At 33 years of age and entering his 12th year in the league, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers hasn’t shown any signs of imminent decline. After suffering through a subpar 2012 campaign during which he threw for 3,606 yards with 26 touchdowns due mainly to the declining skill level of the players surrounding him, he has rebounded strongly in each of the past two seasons, throwing for more than 4,200 yards and over 30 touchdowns in both 2013 and 2014. With a full contingent of wide receivers last year in Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd and Eddie Royal together with tight end Antonio Gates, Rivers threw for 4,286 yards with 31 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, finishing the year as the 11th ranked fantasy quarterback. Somewhat inconsistent with eight games scoring fewer than 20 fantasy points in each of the past two seasons, Rivers is best utilized in tandem with another quarterback for fantasy purposes. With Stevie Johnson having replaced the departed Royal and rookie Melvin Gordon taking over for Ryan Mathews, the Chargers return a solid supporting cast that should help Rivers finish 2015 as a low end QB1 once again.
With Ryan Mathews taking his talents (and injury issues) to the Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason, the Chargers traded up in the 1st round of this year’s draft to select Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. With solid size at 6’1” and 213 pounds and possessing good but not great speed having run a 4.52-40, Gordon enters the NFL as a pure 1st and 2nd down runner due to his lack of ability as a pass receiver and in pass protection. However, on a solid Chargers offense featuring a bevy of massive offensive linemen, he rates as the top rookie running back for fantasy purposes, at least in redraft formats. And with little competition for the rushing down work from Danny Woodhead, Branden Oliver and Donald Brown, Gordon should approach 250 touches in his rookie season provided he doesn’t have any ball protection issues. He rates as a mid to lower tier RB2 with upside.
Coming off a career year in his first year as a Charger in 2013 when he caught 76 passes, gained 1,034 total yards and scored eight touchdowns, expectations were high for Woodhead entering the 2014 season. Then he suffered a broken fibula in Week 3 that ended his season. One of the game’s premier pass catchers out of the backfield, Woodhead is assured of handling most of that work once again in 2015 with rookie Melvin Gordon a work in progress with respect to pass protection, although Branden Oliver’s solid work out of the backfield clouds Woodhead’s expected role somewhat. A top 20 fantasy running back in both PPR and standard formats during his career year in 2013, the truth is that we aren’t sold on Woodhead as a player who will routinely top 1,000 yards, and a more realistic touchdown count is the 4-6 range (he averaged 5.5 from 2010-2013). He rates as a low end RB4 in standard scoring formats and a mid-tier RB3 in PPR formats.
An undrafted free agent last season, Oliver found a role in the Chargers offense when injuries struck Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead, and Donald Brown proved to be ineffective. A 5’8”, 202 pound runner not afraid to attack the middle of the defense, Oliver has decent speed and agility and put together back to back solid performances in Weeks 5 and 6 last season against the Jets and Raiders, topping 100 rushing yards and scoring in each game. However, he struggled badly in his six other games as a starter, finding the end zone just once and failing to top 71 yards in any game, finishing the season averaging just 3.6 yards per carry. Entering 2015, Oliver figures to battle with Woodhead for playing time behind rookie 1st round pick Melvin Gordon. With reports indicating that Gordon has struggled with pass protection, Oliver could siphon off a fair number of carries, but we have no illusions that he will open the season in the starting lineup. And although Oliver did catch 36 passes for 271 yards and a touchdown last season, Woodhead is still clearly the team’s best pass catcher out of the backfield. Since we expect Oliver would take over as the Chargers starter in the event of a Gordon injury, we rate Oliver as little more than a low end handcuff in 2015.
Well on his way to establishing himself as a 1st round bust after four years in the league, Brown put together a reasonably productive season with the Colts in 2013, gaining 537 yards and six touchdowns while averaging a healthy 5.3 yards per carry, earning himself a three-year, $10.5-million contract with the Chargers. Sure enough, he bombed in his first year in San Diego, gaining just 223 yards on 85 carries and failing to find the end zone as he struggled to produce when injuries limited Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead. Passed on the depth chart by Branden Oliver last season and with Woodhead once again healthy and Mathews having been replaced by 1st round pick Melvin Gordon, Brown may not even have a job come opening week. Oh wait, with the Chargers having committed a $3.25-million signing bonus to him last year, they have sent off signals that they remain committed to him in 2015.
