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Team Previews: Los Angeles Chargers

Joe Bartel

Joe Bartel is RotoWire's esports editor and a football contributor. When not at the office, he's probably playing a variety of Gen 4 console games or rooting on his beloved Green Bay Packers.

THE SKINNY
Another disappointing, injury-plagued season sent coach Mike McCoy packing. With Anthony Lynn replacing McCoy and the team now in Los Angeles, the Chargers will look to leave their struggles behind. As always, good health will determine whether they sink or swim in the AFC West.

THREE THINGS TO KNOW

THE RETURN OF Keenan Allen
After a promising pro debut in 2013, Keenan Allen experienced a slight regression in 2014, and the 25-year-old's last two campaigns have been cut short by season-ending ailments. With that and injuries to past pass catchers in mind, the team tabbed physical wideout Mike Williams with the No. 7 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Factor in the emergence of Tyrell Williams last year and the continued presence of capable veterans Dontrelle Inman and Travis Benjamin, and there are no shortage of weapons within the team's passing attack, especially with a pair of talented tight ends (Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates) also on hand. That's a lot of mouths to feed, but considering that quarterback Philip Rivers has attempted at least 570 passes in each of the last three seasons, it's fair to suggest that Allen still should get his share of targets if he can manage to remain healthy. Although neither Williams figures to affect Allen's stranglehold over the middle of the field, an area to which Rivers turns frequently, the once-formidable PPR threat may struggle to eclipse 100 targets given the plethora of receiving options in the mix. Moreover, if Melvin Gordon can stay on the field, the Chargers would presumably like to feed their bell-cow back the ball, with an eye toward engineering a more balanced attack.

RIVERS STILL GOING STRONG
While Philip Rivers joins J.P. Losman as the only other QB selected in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft to have not won a Super Bowl, the 35-year-old has been remarkably consistent when it comes to fantasy production. In fact, Rivers is just one of two signal-callers since 2008 to throw for more than 4,000 yards in eight or more seasons. That string should stretch to nine or more by the end of the 2017 campaign, as Rivers is set for lift-off with arguably the best collection of receiving threats at his disposal in his career. Said weapons will not be maximized, however, if Rivers can't cut down on the turnovers, as the veteran of 13 seasons had the dubious honor of leading the NFL with 21 interceptions last year. While the rise in picks was troubling, much of that could be attributed to Rivers' admitted propensity to force passes in an effort to make up for an injury-depleted receiving corps. Regardless, Rivers' perch atop the team's depth chart seems intact for the foreseeable future, with Kellen Clemens and Mike Bercovici not threats to supplant the veteran. With his key playmakers healthy (or getting healthier) and the addition of a first-round wideout with loads of promise, the Los Angeles offense is set up for Rivers to succeed and in turn provide respectable fantasy value, at an affordable price in terms of draft slotting or auction currency.

HENRY'S REIGN IS JUST BEGINNING
Though the Chargers took Hunter Henry 35th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft, expectations were relatively modest for the tight end in his first year as a pro, with Antonio Gates still around. On top of filling the void created by the departure of Ladarius Green, Henry managed to assist fantasy owners by recording 36 catches and 478 receiving yards in 15 games while becoming the first rookie TE since 2010 to pace his position in the TD department (his eight scores tied Cameron Brate for the league lead). The last player to pull off such a feat? New England's Rob Gronkowski. It's clear that the 6-5, 250-pound Henry has talent, as he's already adept at using his big frame to fend off defenders while displaying enough speed to break away from mismatched linebackers. What's more, he seems to have a solid rapport with QB Philip Rivers, who wasn't afraid to look the young tight end's way at critical times. For Henry to take the next step, he'll need to avoid the sort of aches and pains that nagged him last season. His healthy presence is needed, with Gates (who turned 37 in June) no stranger to the injury report and heading into the latter stages of his NFL career. In his second season with the Chargers, Henry seemingly has supplanted Gates as the team's most relevant tight end, now meriting TE1 consideration in most formats.

PIVOTAL PLAYER: Melvin Gordon
Though limited to 13 games last season, Gordon showcased why he was selected in the first round of the 2015 draft by racking up more than 1,400 total yards and scoring 12 TDs. With change-of-pace back Danny Woodhead gone, Gordon figures to become a bigger component in the team's passing attack, thus enhancing his PPR upside.

BAROMETER

RISING: Tyrell Williams
Williams was the biggest beneficiary of Keenan Allen's injury in 2016, surprisingly recording more than 1,000 receiving yards. In a contract year, look for the 25-year-old to prove that last season wasn't a fluke.

FALLING: Travis Benjamin
Benjamin's results in his first season with the Chargers after joining the team via free agency were disappointing. With Mike Williams, Tyrell Williams and Keenan Allen also in the fold, his current path to targets is spotty.

SLEEPER: Kenjon Barner
Barner figures to help out as a returner, at a minimum. If the 5-9, 195-pounder ends up seeing significant snaps in the offense, however, he could develop into a PPR threat for the Bolts.

KEY JOB BATTLE "SPELL" RUNNING BACK
The Chargers are expected to feature Melvin Gordon prominently both through the air and on the ground. But who primarily spells the former first-round pick when he needs a breather will be worth noting, especially given the fact Gordon has missed five games over the last two seasons. Branden Oliver, the former undrafted free agent from Buffalo, looks to have the first crack at the job, but there's no telling how the career 3.5 yards-per-carry running back will respond, having torn his Achilles during the 2016 preseason. Should he struggle, look for a combination of Kenneth Farrow and Kenjon Barner to take over a handful of passing downs, with Gordon figuring to garner almost all of the goal-line carries.

KEY ACQUISITIONS:
Mike Williams WR (Rd. 1, No. 7 Clemson)
Adds size and depth to a wideout corps that was banged up last year.

Kenjon Barner RB (from Eagles)
Small and shifty, he could help replace Danny Woodhead.

Russell Okung OT (from Broncos)
With King Dunlap gone, expected to take over starting left tackle job.

Forrest Lamp G (Rd. 2, No. 38 Western Kentucky)
Could immediately step in and start at either left or right guard.

KEY LOSSES:
Danny Woodhead RB (to Ravens)
Philip Rivers' favorite check-down threat moves to AFC North.

Stevie Johnson WR (FA)
After dealing with nagging injuries in 2015, missed all of last season.

Brandon Flowers CB (FA)
Missed 15 contests over the last two years due to injuries.

D.J. Fluker G (to Giants)
The 2013 first-rounder was cut loose after four disappointing seasons.

THE INJURY FRONT
Keenan Allen, WR One of Philip Rivers' favorite wide receivers when healthy, Allen missed almost all of last season after tearing his ACL during Week 1. He's likely to be fully healthy come the start of the 2017 campaign.

Mike Williams, WR After undergoing a second epidural to address a herniated disc in his lower back, Williams started training camp on the PUP list. There was even chatter that the rookie wideout may face season-ending back surgery, but for now that outcome is believed to be off the table.

Melvin Gordon, RB Gordon was just shy of the 1,000-yard rushing mark before injuries to his hip and knee in Week 14 ended his 2016 season. Now healthy, Gordon is expected to shoulder even more of the load on offense, with former receiving threat Danny Woodhead now with Baltimore.