Los Angeles Chargers Buying Guide

With fantasy draft day fast approaching, Pat Fitzmaurice is taking a team-by-team look at every key player’s fantasy value relative to his current ADP (average draft position). We move over to the AFC West and the Los Angeles Chargers who have a new home but a lot of old fantasy staples. 

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 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 160-target, 100-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 WR16. 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 his July ADP (WR53) lagged that of Mike Williams (WR46), a rookie from Clemson taken with the seventh overall pick.

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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 in the 4.5-4.6 range and he doesn’t get rave reviews for his route-running. A back injury will keep Williams out until at least October, and it seems unlikely that he’ll be fantasy-viable as a rookie, even though he had 98 catches for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns in his final season at Clemson.

I’m infatuated with Tyrell Williams despite his humble stock (he played his college ball at Western Oregon), and I’m not the least bit concerned that Tyrell could lose snaps to Mike upon Mike’s return. 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-priced ADP.

Hunter Henry’s ADP of TE10 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 the Williamses will be involved. With his TD rate almost certain to drop, Henry 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 was outside the top 25 at tight end for much of the summer, even though he posted a 53-548-7 stat line in 14 games last year. Declining yardage per catch and catch rate suggest that Gates’ 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.

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.

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. I also have Gordon ranked RB5, but I don’t think there’s more than a sliver of daylight between Gordon and the RB9 on my board, Jordan Howard, and you could easily make a case for taking Devonta Freeman, DeMarco Murray or Jay Ajayi over Gordon.

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.

Philip Rivers QB13 QB15 Fear his schedule
Melvin Gordon RB5 RB5 Draft around
Keenan Allen WR16 WR23 Pain avoidance
Mike Williams WR108 Maybe next year
Tyrell Williams WR40 WR31 Gobble up
Hunter Henry TE10 TE13 Fade
Antonio Gates TE16 TE17 Pay homage