After an outstanding rookie season as a 3rd round pick out of California during which he caught 71 passes for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns (on just 104 targets), Allen’s production took a big hit in 2014 as he caught 77 passes but for only 783 yards (10.2 yards per reception) and four touchdowns. With Malcom Floyd healthy for 16 games, Allen was left to handle the short and intermediate routes, a role he shared with Eddie Royal and tight end Antonio Gates. What’s in store for 2015? By all accounts, more of the same with Chargers head coach Mike McCoy committed to spreading the ball around on offense. While Allen’s skill set suggests that he will never emerge as an elite wide receiver in the league, we do expect him to rebound strongly from his sophomore struggles. With both Gates and Floyd entering the final stages of their careers (Floyd has already said that 2015 will be his final season in the league), Allen should at least match his target count of 121 from a year ago and if he can approach his efficiency from his rookie season, a 1,000 yard, 5-7 touchdown season seems likely. That makes him a mid to lower tier WR2 in 2015.
Coming back from a neck injury that sidelined him for 14 games during the 2013 season, Floyd enjoyed a solid bounce back season last year, hauling in 52 of his 92 targets for 856 yards and six touchdowns. That marked the third season out of the last four that Floyd topped 800 yards with at least five touchdowns. At 33 years of age (34 in September) and entering what he claims will be his last year in the league, Floyd will once again assume the role of the Chargers main deep threat with Keenan Allen and free agent signee Stevie Johnson handling the short and intermediate work. While Floyd has never topped 1,000 receiving yards or six touchdowns during his 11 years in the league, he has produced as a mid to lower tier WR3 in four of the last five seasons. Given his solid performance last season and the expectation that his role won’t change significantly, he rates as an upper tier WR4 with little upside in 2015.
Traded from the Buffalo Bills to San Francisco 49ers prior to last season, Johnson suffered through his worst season since 2010, catching 35 of his 50 targets for 435 yards and three touchdowns. An afterthought in San Francisco’s offense as the 4th option in the passing game behind Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, Johnson joins the Chargers as San Diego’s likely 4th receiving option behind Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd, replacing the departed Eddie Royal. However, with the Chargers offensive philosophy of spreading the ball around, Johnson has an opportunity to replace Royal’s production from a year ago (62 receptions, 778 yards, seven touchdowns). And with the aging Gates suspended for the first four games of the year and Floyd having appeared in 16 games just twice during his 11-year career, Johnson could top 100 targets in 2015. He rates as an upper tier WR5 with upside.
Although there were plenty of fantasy prognosticators that had written Gates off prior to the 2013 season, he managed to keep the naysayers at bay for another year as he posted his highest yardage total since the 2009 season with 872 yards on 77 receptions. He would have been a top five fantasy tight end if he posted his usual eight or nine touchdown count but he finished the season with just four, the lowest total since his rookie season in 2003. Sure enough, Gates posted similar reception and yardage totals in 2014 with 69 and 821 but with 12 touchdowns, the second most of his illustrious career, he finished the season as the 2nd ranked fantasy tight end. At 35 years of age, it’s doubtful that fantasy prognosticators were going to predict another 2nd place ranking in 2015 for Gates but that issue became moot when he was hit with a four game suspension for performance enhancing drugs. In 2015, the question is where do you draft the aging Gates given his suspension and the potential emergence of Ladarius Green during the first four games of the season? A quick look reveals that Gates didn’t fade down the stretch last season as he caught 17 passes for 213 yards and three touchdowns during the final three games of the season. In 14 games, Green caught just 19 passes for 226 yards while failing to find the end zone. Since the Chargers failed to make Green a big part of their offensive game plan despite his solid production in 2013, we don’t expect them to do so this season therefore we can conclude with reasonable certainty that Gates will see a healthy majority of the snaps at tight end when he returns to the lineup. We like him as a low end TE1 in 2015 and one that comes at a relative bargain with an ADP in the middle of the 13th round.
After a solid season in 2013 when he caught 17 of his 29 targets for 376 yards and three touchdowns, it appeared that it wasn’t a question of if but a question of when Green would take over for Antonio Gates as the Chargers main tight end. Entering the final year of his contract in 2015, Green faces an uncertain future after his role in the team’s offense was reduced last season and he failed to deliver the big plays that were a hallmark of his 2013 campaign. He does have a solid opportunity to open the season, however, with Gates on the shelf for four games due to a suspension for PEDs. Unfortunately for Green, it would be foolhardy to expect the Chargers to utilize him in the same manner that Gates would have been during those four games given Green’s lack of use last season. At best, he will rate as a low end TE1 until Gates returns to the lineup. After that, his fantasy value will almost certainly hit the floor. At one time considered an outstanding dynasty league prospect, his value in that format is also questionable given his contract situation.