Mike McCoy is an offensive sorcerer.
After a down 2012 campaign, the San Diego Chargers found the magic touch last year, and behind a new head coach and rejuvenated quarterback, finished 9-7 and won an AFC Wild Card contest against the Bengals. The offense had balance, despite an injured receiving corp, and the defense was strong. San Diego’s new head coach helped rejuvenate this offense, and they served to be a legitimate threat to the mighty Broncos.
So, after an improved 2013 season, what does 2014 have in store?
Welcome back to fantasy relevancy, Philip Rivers.
The Chargers bounced back in a big way last year, large in part to the improved play of their quarterback. Rivers finished as a top-seven fantasy signal caller. He threw for 4,478 yards and 32 touchdowns, while only tossing 11 interceptions. Sure, Ken Wisenhunt is gone, but I think his departure is a bit overblown. McCoy is still calling the shots, and has been pass-happy during his tenure as an offensive coordinator.
Keep in mind, however, that as the 2013 season progressed, the Chargers became a better overall team, winning more games easier, as well as with their defense and offensive balance. Rivers didn’t need to do much, and the Chargers ended up finishing just 24th in pass attempts per game. The success of the running game actually hurt Rivers’ fantasy value.
Rivers only had one top-12 fantasy finish over the final six games, and heading into 2014, I’d consider him a low-end quarterback one. The majority of Rivers’ fantasy production occurred during the first half of the season, and I don’t exactly think San Diego is going to be inside the top-10 in pass attempts this year. I think Rivers can be trusted as a quarterback one, but there are 12 better options, if you ask me.
Well, it looks like you can’t make fun of Ryan Mathews anymore. You know, until next year, maybe.
One season after breaking more collarbones than touchdowns scored, Mathews excelled in year four in the league. He rushed for 1,255 yards (4.4 YPC), six touchdowns and a top-12 fantasy finish among running backs. He looked more confident as a rusher and, most importantly, he stayed healthy, playing all 16 games for the first time in his career. Unfortunately, Mathews isn’t a great red zone guy, and it turns out that Danny Woodhead saw more red zone looks than Mathews’ 39 from a season ago. Speaking of Woodhead, his 76 receptions ranked second among all running backs, and he actually lead all Charger pass catchers in targets inside the five yard line. Even with the addition of Donald Brown, Woodhead will still be involved in this offense. Rivers loves checking down to the running backs, and so does McCoy. In 2012, Rivers targeted the running backs over 30 percent of the time, and McCoy targeted running backs 18.4 and 14.4 percent of the time during his final two seasons in Denver.
Keenan Allen, we are not worthy.
The rookie wide receivers in fantasy are typically very bad, but Allen broke a bit of a trend last year. He became just the second receiver since 2005 to post 1,000 yards receiving during their rookie season, and he ultimately finished as a top-20 fantasy wideout. His 21 red zone looks led all Chargers receivers, and from Week 5 on, he was a top-10 fantasy receiver. Allen has a good combination of speed, strength and red zone prowess to remain very fantasy relevant, and he’s a great wide receiver two to target in drafts.
As for the rest of the receiving corp, it’s an absolute shot in the dark, and the only one I’d take a gamble on is Malcom Floyd. Coming off injury, Floyd should be this team’s number two wideout, and Rivers has grown accustomed to chucking up passes to big targets. At 6’5″, 225, Floyd could score seven or eight touchdowns.
This is where it gets interesting.
Everyone in fantasy seems to want Antonio Gates to hang them up and pass the torch to the younger Ladarius Green. Gates, a perennial Pro Bowler and elite fantasy tight end, has started to fall off a bit. He still finished 2013 as a top-10 tight end and also ranked fourth among his position in total targets (113). You know Rivers loves and trusts him, but it may be foolish to draft him based on name value. San Diego has already talked up Green, stating he will be more involved in the offense. And the tide may already be turning, as Green played 80 snaps in the playoffs, just seven fewer than Gates. He’s a big play guy who offers more upside in this offense (3 of 17 receptions went for scores).