Rookie sensation Justin Herbert was shoved into a starting role
just moments before Week 2 when a freak accident by a member of
the Chargers’ medical staff knocked starter Tyrod Taylor
out of the game. While he and the Chargers fell just short against
the then-defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs in that game, Herbert’s
311 passing yards, including both a touchdown as a passer and
as a runner, immediately drew the media’s attention. Herbert
went on to break practically every notable rookie passing record,
including touchdowns (31), completions (396), and yards per game
(289.1). He finished just 38 total passing yards behind Andrew
Luck’s rookie record set back in 2012, but it’s worth
noting that Herbert probably would’ve broken that as well
if he had been the starter in Week 1. He also finished just shy
of Dak Prescott’s record for single season completion percentage
by a rookie.
His passing game production and efficiency was undeniable, but
Herbert also proved that he is a contributor in the running game.
He’s not going to give you many 50-plus yard rushing days
and in fact he exceeded 25 yards on the ground just twice as a
rookie, but he was willing to run when it counts—near the
end zone—as he added five touchdowns as a runner.
While the traditional “teams throw more when they’re
behind” concept certainly still applies, it’s also
interesting that Herbert was more productive when the Chargers
were winning games. He threw multiple touchdowns in all but one
game that the Chargers won in 2020 and he averaged 304 passing
yards per game in those victories.
To piggyback off of that, things are looking up for the Chargers
heading into 2021. The team won their final four games of the
regular season, although Week 17’s contest against the Chiefs
saw Kansas City bench most of their starters. In addition, running
back Austin Ekeler missed about half of the season which definitely
didn’t help the passing game, as the other backs in Los Angeles
are not nearly as productive as pass catchers. Having him back
at full strength, hopefully for an entire season, should give
a bit of a boost to Herbert.
LA also invested heavily in their offensive line by adding former
Green Bay center Corey Linsley. Linsley has been an elite performer
as an entire offensive lineman and should immediately add stability
to one of the most important positions on the line. In addition,
the Chargers bolstered the unit by selecting Tackle Rashawn Slater
with their first round draft pick at 13th overall. These were
necessary additions as Herbert was under pressure constantly as
a rookie. Rookie offensive linemen don’t always step in
and make an immediate impact, but it seems fairly likely that
Linsley and Slater will give Herbert more time, and thus more
confidence, to hold onto the ball and sling it down the field
for big plays.
It would’ve been nice to see Los Angeles invest a bit more into
pass catchers this off-season as they’ve been missing in the draft
for a few years now. There were some quality free agent receivers
available who would’ve been a nice compliment to Keenan Allen,
but the team instead opted to stick with what it had for the most
part, adding only wide receiver Josh
Palmer in the third round and swapping out Hunter Henry in
exchange for Jared Cook at tight end.
Still, Herbert is a legitimate candidate for MVP this season
if the Chargers can improve as a team. His combination of talent
and poise made him an elite rookie and it’ll be fun to see what
he can do with a full offseason of preparation as the official
starter. He’s not going to cost as much as some of the top QBs
will in seasonal leagues, but he’s someone who should absolutely
be a target in Superflex and dynasty leagues this year.
We mentioned above that running back Austin Ekeler missed half
of the season with a serious hamstring injury, otherwise we could’ve
potentially seen an absolutely monster season from the Chargers
running back. As it was, Ekeler finished with 933 total yards
and just three total touchdowns, allowing him to finish just inside
RB3 range for the season.
What’s most notable was his usage in the passing game.
He essentially missed seven total games, so if we remove that
Week 4 contest (injured), he would’ve been on pace for 116
targets on the season. To put that into perspective, the only
running backs who saw more than third-place Nyheim Hines’
76 targets on the season were Washington’s J.D. McKissic
(110) and New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara (107). Ekeler, despite
missing those seven games, finished seventh among all running
backs in total targets in 2020.
While the coaching staff’s potential goal to keep Ekeler healthy
is certainly something that we need to be aware of, it should
be noted that they certainly didn’t play it like that in 2020
despite the team not really being serious playoff contenders for
most of the year. Ekeler returned in Week 12 and immediately saw
the field on 72 percent of the Chargers’ offensive snaps, whereas
the next-leading back, Joshua Kelley, was on the field for just
23 percent of snaps. From that game on, Ekeler would be on the
field for at least 60 percent of snaps in every remaining game
for the Chargers, with the only exception being Week 17 when the
Chargers were playing against the Chiefs’ backups and won the
game by multiple scores, thus not needing Ekeler nearly as much.
This is Ekeler’s backfield and he’s one of the few
remaining “do-it-all” bell cow backs in the league.
Assuming the Los Angeles’ offense remains at about as good
as it was in 2020, Ekeler could be in for a huge fantasy season.
Very few backs offer the legitimate 100-catch upside that Ekeler
does and that could easily boost him into the elite RB1 territory
if he can stay healthy. He’s going in the second round of
most fantasy drafts, which makes him not overly costly despite
giving high-end potential to fantasy owners.
The Los Angeles backfield is certainly about as close to a one-man
show as can be found in the NFL right now, but if we’re
going to talk about another running back in this offense then
it should probably be Joshua Kelley. Kelley was a rookie in 2020
and saw immediate playing time as the backup to Austin Ekeler.
