Name all the Chargers players that have to be owned in every fantasy league, regardless of the format, or number of teams. That list is (arguably…I guess) three names long, which is a pretty haunting contrast to yesterday’s fantasy forecasting, especially at the top.
Notable Additions: Danny Woodhead
Notable Draft Picks: D.J. Fluker, Keenan Allen
The Marquee Men (the elitest of the elite)
Ryan Mathews (ADP: 54.6): I know, you hate this man. He breaks bones you haven’t even heard of, and when healthy last season he lost playing time to Jackie Battle. No really, that happened.
But I’m about to do the unthinkable, and attempt to fight your deep-rooted loathing and convince you that this year and at this price (see: the above fifth-round ADP, and he can often be found lower than that), Mathews is a fine value buy. Before you chuck this computer monitor off a balcony, hear me out.
There’s a linear path to your Mathews rage. Yes, since his touchdowns fell by five compared to the previous year (he scored only once in 2012), and his total yards dropped by 587, he punched you in the balls pretty hard. There’s no way to, um, massage that out.
However, that anguish was amplified by the price you had to pay for Mathews’ services a year ago. You knew that he breaks often and he could miss time, and whatever, you were cool with that. You could tolerate it as long as when healthy, you were getting the sort of running back who could average 4.9 yards per carry (which Mathews did, in 2011) on his way to 1,546 total yards (which Mathews had…in 2011).
That didn’t happen, and it wasn’t close. Mathews logged his standard missed time (four games), yet he still received his share of carries even with Battle and Ronnie Brown siphoning some off, and he plodded along at a pace of 3.8 YPC. Now Danny Woodhead is here to suck back Mathews’ receptions and third-down work, and all offseason new head coach Mike McCoy has hinted at a time share with all three backs getting looks, Brown included.
I guess I should get to the part where I convince you of something. Ahhh yes, draft value.
Mathews mostly shattered your heart and soul last year because he cost you a second-round pick, an area of the draft when you passed on Doug Martin and Frank Gore, among others. Now, that sort of commitment is no more, and you’re just taking Mathews out for cheap dates to a Jack in the Box instead of marrying him for all of eternity.
A time share is much scarier in your mind than it is in reality, as last year in a similar situation Mathews was easily the primary back on early downs, logging seven games with 15 or more carries. So since I’m all about scenarios and playing pretend today, here’s another one: you take two running backs with your first two picks, then follow with two wide receivers, and at that point Mathews is snapped up to consistently plug into your flex spot.
You always want optimal touches in your flex spot, which is why running backs are favored. Inserting one who averaged 7.25 fantasy points per game last year despite generally sucking (that’s a solid weekly flex total, with a ceiling for more at 26 years old) is mighty fine value.
The Middle Men (middle-to-late round options)
Antonio Gates (ADP: 90.5): These are not promising times for Gates. Even with the addition of D.J. Fluker, the offensive line protecting his quarterback still has a door-like quality, meaning there will be little time for Philip Rivers to look downfield. Then there’s Danario Alexander’s season-ending ACL tear during the first week of training camp, which stripped this offense of its primary vertical threat. Those vast open areas for Gates underneath will become scarce, and maybe extinct.
But although there will be many outside factors which contribute to Gates’ continued decline this year (and possibly the smoking crash of every Chargers skill player), there are greater internal struggles. Namely, time.
Gates is entering his age 33 year, and when we compare his production last season to the numbers he posted just two short years ago when he was last considered to be among the top tier tight ends, it ends in tears. In 2010, Gates played in only 10 games due to a foot issue, and yet he still finished with 782 yards at a pace of 15.6 yards per catch. Last year, that fell to 538 yards on 11.0 per catch. Yep, a tumble of 4.6 yards.
There’s been a shift away from Gates too in the Chargers’ offense, something McCoy may be forced to change with Alexander gone, but the recent trend isn’t promising. Last year, Gates was targeted on just 17.2 percent of the routes he ran, which ranked 31st among all qualified tight ends, according to ESPN’s John Parolin.
Despite the crumbling around him, I was able to make at least an argument for Mathews based on value, and his plummeting price. I can’t do the same for Gates, as if you still don’t have a tight end by the 90th overall pick, waiting more for Jermichael Finley, Owen Daniels, Martellus Bennett, or even Jordan Cameron is far more appealing.
Philip Rivers (ADP: 147.0): If Alexander was healthy, this is where I’d say what the hell, why not take a late-round flier on Rivers, and hope he returns to some form of competence. But I just…I can’t.
Drafting Fluker was nice and all, but he alone isn’t enough to improve an offensive line that watched its quarterback go down 49 times last year. There’s hope, though, depending on your level of creativity and optimism.
During OTAs Rivers was throwing underneath like it was his job, probably because it will be his job. Short, quick passes to the likes of Gates and Vincent Brown will — in theory — minimize interceptions and the pocket abuse Rivers takes, and maximize his accuracy.
Danny Woodhead (ADP: 107.4): If we were able to formulate a real argument for Mathews and his fine flex value, then Woodhead retains some too, though his production is likely about to spike downwards without the frequent targets from the soothing arm and eyes of Tom Brady.
Woodhead will be used on passing downs, thus killing Ryan Mathews the pass catcher. Though his targets and receptions will decrease because the Chargers aren’t as good at football as the Patriots, Woohead’s consistent use as a pass catcher both out of the backfield and in the slot will lead to quality point-per-reception league value, especially if he can hover somewhere around 30 catches for 350 yards (he had 40 catches for 446 yards last year, and 34 grabs for 379 yards in 2010).
The Menial Peons (sleepers, flex plays, and matchup plays)
Vincent Brown (ADP: 110.7): And so the shrugging begins. I won’t spend too much time on the Chargers wide receiver debacle following the ruins Alexander left behind, because I wrote a lot of words on that matter yesterday. I will remind you that if you’re drafting right now before a preseason game has been played to provide us with any clarity, Brown is still the top Chargers fantasy receiver.
Though injuries will remain a scary thing with him (he missed last year with an ankle injury, and he’ll sit out the Chargers’ preseason opener with a hamstring problem), Brown’s well suited to a short passing game, and he has the best value relative to his draft position.
Malcom Floyd (ADP: 111.0): It’s difficult to project what we’ll get from Floyd given the complete lack of established and threatening targets around him that are split out wide. But it’s also easy to assume that he’ll be targeted more with Alexander out, and therefore be able to build on two straight seasons with +800 yards.
If he does that and hauls in a few more touchdowns after 10 over the past two years, then he has the potential to produce low-end WR3 value. But it’s better to let someone else do that finger crossing for Floyd when you can have Lance Moore, DeAndre Hopkins, Golden Tate, Alshon Jeffrey, or Ryan Broyles in the same area of the draft.
Eddie Royal (ADP: undrafted): If the Chargers do continue with their pursuit of a short-to-intermediate passing game, Royal is another target ideally suited for that role as a slot receiver. He’s struggled with injuries of late, missing 10 games over the past two seasons. But in a now long forgotten year by NFL time, Royal caught 91 passes in 2008 as a Bronco for 980 yards, showing he’s capable of churning out chunk yardage when utilized often (he was targeted 129 times that year, easily a career high).
The Mop-Up Men (deeeep sleepers and handcuffs)
Keenan Allen (ADP: undrafted): Allen has been a deep sleeper since, oh, about June 25th, and the increased reps he’s receiving in practice with Alexander out and Brown hurting will surely lead to some opportunities when it matters too. But he’s still a raw third-round rookie, he still has a “long way to go” according to his coach, and he’s still at least a year away from being a serious fantasy option.