By John Doylemason
This article is part of our 2013 Fantasy Team Preview series in which we are profiling every NFL team leading up to the season, click here for the complete list of published previews. Also, check out our staff rankings for see how we value each player.
I could not pick a good hook to lead my article, so I narrowed it to two. Maybe sing the second in an Arnold voice?
“Go Charges…Go” – Arnold Schwarzenegger, my ex-”governator”
“Ch-ch-ch-chaaaanges”- David Bowie, Changes
A lot of turnover occurred in the front office for the San Diego Chargers this offseason. Norv Turner is finally out and new HC Mike McCoy is in. Philip Rivers is looking to rebound after failing to reach 4,000 yards passing for the first time since 2007. Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is a versatile offensive guru and is on record stating he’d like a balanced approach. However, given the struggles defensively last season, the offense may need to pass more to keep games close. On paper, the offense looked like it had enough weapons to put up some decent points. However, just on the eve of us releasing this article, Chargers breakout WR from last season, Danario Alexander, tore his ACL and will miss the 2013 season. It’s a huge loss for the Chargers offense but provides a giant opportunity for other WR’s to emerge. But, much more on that later, I don’t want to spoil the surprise.
Added: WR Michael Spurlock, LT Max Starks, DE Dwight Freeney, LB Thomas Keiser, G Tyronne Green, LB Shaun Phillips, FB Chris Gronkowski, FB Frank Summers, TE Dallas Walker, WR Deon Butler, WR Dan DePalma, CB Cornelius Brown, DE Jarius Wynn, QB Mike Hermann, G Rich Ohrnberger, RB Danny Woodhead, G Chad Rinehart, LT King Dunlap
Drafted: RT D.J. Fluker, CB Steve Williams, LB Manti Te’o, WR Keenan Allen, LB Tourek Willaims, QB Brad Sorensen
Lost: TE Dante Rosario, RT Kevin Haslam, LT Jared Gaither, TE Randy McMichael, LB Takeo Spikes, FS Quentin Jammer, CB Chris Carr, G Louis Vasquez
Coaching Staff: GM Tom Telesco, HC Mike McCoy, OC Ken Whisenhunt, DC John Pagano
The free agent moves were relatively unheralded but the Charges plugged some necessary holes with valuable picks. Adding Dwight Freeney to the pass rush will help to take the pressure off of a secondary in need of help. Eric Weddle is an admirable FS and Derek Cox is a quality CB but the two cannot carry the backend alone.
Drafting Notre Dame standout Manti Te’o provides a 3-down LB who is very capable of defending the pass. The Chargers are hoping D.J. Fluker can be a plug-and-play RT anchoring the line opposite King Dunlap. G Chad Rinehart brought in from Buffalo will help in the run game and greatly in pass blocking. Plus, if RT Jeromey Clary can make the move inside to RG then the Chargers will actually have a very stout line.
One Up: Danny Woodhead, RB - Danny Woodhead is a poor man’s Darren Sproles and Ken Whisenhunt will surely bring the second coming of the Lightning Bug who starred in San Diego for years before moving to New Orleans. In 2012, New England utilized him extensively in passing downs through draws, short dumps, and designed screens. A brittle Ryan Mathews and veteran Ronnie Brown stand in the way of him being a lead back but don’t let that discourage you. Mathews and Brown caught 96 balls total last year and were tied for 2nd (with Antonio Gates), and 4th in receptions respectively for in that offense in 2012. Not to mention the likes of Jackie Battle, Curtis Brinkley and Le’Ron McClain accounted for another 35 catches. Although the offensive line is improved, Rivers will still need outlets when Gates wears down and the WR’s stretch the field. It would not shock me to see Woodhead get 65 receptions in 2013. Going by the last three years, Danny could gather 671 yards receiving (10.33 avg.) to 305.5 rushing (65 attempts is my guess, by 4.7 yards per carry). In case you didn’t read that correctly, that’s almost an 1000 yard season!
Over the last three years, Woodhead averaged 4.66 TDs a season. I can see Woodhead posting similar numbers to Mathews, and when Mathews inevitably goes down to injury, Woodhead’s value can skyrocket. I’d draft Woodhead as a flex with major upside, especially in PPR formats. Keep in mind that Woodhead was the 27th most valuable RB last year, so an expanded role could do wonders for him. He’ll also come for a fraction of the price Mathews will in drafts. Our staff rankings currently have Woodhead tied for 39th among RBs.
