Los Angeles Chargers Fantasy Football 2017 Preview: Fear Philip Rivers's Schedule

Wednesday August 2nd, 2017

Condolences to the good people of San Diego on the loss of their NFL team. For what it’s worth, the rest of us are having a hard time saying “Los Angeles Chargers.” And on the bright side, you still have the Gaslamp Quarter, fish tacos and the best weather of any major city in America.

Wide Receivers

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Keenan Allen WR19 WR27 Pain avoidance
Tyrell Williams WR44 WR38 Gobble up
Mike Williams WR55 WR82 Please, child

Keenan Allen is a glass pitcher perched on the edge of a kitchen counter. He is a rickety ladder on a windy day. He is a pair of scissors lying akimbo on the floor of a kindergarten classroom.

And yet drafters can’t stay away.

Fantasy owners are drawn to Allen like moths to a surgical lamp. They’re certain a watershed Allen season is just around the corner, and they want it to happen so, so badly. Thing is, Allen has a medical history to rival Cavity Sam, the eternal surgical patient in the game of Operation. Allen missed the last two games of 2014 with a broken collarbone, lost half of his 2015 season to a lacerated kidney, then tore his ACL just before halftime of the 2016 season opener. A lot of fantasy owners look at Allen and are more impressed by his pace numbers the last few years than they are alarmed by his injury history. The problem is that Allen doesn’t score a lot of TDs (16 in 38 career games) or get a lot of big gains (just 10.5 yards per catch since 2014). That means he needs to catch a boatload of passes in order to pay off for fantasy owners, yet it seems highly unlikely that Allen’s body would be able to withstand the sort of physical punishment that would accompany a 150-target, 95-catch season. And, hey, let’s not forget that in 2014, the last time Allen played anything close to a full season, he basically stunk out loud.

Allen has a Fantasy Football Calculator ADP is WR19. I’m giving him a wide berth in 2017 drafts.

Behold the power of draft capital: Tyrell Williams, an undrafted free agent in 2015, had 69 catches for 1,059 yards and seven touchdowns last year, but for much of the summer, his ADP lagged behind that of Mike Williams, a rookie from Clemson taken with the seventh overall pick. Tyrell’s ADP has vaulted past Mike’s in recent weeks, only because Mike is dealing with a back issue that may or may not require surgery.

Mike Williams is 6-4, 218 pounds, and his best trait is his ability to make contested catches. He may need to leverage that trait frequently, as his speed is only in the 4.5-4.6 range, and he doesn’t get rave reviews for his route-running. Williams was impressive in his final year at Clemson, with 98 catches for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns, but he faces a great deal of target competition in his rookie season, and he’s already lost valuable reps because of the back issue. He’s a sucker play at his asking price.

I’m far more interested in Tyrell Williams than Mike Williams despite Tyrell’s humble stock. (He played his college ball at Western Oregon.) Tyrell is nearly as big as Mike (6-3, 204), he’s faster (4.48) and, most important, he spent the 2016 season kicking ass and taking names at the NFL level. I’m targeting him at his bargain-bin ADP.

Tight Ends

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Hunter Henry TE9 TE15 Fade
Antonio Gates TE18 TE17 Pay homage

Hunter Henry’s ADP of TE9 is hard to fathom. People like names with consonance, perhaps? Henry scored eight touchdowns as a rookie but did so on only 36 receptions and 53 targets. He’s a fine prospect with a sunny future, but it’s hard to see how Henry can significantly boost his target total. Fellow tight end Antonio Gates is back for another go-round, Allen will command ample targets (when healthy), and one or both of the Williamses will be involved. With Henry’s TD rate almost certain to drop, he looks as overpriced as a martini in an L.A. cocktail lounge.

At age 37, Gates is no longer very appealing to drafters. His ADP is outside the top 15 at tight end, even though he posted a 53-548-7 stat line in 14 games last year. Gates’ declining yardage per catch and catch rate suggest that his fuel light has come on, but I think he’s still draftable in bigger leagues where backup tight ends are de rigueur, and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if Gates outproduced Henry this year.

Quarterbacks

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Philip Rivers QB13 QB16 Fear his schedule

The man triggering the Chargers’ passing game is Philip Rivers, father of eight. Yes, eight. Think about that for a moment. I only have two kids, and there are days when they leave me so frazzled that I can hardly process a Burger King menu, let alone complicated NFL coverage schemes. I don’t know how Rivers keeps it together. Here’s to you, Philip.

Rivers carries an ADP of QB13. Since the 2013 season, he’s finished QB4, QB12, QB12 and QB11. He has a wealth of pass-catching options. On the surface, he looks like a solid value at his current price.

Not so fast.

As noted by Mike Tagliere of FantasyPros.com (@MikeTagliereNFL), Rivers has a murderous early-season schedule. In his first nine games, he faces the Broncos twice (including the season opener), along with the Chiefs, Giants, Patriots and Jaguars. It can be folly to make strength-of-schedule projections in the summer months, but those are all teams that fantasy owners will most likely be trying to avoid with their passing-game matchups this season. I’d only consider drafting Rivers in leagues with rosters so deep that owners can carry backup quarterbacks without paying a steep opportunity cost.

Running Backs

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Melvin Gordon RB5 RB7 Draft around

Full disclosure: I’m a University of Wisconsin grad and therefore have a man-crush on Melvin Gordon. The dreadlocked running back delivered much joy to Badger fans during his time in Madison, and I’ll always think of him fondly. But I have similar feelings about Ron Dayne, who was an unmitigated NFL bust.

After scoring zero touchdowns as a rookie, Gordon had 12 TDs and 1,416 yards from scrimmage in 13 games last season. He averaged just under 20 carries per game, trailing only Le’Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott in that category. With a pedestrian group of career backups behind him, Gordon has the job security of a tenured professor. So, surf’s up, right? Early drafters seem to think so. Gordon has an ADP of RB5 and is coming off the board eighth overall on average.

We’ve already seen wild fluctuation in Gordon’s TD production, so another season of double-digit touchdowns is hardly bankable. Gordon has averaged under 4.0 yards per carry in each of his first two seasons, and his offensive line is slightly sketchy (though a transfusion of new blood should help). Gordon’s increased involvement in the passing game last year may have been a byproduct of the Allen injury. Gordon has missed time in each of his first two seasons and has already had microfracture surgery on his knee to repair torn cartilage. Setting man-love aside, I’ll be drafting around Gordon this year rather than lapping him up at a first-round cost.

As noted above, the backs behind Gordon are a ragtag bunch. Brandon Oliver is the probable No. 2, but he’s not draftable in average-sized leagues and would only become interesting if Gordon went down. Kenneth Farrow, Kenjon Barner and (ugh) Andre Williams are also photo-bombing the Chargers’ RB picture.

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