set a three-year high in catches (203), receiving yards (2,730), touchdowns (19) and targets (325) for their wide receivers. The lack of depth at wideout led to only 49.2% of the catch opportunity in 2020.

Keenan Allen

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 player 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 of 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 catchability set a high floor in many weeks while also offering explosiveness. Allen has the game to catch 120+ balls for 1,300 yards with five to seven touchdowns.

Mike Williams

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 '19). 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 nonplayable scores (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 the coaching staff and the loss of Hunter Henry points to Williams's 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.

Jalen Guyton

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 more than 20 yards, and four of those catches reached the 40-yard mark. He had 12 games with two catches or fewer.

Fantasy Outlook: Only a big-play threat with a minimal opportunity.

Tyron Johnson

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 more than 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).

Other Options: Joe Reed, Josh Palmer, K.J. Hill, Jason Moore, Austin Proehl

Tight Ends

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Los Angeles looked to its 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).

Jared Cook

Cook scored 22 touchdowns over his last 45 games while gaining more than 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 Options: Tre' McKitty, Donald Parham, Stephen Anderson

Kicker

Michael Badgley

Over his first two seasons, 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%) and 50% 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.

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Defense

L.A. finished 18th in rushing yards allowed (1,917) with 17 rushing touchdowns and 13 runs more than 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 more than 20 yards.

DE Joey Bosa

Over 59 games, 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 in 2016.

DE Jerry Tillery

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 with multiple seasons on his résumé 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 has only 1.5 sacks. His run defense pushed to a high level in 2020 with growth in his tackles (34).

LB Uchenna Nwosu

Over his first three years, Nwosu had 92 tackles and 10 sacks. His role change to a hybrid DE/OLB pass rusher in this scheme could be a big boon for his production.

LB Kenneth Murray

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 had only three starts. He played well at times vs. the run while failing to pick up a sack. 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, 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

Derwin James catches the ball

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 '20 with a right knee injury that required surgery. His ceiling is high if James can stay on the field.

S Nasir Adderley

Over 15 games last year, he made 69 tackles with one interception and three defended passes. His run defense fell into a favorable area.

Fantasy Defense Snapshot

The cornerback position is moving in the wrong direction in Los Angeles, and the depth of its 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. 

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