Jul 21, 2017
In this ongoing column I’m going to look for veteran players that have one of the worst possible reputations in fantasy: boring. These are guys that we’ve all owned and moved on from, or guys we’ve passed over for too many rounds in a draft as we desperately search for the next breakout player in our never ending quest to prove to our league mates that we are smarter than them. But every year there are guys who give great value in the middle rounds or later, and can outperform their ADP solely due to drafter fatigue.
Last year the Chargers were hit early and often by the injury bug. They lost Branden Oliver with an Achilles injury in the preseason, Keenan Allen with an ACL injury in week 1, Danny Woodhead with a knee in week 2, Melvin Gordon missed three games with a hip injury, and Antonio Gates missed two games completely and only started in 9 dealing with a hamstring injury and old age. Rivers was forced to work with rookies and unproven guys on the roster and was still able to finish with the 9th best scoring offense in the league. There is room for optimism when it comes to Rivers as the newly relocated Los Angeles Chargers have made several improvements in the draft, and should also benefit from some better luck on the injury front.
Let’s start by looking at the offensive line that he’ll be working with heading into this year. The Chargers had a relatively healthy group on the line compared to the rest of the roster but the old saying, “Sometimes the best ability is availability,” applies here. Per Pro Football Focus, the group up front was rated as the second worst line in the league at the end of 2016 behind only Seattle’s slow motion train wreck. During the draft Los Angeles was able to acquire two potential starters with Forrest Lamp falling into their lap at 38 overall in the second round and Dan Feeney being taken at 71 overall in the 3rd round. Both guys will compete right away with many projecting Lamp to start. The improvement has already been noted as shown in the graphic above with LAC earning a consensus #21 rank on their new line.
The skill positions are where Rivers’ potential starts to come through. Despite the rash of injuries Rivers did bear witness to the emergence of 2015 first round pick Melvin Gordon. After a disappointing rookie year, Gordon established himself as one of the most promising young backs in the league, finishing in the top 10 in rushing attempts, rushing yards per game, rushing TDs, and yards from scrimmage, and all that despite starting in only 11 games and missing the last three games of the season with a hip injury. He is poised to come back even better and could give Rivers his best all-around weapon in the backfield since Ryan Matthews’ Pro Bowl year in 2013. Below is a comparison of Gordon’s 2016 stats and Matthews’ 2013 numbers.
A good rushing attack will always make the QBs job easier, and 2013 also has another bit of significance: it was the last year Rivers was a top 6 fantasy QB. There is no threat to Gordon’s playing time and he should see plenty of action, even on third downs. Simply put, he looks to be the most talented RB the Chargers have had since LT was dominating the fantasy world.
As nice as a good rushing attack is, the receivers are who will really determine the type of season Rivers has in 2017. He will be getting Keenan Allen back in the lineup, who stacks up well with most teams’ top receivers. After finishing as a top 20 WR as a rookie, and suffering a bit of a sophomore slump, Allen was in position to become a top 10 WR after averaging 90.6 yds/game in half a season. Even in the game that he suffered his knee injury, he had 6 catches for 63 yards on 7 targets in the first half. Despite his reputation of being injury prone, his injuries have been more fluky than normal hamstring pulls or ankle sprains. He has had a broken clavicle, a kidney injury, and a torn ACL cause him to miss games. Nothing in his injury history is something that would be cause for long term concern and even the ACL injury should be well behind him by the time the season starts. He has been practicing with the team and Rivers himself has said that he looks to be the same guy he was before. He will be joined by Tyrell Williams, who had a breakout season of his own while Allen was hurt last year, and returning veteran receivers Dontrelle Inman and Travis Benjamin, as well as rising young TE Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates. LA will actually return their top 6 target recipients from last year, and could be boosted further by the addition of first round pick Mike Williams, although his future is currently uncertain due to a back injury. Looking ahead at River’s schedule shows nice matchups late in the season, with week 11-16 having only KC as a secondary to worry about and nice dates with CLE, WAS, and NYJ in weeks 13, 14, and 16. Nice targets to solidify a playoff spot and win a fantasy title.
Rivers has the pieces in place to have a top ten season, and could match his career high 6th place fantasy finish from 2013. There also has been no slip in skill set when it comes to Rivers and he hasn’t missed a game since he took over as the starter for the Chargers. He doesn’t rely on rushing numbers to bolster his fantasy profile, and should have an improved skill position group and offensive line. While his team was one of the hardest hit with injuries, he still managed to post top 5 numbers in yards and TDs. He posted the highest INT% of his career, a number which was a full percentage point over his career average so some regression is to be expected. Drop his INT numbers to match his career 2.6% INT%, and he jumps from QB16 to QB9, right behind Dak Prescott, without factoring in any additional yards or TDs those additional drives might have produced. If you wait on a QB, and are looking for someone with top 10 upside in the QB12-18 range, go after Phillip Rivers.More Articles