One Down: Antonio Gates, TE – After 6 amazing seasons from 2004-2009 in which Gates averaged 76 catches for 972 yards and 9.5 TDs. The past three seasons, he’s battled injuries and his production have been nowhere near what we had come to expect. Although he is still averaging 8 TDs a season over those last three seasons, his yardage has tumbled. If Gates can remain healthy and the improvements along the offensive line can free him up in passing situations, especially in the red-zone, we could see him return to top TE land. But the writing is on the wall. GM Tom Telesco brought in a number of TEs over the last few years in hopes of finding an heir and rumors are third year pro Ladarius Green is it. The battle for the 2nd TE spot with John Phillips and Green is one to watch and if Green wins we can see split time as Gates is phased out in the passing game. It is hard to argue against averages but father time wins every game eventually. Since the Danario Alexander injury, Gates has moved up to 6th in our staff TE rankings.
1) Is Mathews ever going to be the guy the Chargers expected when they took him 12th overall?”
It is a make or break year for RB Ryan Mathews. He was a thundering power back with decent hands coming out of Fresno State. He was the chosen one! We all hoped in fantasy land to see the next LT but all we got was a fleeting hope and a peanut brittle impressionist. It’s one thing to battle injuries, but having more broken collar bones than TDs in a season, when coming into the offseason you’re being talked about as a first round fantasy pick, that’s just embarrassing. Something about the AFC West RB’s and health status… Mathews struggles to stay healthy year after year and you cannot expect your fantasy trophy to be held up by papier maché.
In addition to missing four games due to injury, and having a reduced role throughout the season, he wasn’t exactly tearing it up even when healthy. Regardless of the offensive line issues, 3.8 yards per carry is unacceptable for an NFL RB. He still was somewhat effective as a pass catching back and almost totaled 1000 total yards, but only managed to find the end zone once. Let’s just say being close to Ryan Mathews at Qualcomm is the safest place to be during a tornado storm; no chance of a touchdown.
In 2011, there were definite flashes of talent as he rumbled a 4.9 YPC average on 222 attempts for 1091 yards and caught 50 receptions for 455 yards while rushing for 6 TDs. He was rewarded by an election to his only Pro Bowl.
While the signing of Danny Woodhead is not a death sentence for Mathews, it’s pretty close. The coaching staff have already been open about having a committee at RB, which would feature Woodhead as the passing down back and would seriously limit Mathews upside. As a result, the best case scenario is Mathews getting the bulk of the 1st and 2nd down carries while Danny Woodhead rotates on for passing downs. Woodhead and Rivers have already shown good chemistry, which means Mathews will be in for a tough time this season.
As a result, people are beginning to panic on Mathews, and for good reason. Even if he’s able to stay healthy (he won’t), the upside just isn’t there anymore now that Woodhead will be taking so many touches away from him. His ADP is in the 6th round, but I doubt he ends up on any of my teams as he’s going before guys a like a lot better in Giovanni Bernard, Shane Vereen, Eddie Lacy, Ahmad Bradshaw and others. Frankly, Mathews is no longer worth the risk. Ineffectiveness, injuries and competition all make for a very unattractive fantasy option. Mathews comes in at 29th in our staff rankings.
2) Danario Alexander: One Hit Wonder or Fantasy Stud?
Well, here’s a bummer. We were all ready to tell you all about Danario Alexander and how he is a good guy to target as your 3rd WR when he goes ahead and tears his ACL in practice and will be out for the season. As a guy that’s had FIVE knee surgeries already, are we really shocked at this? No, I’m not. Even though it was his right knee, not the troublesome 5 surgery left knee, it’s very common to compensate for an injury by putting more strain on your other joints.
For that offense it’s a big loss, Danario was picked up by the Chargers in Week 6, after a couple weeks to get up to speed, racked up 34 catches for 597 yards and seven TDs over his final eight games. As such, he was set to enter the season as the undisputed #1 WR in that offense. Let’s look at what he leaves behind:
Malcom Floyd is by far the most experienced guy in that offense, and has been a consistent force on the team the last few seasons but has failed to truly break into fantasy stardom. Injuries are a concern as he has missed 11 games over the last 3 seasons but he has averaged nearly 800 yards and 5 TDs per season in very limited time. Without DX, Floyd should get all the snaps he can handle and be the deep threat that Rivers thought he had in Alexander.