Ekeler’s injury in Week 4 made Kelley one of the highest-priced
FAAB acquisitions of the season, but he disappointed in dramatic
fashion as he immediately began splitting snaps with the likes
of veteran Justin Jackson and journeymen backs Kalen Ballage and
It’s reasonable to brush off this lack of immediate success
as the coaching staff simply not trusting Kelley to take on such
a heavy workload so early into his rookie season, but things didn’t
get much better as the season went on. He never reached a 60 percent
snap rate in any game and he saw double-digit carries in just
two of the seven games Ekeler missed. Worse yet, his contributions
in the passing game were paltry as he caught just 23 passes for
148 yards and no touchdowns on the season, despite the fact that
he did catch all 23 targets that came his way.
If we’re to look for some sort of bright side, it should
be that the Chargers didn’t invest serious assets at the
running back position this offseason. They added only sixth-rounder
Larry Rountree III, a mediocre athlete who lacks Kelley’s
speed and agility, who was also not much of a pass catcher in
Kelley doesn’t have much of a path to playing time unless
Ekeler gets hurt, but if that happens again then the upside at
running back lies with Kelley. He was a productive college player
and he does have the requisite size and speed to be an NFL back.
At this point we know that Justin Jackson isn’t likely to
give us anything from a fantasy standpoint, so at least there’s
some potential with Kelley.
If you’re looking for an under-the-radar player who is
being disrespected in fantasy drafts this season, look no further
than Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen. The veteran has often
been underappreciated throughout his career as he doesn’t
tend to put up the flashy highlights that some other pass catchers
do, but he’s been extraordinarily productive, including
in 2020 when he was playing with a brand new rookie quarterback.
Allen’s 2020 final season numbers don’t paint the
full picture as he played in just 14 games, but he was an absolute
target monster. His 16-game pace would’ve been a whopping
168 targets, which would’ve put him just ahead of Stefon
Diggs’, who led the league with 166 targets. He still reached
100 receptions on the year for the third time in four years and
he hasn’t finished with fewer than 97 receptions in a season
since 2016 when he missed almost the entire season with an injury.
The Chargers didn’t invest significantly at pass catcher
this offseason, so there’s little reason to believe that
Allen won’t again be near the top of the league in targets
Traditionally better in PPR formats, Allen brings one of the
highest floors in fantasy football to the table, despite the fact
that he hasn’t often provided the huge single-game explosions
that some others do. Then again, he also hasn’t been playing
with a truly strong-armed QB like Herbert throughout his career,
so perhaps we’ll see the Chargers coaches opt to change
the playbook up a bit and let him stretch the field more than
he did in 2020 when he finished with a career-low of 9.9 yards
per reception. Even with that, though, Allen finished sixth among
wide receivers in PPR fantasy points per game in 2020 and 13th
in standard formats. He’s being drafted at or below that
range in most fantasy drafts right now, so don’t be afraid
to add him at his current discounted rate.
A perennial fantasy disappointment since his absurd touchdown
rate in 2018, Mike Williams again struggled to find consistency
in 2020, catching just 48 passes on the season. He is still one
of the best yards per reception producers in the league, but the
fact that he’s averaging just three catches per game makes
it very difficult to trust him for fantasy, especially when he’s
only provided seven total touchdowns over his past two seasons
despite playing in 30 games.
Still, Williams finds himself in a good spot to see plenty of
targets again this season. The Chargers’ wide receiver group
lacks proven contributors aside from Keenan Allen and they even
moved on from tight end Hunter Henry this offseason. Williams
should be on the field in most situations and he remains one of
the league’s most spectacular jump ball receivers. Assuming
the Chargers will continue to be an offense on the rise, Williams
will have opportunities to score this season. Beyond that, he’d
potentially see a huge increase in targets in the scenario that
Allen were to go down with an injury, as he has a few times throughout
He’s not much more than a lottery ticket player to look
at deep in your draft, but Williams does have some potential if
things break his way.
Los Angeles has long been a place to find fantasy production
at the tight end position and the newly acquired Jared Cook could
be the newest player to finish as a TE1. Cook joined the team
this offseason when the Chargers moved on from Hunter Henry, a
consistent yet unspectacular pass catcher who failed to produce
a TE1 fantasy season in 2020 despite the Chargers’ lack
of other pass catching weapons. Henry saw a career high with 93
targets on the year, but he caught just 64.5 percent of them,
a career low, and his yards per reception also fell to just 10.2
which was also a career low.
Cook, who spent 2019 and 2020 in New Orleans, saw his numbers
tumble this past season as he suffered through some erratic quarterback
play, particularly in the weeks when his Saints were without future
Hall of Famer Drew Brees. Even Brees himself seemed to be missing
something last year, so it’s not particularly surprising
that Cook caught just 37 passes. Still, Cook was able to finish
just barely inside TE1 range for fantasy as his 13.6 yards per
reception was third-best among all tight ends and he also added
an impressive seven touchdowns, bringing his total to 16 over
the two years he spent with the Saints.
Cook may not be quite as consistent of a short-to-intermediate
pass catcher as Henry has been, but he brings the field stretching
ability that few tight ends can replicate. He’s a big play
tight end in an offense with really only one proven, consistent
down-field pass catcher on the roster. He’ll have to fend
off fellow big play specialists like Mike Williams and Jalen Guyton
to some extent, but Cook could be in line to finish third on the
team in targets, behind Allen and Austin Ekeler. With the Chargers
likely to be one of the most pass-heavy teams in the league, look
for Cook to have a pretty decent chance of pushing to be a low-end
TE1 in 2021.