The Roundtable Series of the SI.com fantasy football draft kit will ask our writers a pressing question in the fantasy football world. In this installment, SI’s Michael Beller and Evan Lazar, and 4 For 4’s Jennifer Eakins consider the following:
The Saints, Steelers and Chargers all have players ranked as a QB1, RB1 and WR1 in both 4for4's and SI's rankings. Which team will provide the best fantasy scoring environment for its down-ticket players this season?
Michael Beller: There’s not really a wrong answer here, and I’d love to have a piece of all three of these offenses. With that said, I think the Chargers have the best environment for their lower-profile players. Yes, the Saints have more options down the ticket, headlined by Cameron Meredith, Ted Ginn and Ben Watson. The problem, however, is that the big names, Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara and, eventually Mark Ingram, suck up so much of the oxygen in the offense. Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen are high-volume players, too, but with Hunter Henry out for the season, there’s still a lot of production to go around in the Chargers’ offense. Philip Rivers has been around for so long without winning an MVP or playing deep into the playoffs that we take him for granted. That’s a mistake. The guy delivers every season, putting up at least 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns in nine of the last 10 years. The team addressed its only offensive weakness by signing left tackle Russell Okung and center Mike Pouncey to bolster the line.
Ken Whisenhunt flopped as a head coach with the Titans, but he has been the offensive coordinator or head coach for an offense ranked in the top 10 in yards four times—including last year—and top 10 in points four times, as well. He has had a top-10 passing offense six times, including all three years he has coached Rivers, and last year, the Chargers ranked first in passing offense and sixth in passing touchdowns. I’ll be shocked if at least one of Tyrell Willams and Mike Williams doesn’t easily outperform his ADP, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if both of them did it. Virgil Green is a top the tight end depth chart for now, but the rumors of an Antonio Gates return are getting louder. He, too, would be relevant in all fantasy formats should he come out of what would be a brief retirement to rejoin the Chargers. The Saints and Steelers could prove to be better offenses, but the Chargers will be best to their complementary players.
Evan Lazar: I’m going with the New Orleans Saints. Why? Sean Payton and Drew Brees. Although Steelers wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster is the best down-ticket player in this exercise, I have more faith in the Saints play calling and quarterback to spread around the wealth. After all, the Saints did have two running backs rank in the top six in fantasy points at the position and two top-35 receivers (Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn) last year, and now have tight end Ben Watson back in the mix, who was the No. 11 tight end in a much worse offensive environment last season in Baltimore. Watson had a career year for the Saints in 2015 when he was fantasy’s No. 7 tight end, setting career-highs in targets, receptions, yards and fantasy points, while tying a career-high in touchdowns.
Don’t sleep on wideouts Cam Meredith, Ted Ginn, Brandon Coleman and Austin Carr as late-round sleepers. Meredith, in particular, presents great value at his current ADP as a late-round flier. The former Bears receiver is coming off a lost season after tearing his ACL in the team’s third preseason game, but, when healthy, he starred in Chicago in 2016. Meredith will likely replace Willie Snead in the slot for New Orleans, a spot in the Saints’ offense that has produced big-time fantasy contributors in the past. The Steelers typically ride the killer B’s to victories, and the jury is still out on the Chargers’ coaching staff. I put my faith in the proven offensive coach in Payton, and a quarterback that we know will throw to the open man, or willingly hand the ball off, in Brees.
Jennifer Eakins: While all of these teams have the potential for fantasy greatness in 2018, I’m rolling with the Chargers here. First, Los Angeles has a favorable schedule. 4for4’s Hot Spot tool grades 14 of their 16 matchups as “moderately weak” or “very weak” defenses. By using adjusted fantasy points allowed, or aFPA, we remove schedule bias in an effort to level the playing field and compare matchups in an apples-to-apples manner.
Beller hit on the secondary players already, so I’ll focus on why the stars should come through for fantasy owners. Philip Rivers is coming off a 2017 campaign in which he posted 4,515 passing yards, the second-most in the NFL, and ended the season ranked seventh among quarterbacks in standard-scoring fantasy leagues. Rivers’ AFC West opponents give him the friendliest division schedule among the three quarterbacks in question, measured by quarterback aFPA. Oakland, Denver and Kansas City had an average quarterback aFPA last season of 16 points allowed, while defenses in the NFC South and AFC North had aFPAs of 13.33 and 15.23, respectively. Rivers is working with a healthy receiving corps, minus Hunter Henry who’s sidelined for the season due to an ACL injury he suffered in OTAs. As Beller said, the Chargers improved the offensive line, as well, and Rivers could be playing behind one of the best units he has had up front in his career.
Melvin Gordon is projected to score the fewer fantasy points than Le’Veon Bell and Alvin Kamara, but has the greatest potential to help you win your leagues come playoff time. The Chargers face the 31st- and 32nd-ranked defenses in running back aFPA between Weeks 14 and 16, while Bell and Kamara’s opponents all sit inside the top-18 in that category. He’s coming off a combined 1,581-yard season where he finished sixth among running backs in touches and 10th in targets, and could see an uptick in target share with the loss of Henry.
Keenan Allen, meanwhile, racked up 1,393 receiving yards and six touchdowns, which translated to a top-three performance in PPR fantasy points at the wideout position. At just 25-years old, he’s primed for another solid effort as Rivers’ go-to guy in the Chargers’ offense. Once again, divisional matchups should come into play as the AFC West is a bit softer when it comes to defending wide receivers than teams in the AFC North and NFC South. The Chiefs are tied for dead last in wideout aFPA, with the Raiders boasting a ranking of 24th. Denver’s defense is ranked third versus opposing wide receivers, but fortunately for fantasy owners, L.A. heads to Denver for their second tilt in Week 17, after fantasy season has come to an end. Antonio Brown’s division is vicious, with rankings of seventh, sixth and fourth in the NFL in wideout aFPA, while Michael Thomas’ NFC South opponents check in with an average ranking of 23rd.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d take each member of these offenses on my roster without question in 2018, but feel that the Chargers have the best chance for elite team-wide success.