The more intriguing option to me is Vincent Brown. Here’s what I had to say in the original article before DX went and tore his ACL:
I do believe Vincent Brown will be a reliable guy in fantasy in 2013 but it is hard to say how productive he can be. He’ll have to fight his way up the depth chart against more specialized players in camp and dislodge consistent (but brittle) veteran Floyd. Being in a balanced offense he’ll also have to fight for targets, which may tough to come by in the red zone. There are many factors going against him but early reports from the coaching staff indicate they are very high on Brown and a strong camp can push him to WR2.
Danario Alexander is the biggest threat to Brown’s fantasy stardom. Alexander is the prototypical WR you can expect out of San Diego. Standing 6’5”, 217 lbs, he is a massive presence down the sidelines and seams. Alexander’s yards after the catch average was second in the league last year with 8.1 yards and Rivers looked to him extensively, garnering 7 TDs by season’s end. At 5’11”, Brown will be the odd man out in goal line sets as the team will bring in their towering WR/TE package and that is a huge deterrent to consistency in fantasy scoring.
At this point, all that is out the window. Vincent Brown has legit #1 WR skills. As I mentioned, he’s not the biggest guy at 5″11 but with Alexander out, it would be a surprise if he wasn’t the starter opposite Malcom Floyd come opening day. He’s a very intriguing guy, but keep in mind that he has injury issues of his own and only has 19 career NFL receptions, so with an ADP in the 10th round right now he’s still a good value, but as that will inevitably be rising, he won’t be worth the draft day price before long.
Robert Meachem had a disappointing 2012 but the straight line WR is the team’s best vertical threat. That is not to say Brown does not have big play abilities. Brown did average 17.3 yard per reception in limited time, but he has a longer stride and his size allocates him to more possession type routes to abuse his size and after the catch ability. With Meachem and Floyd opening holes in the secondary as he stretches the defense, Brown could greatly benefit.
Another guy to keep an eye on is Keenan Allen, drafted in the 3rd round out of Cal. While he’ll have competition from Eddie Royal, he’ll likely take the slot role and he can still be a great red zone threat because of his incredible hands and pass catching range. He is from my Alma Mater and I must say him being listed at 6’2” must have been with cleats and a helmet on. I’ve stood next to him and could see over him even though I count myself as 6’2”, go figure. Guess I’d be 6’4” in the NFL. Regardless of the talents, investing in rookies to make a big impact is usually foolhardy, so while Allen is worth a late round pick just based on talent and opportunity, I wouldn’t be at all shocked to see him unowned after he doesn’t get targets for the first few weeks of the season.
In the end, I still would have to rank them Floyd, Brown, Allen, Meachem and then Royal. I have no doubt there will be valuable pass catchers in the San Diego offense, but aside from Floyd, I don’t think there is a lot of value in drafts. Vincent Brown’s price will skyrocket, while Floyd, who’s price is currently in the 14th round (60th at WR), could be the real draft day bargain. Our staff WR rankings have Vincent Brown at 45th, while Malcom Floyd is tied for 51st.
3) Now that Danario Alexander is gone, what should we do about Philip Rivers?
In 2012, Philip Rivers was a colossal bust. After struggling at times in 2011, but still finishing with 4624 passing yards, Rivers seemed like a good draft day value as his career high 20 INT seemed bound to decline. Well, they did, but so did everything else. Aside from an improved completion percentage, Rivers threw for less yardage (3606), TDs (26) and while his interceptions dropped to 15, he fumbled the ball an insane 13 times. While Rivers used to always be a guy that threw the ball downfield with the best of them, he turned into a RBs dream, completing 131 passes to the RBs, 39% of his total completions. Therefore, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that he finished as the 21st best QB with his lowest yards per completion average (6.84) of any season since becoming the Chargers starter back in 2005.
If Danario Alexander was healthy, I would kind of like Rivers as a bounceback guy for the right price, however, without him there isn’t much to like. Even if Gates is healthy all year (big if) and Vincent Brown emerges as a viable #1 WR, can we really expect another 4000 yard season at this stage of his career? Personally I don’t buy it. Based on schedule, if your in a two QB league or a deeper league, he may be someone to consider, but in a standard 10 team league, I’m not going near him. Coming in as our 24th ranked QB, Let someone else draft Rivers only to drop him a few weeks later while you build up your staple of high upside RBs and WRs.
There’s some positive things happening for the Chargers’ offense, most notably the improved offensive line but aside from Danny Woodhead and possibly Malcom Floyd if his ADP doesn’t rise that much, there aren’t a lot of attractive fantasy options. does have the potential for an 1000 yard season, but with the injuries and the lack of experience I’m not buying it. Also keep an eye on Ladarius Green and Antonio Gates’ future replacement.