Fitz on Fantasy: 2019 Los Angeles Chargers Buying Guide

During the preseason TFG fantasy expert Pat Fitzmaurice is breaking down the prospects for all 32 teams. Click here for a running list of teams, and check back often as teams are added on an almost daily basis. On to the Los Angeles Chargers…

The Melvin Gordon holdout, still dragging on as of this writing, is bothersome on several fronts.

It’s annoying for the Chargers, who are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball and have the look of a Super Bowl contender. We saw the Chargers’ toughness and resilience last year in Week 15, when they rallied from a two-touchdown deficit late in the fourth quarter to knock off the Chiefs on the road in one of the best games of the year, 29-28, getting a touchdown and a two-point conversion with four seconds left in regulation. The Chargers beat the Ravens on the road three weeks later in the wild-card round of the playoffs before being outgunned by the Patriots in New England.

By sitting out, Gordon could fritter away an opportunity for a banner season. The Chargers’ airtight defense should give them a lot of game scripts favorable to the running game, and Gordon has shown that he can handle a heavy workload.

And of course, Gordon’s holdout is frustrating to the fantasy community, which entered peak draft season with the status of two top running backs (Gordon and Ezekiel Elliott) in limbo.

Since his zero-TD rookie season, Gordon has finished RB7, RB5 and RB7 in fantasy scoring (half-point PPR) despite missing three games in 2016 and four games in 2018. He’s averaged 12.7 touchdowns a season over that stretch and has topped 400 receiving yards in three straight seasons.

I had Gordon ranked RB6 before the holdout. He’s now my RB19. As I’ve mentioned in other installments of the Buying Guide series, my philosophy on risk-taking in fantasy football is that strength loves certainty and weakness loves risk. Translated: If you think you’re good at fantasy football, don’t trifle with a star player who’s holding out. If you play in a tough league and feel like a fish in a shark tank, a discounted Melvin Gordon is exactly the sort of risk you should take to give yourself a fighting chance against tough competition.

Austin Ekeler will have stand-alone fantasy value even if Gordon ends his holdout before the opener. A dual run-catch threat, Ekeler turned 145 touches into 958 scrimmage yards and six touchdowns last year. In his two NFL seasons, he’s averaged 5.3 yards per carry and 10.3 yards per catch. Ekeler was undrafted despite well-above-average speed, burst and agility, probably because he’s 5-9, weighs less than 200 pounds and played college football for Western State (since renamed Western Colorado University).

For as long as Gordon remains out, Ekeler should have RB2 value at minimum and could conceivably play his way into RB1 range. I conservatively have him at RB29, and you could justify taking him a little earlier than that. Even if Gordon returns soon, you could still feel good about playing Ekeler in a flex spot most weeks, especially in Gordon’s first few games back, since the Chargers would surely manage his workload carefully until they were confident in his level of fitness.

When Gordon missed three games with a sprained MCL late last season, Justin Jackson averaged 67.3 scrimmage yards and scored two TDs over that span. Jackson had 58 rushing yards, 27 receiving yards and a touchdown in that dramatic Week 15 victory over the Chiefs when both Gordon and Ekeler were out.

Jackson went undrafted last year but was a versatile workhorse at Northwestern. He should get significant usage if Gordon remains out. Jackson might get some change-of-pace work even after Gordon returns, and an injury to either Gordon or Ekeler would immediately thrust Jackson right back into a meaningful role. I have him ranked RB48.

There’s been no discernible drop-off in the performance of 37-year-old Philip Rivers, who completed 68.3% of his throws last year and averaged 8.7 yards per attempt – the second-best and third-best marks, respectively, of his 15-year career. He’s now made 208 consecutive starts.

Rivers will forever be linked to Eli Manning, since the two quarterbacks were swapped in arguably the biggest draft day trade of all time. Eli has won two Super Bowls, so Giants fans can’t be unhappy with how that deal turned out. But while 2004 Rivers Reserve still drinks nicely – well-balanced with notes of cherry and vanilla – the wine in Eli’s bottle has turned to vinegar.

Over the last five seasons, Rivers has finished QB12, QB12, QB14, QB8 and QB11 in fantasy scoring. I have him at QB17. That’s not a diss. The QB position is flat, and Rivers slots behind a bunch of guys with higher upsides. Rivers doesn’t play in a pass-happy offense and offers all the rushing potential of the Statue of David. But Rivers’ floor is as sturdy as they come, and I’d be content with him as my starter if I could get him after hammering the other positions for 10-plus rounds.

I used to freak out about Keenan Allen being an injury risk. He missed 25 games over a three-season span from 2014 to 2016, but some of the injuries that kept him out were fluky. 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. He’s now played 16 games in consecutive seasons, so I’m not as worried about his health (though I do think there’s a slightly elevated risk of him coming to harm since he works the middle of the field so often.)

If health isn’t an issue, then the only real nit to pick with Allen is the lack of touchdowns. He’s found the end zone six times in each of the last two years and has scored 28 TDs in 70 career games. A spike in TDs isn’t out of the question, but Rivers has a couple of physically larger targets he can look to in the end zone. (More on them in a minute.)

Still, there’s so much to like here. Allen is one of the true artists at the position – the Renoir of route-runners. He finished WR3 in fantasy scoring in 2017 and WR11 last year. His target shares the last two seasons: 27.9% and 26.9%. Allen is such a target hog that Jimmy Dean Foods tried to trade for him. And it’s possible the target volume could climb even higher if the Gordon holdout lingers.

It would be nice if Allen scored more TDs and was used on deeper routes, but the target volume is secure. In PPR leagues, Allen is a nice option at around the second-round/third-round turn.

Mike Williams was extraordinarily fortunate last year to have 10 TD catches on only 43 receptions. Regression, regression, regression. Blah, blah, blah. Yes, but there’s still good reason to be excited.

Williams’ average depth of target was 15.59 yards, according to Pro Football Focus – ninth-highest among WRs with 50 or more targets – and yet he had an outstanding 65.1% catch rate. That’s some impressive downfield efficiency. Tyrell Williams left in free agency and the Chargers didn’t sign or draft anyone of significance to replace him.

The selection of Mike Williams with the seventh overall pick of the 2017 draft looked dubious after his injury-plagued, 11-reception rookie season. It looked a lot less dubious when Williams was scoring three touchdowns in the wild December win over the Chiefs, including one on an electric 19-yard reverse. (He actually had 11 TDs last year when you add the run.) The 6-4, 220 pound Williams is a playmaker, and I’m on board with his ADP of WR26.

Hunter Henry seemed destined for a 2018 breakout before tearing his ACL in spring OTAs. He’d been ascendant in 2016 and 2017, averaging 9.0 yards per target and scoring 12 TDs over those two seasons while sharing snaps with Antonio Gates.

Henry is now healthy and Gates-free, and the outlook is sunny. He’s part of a second tier of tight ends that also includes O.J. Howard and Evan Engram. I like Howard and Engram a little more than Henry, but there’s a big drop-off to the next TE tier, and I’d be happy to go into battle with Henry as my tight end.

Philip RiversQB17QB16QB17Solid value
Melvin GordonRB19RB21RB18Risky business
Austin EkelerRB29RB32RB31Sound investment
Justin JacksonRB48RB49RB56Opportunity
Keenan AllenWR9WR9WR11Blue-chip
Mike WilliamsWR25WR27WR26Arrow up
Hunter HenryTE6TE6TE6Worthwhile

ADP = Average Draft Position  ECR = Expert Consensus Ranking  (based on half-PPR scoring)