Football’s back. If you’re like many Americans around the country, you’re pretty excited about this.
You also may be among the roughly 75 million people who play fantasy football, which means that, with preseason games now complete, there’s a good chance you’re drafting your team this weekend. This entails player evaluations, pre-draft rankings, and mock drafts galore.
Now, if you’re anything like me, you enjoy the chance to grab a hometown San Diego Chargers player or two. And though the pickings may be slim in terms of true matchup-winning talents, there are more than a few players on the team who warrant consideration as Bolts backers complete their line-ups ahead of the NFL season opener next Thursday.
QB: Philip Rivers
ESPN Ranking: QB11
Yahoo Ranking: QB9
Key 2015 stats: 4,792 passing yards, 29 passing touchdowns, 13 interceptions; 28 rushing yards, 0 rushing touchdowns
Analysis: The 34-year old Chargers’ QB is nothing if not consistent, throwing for at least 4,000 yards and playing 16 games in every season since 2008. Last year, the North Carolina State product had arguably the best season of his career, finishing second in the league in passing yards despite losing top wide receiver Keenan Allen to an injury halfway through the campaign. Given that quarterbacks often age far better than players at other positions, owners should feel confident picking Rivers in 2016. While he certainly isn’t among the elite at the position, especially when considering the hopeful resurgence of Melvin Gordon after a disappointing (to put it lightly) rookie year, Rivers should provide solid value for owners who decide to wait to draft a quarterback. Pair him with an upper-echelon QB2 (Tyrod Taylor or Matthew Stafford, perhaps) and you should be more than set.
RB: Melvin Gordon
ESPN Ranking: RB24
Yahoo Ranking: RB21
Key 2015 stats: 641 rushing yards, 3.5 yards per carry; 33 receptions, 192 receiving yards; 0 touchdowns
Analysis: It’d be tough to say that Melvin Gordon underwhelmed in 2015 without accompanying such a statement with a knowing smirk. You and I scored as many touchdowns as he did last year. That’s just not very good. Luckily, Gordon appears set to rebound nicely in 2016. An offensive line improved by the addition of center Matt Slauson and hopefully not stricken by the injury concerns of previous seasons should open up more holes for Gordon, who struggled to create plays for himself last year. Preseason results have been promising, with Gordon breaking off big runs against both the Vikings and the Titans. Despite the former Wisconsin Badger’s 2015 struggles, this is still a player who contended for a Heisman in college. With frustrating memories of his prior performance likely suppressing his value, Gordon looks like a great bargain for owners as a bounce back candidate with the skills to be a potential every-week starter.
RB: Danny Woodhead
ESPN Ranking: RB26
Yahoo Ranking: RB33
Key 2015 stats: 336 rushing yards, 3.4 yards per carry; 80 receptions, 755 receiving yards; nine touchdowns
Analysis: There’s no doubt about it – Danny Woodhead can catch the football. As a result, a large part of the diminutive runner’s value depends on what kind of league you play in. In standard leagues, Woodhead is likely nothing more than a late-round handcuff to grab in the chance that Gordon’s struggles continue long enough for him to lose playing time. However, in point-per-reception leagues, Woodhead skyrockets into the upper tier of players regardless of position. The veteran should be a stalwart of the offense on third down and in the red zone, making him worthy of a roster spot whether he’ll earn you points with his receptions or not. If you will get credit for his catches, though, you should have no problem reaching for the 5’8” veteran. He’ll be good as a back-up. If he manages to wrest some playing time from Melvin Gordon, watch out.
WR: Keenan Allen
ESPN ranking: WR16
Yahoo ranking: WR8
Key 2015 stats: 67 receptions, 725 yards, four touchdowns
Analysis: Keenan Allen approached his 2014 numbers in half as many games last season before losing his season to a lacerated kidney suffered in a game against the Ravens. On pace for 134 catches prior to the injury, owners should expect more of the same in 2016. Largely a possession receiver, Allen should be complemented nicely by offseason addition Travis Benjamin, whose talent and speed down the field will distract defensive backs from focusing on Allen while opening up the middle for slants and crossing routes from the fourth-year man out of Cal. The 24-year old Chargers’ receiver looks to be one of the safer options at wide receiver this year and, barring another injury, should have no problem delivering on owners’ high expectations in 2016.
WR: Travis Benjamin
ESPN ranking: WR48
Yahoo ranking: WR44
Key 2015 stats: 68 receptions, 966 yards, five touchdowns
Analysis: In response to the retirement of longtime Chargers WR Malcolm Floyd, the Bolts made a point of bringing in a worthy replacement for him with the signing of former Cleveland Brown Travis Benjamin. Benjamin broke out last season and should continue that success this year. While his tendency towards the big play may lead to some week-to-week inconsistency, owners can count on a handful of matchup-winning games from the former Miami Hurricane. Philip Rivers has a reputation for success with the long ball (remember what he did with that Vincent Jackson guy?), and as the later rounds of the draft approach, Benjamin should definitely be considered as a bench option with occasional starter potential.
TE: Antonio Gates
ESPN Ranking: TE10
Yahoo Ranking: TE10
Key 2015 stats: 56 receptions, 630 yards, five touchdowns
Analysis: A future Hall of Famer, Gates will continue to feature as a regular part of the Chargers’ passing attack. He has a palpable relationship with Rivers through the air, and though he may lack the explosion and physical dominance of years past, the former basketball player certainly still has the football IQ to put up solid numbers. Yes, the 36-year old is certainly accompanied by some injury concerns. However, his excellence close to the goal line should result in ample red zone volume. Given the other players at the position around him (including Zach Ertz, Gary Barnidge, and Martellus Bennett), Gates offers a safe, if unspectacular, option at tight end in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft.
Defense: Chargers D/ST
ESPN ranking: DST27
Yahoo ranking: NR
Key 2015 stats: 32 sacks, 20 turnovers forced, one touchdown, 24.9 points allowed per game
Analysis: The fact that Yahoo appears to not even mention the Chargers in their positional rankings should tell you everything you need to know about the Bolts’ defensive unit. The additions of Joey Bosa and Brandon Mebane should help along the line, but the defense ultimately appears to lack any true difference makers outside of cornerback Jason Verrett. The team has a handful of soft match-ups during the season (Weeks 6 and 8 against the Broncos, Week 9 against the Titans, and Week 16 against the Browns) and bear monitoring as a streaming option over the course of the season, but the unit is ultimately one to avoid in drafts this year.
K: Josh Lambo
ESPN Ranking: K24
Yahoo ranking: K17
Key 2015 stats: 26/32 field goals, 28/32 extra points, five 50+ yard field goals
Analysis: Let’s be honest, kickers don’t totally matter in the big picture of fantasy football. The variation between top and bottom options at the position is minimal at best. However, it wouldn’t be a Chargers preview without mentioning the former MLS goalkeeper, Josh Lambo. Lambo’s power leg and the fact that he will largely avoid the rain and snow of East Coast cities as the season progresses are both positives. However, the Chargers have more than a few weapons near the goal line, meaning fewer easy field goal attempts for Lambo. Ultimately, this is a pick you could make to get a Charger on your team, but that’s about the only major difference that Lambo will make on your roster.
Homer or not, the Chargers certainly have a handful of worthwhile options for prospective fantasy owners. Rivers and Allen are by far the most dependable, but Woodhead and Gordon should also be productive for owners. In deeper leagues, don’t forget about rookie tight end Hunter Henry, who would be set up for success in the event of a Gates injury, and WR3 Tyrell Williams, a second-year man who impressed with his play during the preseason.
Noah is a current undergraduate at the University of San Diego. In addition to his classes as a Business Economics student, Noah serves as the scouting director for the nationally-ranked USD baseball team and as an NFL correspondent with The Mighty 1090. You can follow him on Twitter @thebackseatlamp