The Los Angeles Chargers are going to have a different look heading into 2020. Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon are both gone and replacing them are Tyrod Taylor and Austin Ekeler. Also, the Chargers just invested in their future with rookie Justin Herbert being the new face of the franchise.
Now heading into the new season, Herbert may not see the field early, so this will be Taylor’s show to produce. What kind of production will we see from him in this offense? Also, without the gunslinger in Rivers, is this offense going to shift to a more run-first approach that head coach Anthony Lynn employed back during his time in Buffalo?
Let’s dive into this offense and take a look at which players can help you in your 2020 fantasy season and who should be left off your fantasy cheat sheets.
2020 Los Angeles Chargers Fantasy Outlook
The Herbert era has dawned in Los Angeles. Former signal caller Rivers is no longer a Charger and this is the first time the Chargers will have a different starting quarterback under center since 2006. Now while Herbert is certainly the future of the franchise, he is most likely going to be the back-up QB to begin the 2020 season. With all the uncertainty right now with COVID-19, there is no guarantee that Herbert will be a starter in week one. Plus, the Chargers have an experienced quarterback in Taylor on the roster to help in the short-term until Herbert is up to speed.
Having played under coach Lynn previously in Buffalo (Lynn was offensive coordinator), Taylor does have experience with this offense. He is careful with the football and can also extend plays and gain yardage on the ground. These are valuable assets to have in fantasy terms. Plus, you can argue that Taylor has never been surrounded by a bevy of weapons during his entire career.
He has more than capable players in the backfield in Ekeler, Justin Jackson, and rookie Joshua Kelley. Also, the passing game features one of the best young tandems in the league with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams catching balls at the wide receiver position. Throw in Hunter Henry at the tight end position and Taylor can find an open receiver easily every time he drops back to pass.
While he’s surrounded by great weapons, Taylor is not exactly a great fantasy asset for starting rosters. Yes, he is familiar with the offense but he also was never asked to do too much within the offense. Taylor had the NFL’s best rushing attack back during his time at Buffalo, leading the league in rushing yards and attempts in both 2015 and 2016. So while we’re on the West Coast now, the offense is going to stay the same and Taylor will operate the same way he did back in Buffalo.
So while he may not be a stud quarterback to draft in all formats, having him as a bye week replacement or a match-up based start would be the best usage for fantasy purposes. We might see something to go against that trend but especially the way Ekeler performed last season, Lynn might lean more on the running game than Taylor’s passing prowess.
Shifting things to Herbert, the offense may make a slow change to being more passing forward. Herbert has better skills as a downfield passer and can be more aggressive to lead to more big chunk plays. While it may be a gradual change that might not take full effect till 2021 if he plays this season he becomes worth watching. That plays into the big question mark with Herbert, will he play at all this season?
He certainly was drafted like he will and he has the skills to usurp the starting role from Taylor. As mentioned though with the COVID-19 situation going on in America, Herbert may not have grasped the playbook enough to take the starting role until close to the end of the season. The earliest that Herbert could see action is after the Chargers’ bye week, which is week 11.
The thing that Herbert has going for him to see action earlier than that is Taylor’s health. During the past five seasons, Taylor has sprained his right knee twice, had a groin tear resulting in offseason surgery, a dislocated pinkie, and three concussions. His most recent concussion happened in Cleveland which opened the door for Baker Mayfield to take the starting job and never look back. So while Herbert has potential, the murkiness surrounding when he’ll see the field leaves him to be nothing but waiver wire potential. Overall, both quarterbacks should go undrafted and added based on how the season for the Chargers goes.
Tyrod Taylor: 144/212 (Completions/Attempts), 1,669 Passing Yards, 12 Passing Touchdowns, Three Interceptions, 270 Rushing Yards, Three Rushing Touchdowns
Justin Herbert: 175/290 (Completions/Attempts) 2,200 Passing Yards, 15 Passing Touchdowns, Five Interceptions, 130 Rushing Yards, Two Rushing Touchdowns
Similar to Rivers, Gordon has found a new home and will no longer be playing for the Los Angeles Chargers. The loss may not be all that big as Ekeler filled in admirably last season while Gordon sat out the first handful of games. While Ekeler wasn’t as punishing in the running game, he more than made up for it in the passing game. He led all running backs in receiving touchdowns and trailed only Christian McCaffrey in receptions and receiving yards. Regardless, Ekeler was a revelation for the Chargers offense and he should continue that success heading into 2020.
So since Gordon is no longer on the team, his vacated 204 touches in the offense will need to be distributed. Ekeler will probably garner a good chunk of those, but the rest will be doled out to Jackson and Kelley.
Jackson flashed onto the scene at the end of 2018 when injuries to Ekeler and Gordon led to Jackson seeing more of the field. While he’s not a jaw-dropping runner, he can grind out tough yards and averaged a very respectable five yards per carry in limited action. 2019 was a wash for Jackson as Ekeler and Gordon led this rushing attack and coming into 2020, Jackson will look to gain more of the load as Ekeler will lead the passing attack. The combination of Jackson and Ekeler could be something to worry about for opposing defenses and the only thing that will hurt Jackson’s chance of being the right cross to Ekeler’s lead jab is the rookie, Kelley.
Drafted out of UCLA, Kelley brings a versatile game that Jackson doesn’t have. Kelley can better fill in for Ekeler if he were to miss any time. Even if Ekeler plays in every game this year, Kelley can be utilized in both facets of the offense that can lead to him leapfrogging Jackson on the depth chart. The only thing that will hurt Kelley is the same thing that will affect all rookies in the NFL and that’s COVID-19. The limited time to understand the offensive scheme will lead to Kelley struggling early and not being as productive as many fantasy owners would like him to be. Jackson’s familiarity with the offense should give him an advantage in the early part of the season, but the abilities that Kelley possesses will surely increase his involvement in the offense compared to Jackson.
So it’s clear that Ekeler should be drafted as a starting running back in all formats, the question comes to the other two running backs on the roster. Jackson has early season appeal, but Kelley’s ceiling is much higher than Jackson’s and should surpass him on the depth chart halfway through the year. So while you could snag Jackson with one of your last picks in the draft, you might be better off grabbing Kelley as he can become a better addition once the fantasy playoffs come around. Also as mentioned, he skillset is better suited for replacing Ekeler should he have to miss anytime.
So Kelley would become the more valuable handcuff compared to Jackson. The one thing that all fantasy owners should be worried about is if Jackson and Kelley end up canceling each other out too often and both become useless additions to fantasy rosters. Even splits of carries and targets could lead to a coin-toss situation that you want no part of. Optimism leads to Kelley grabbing that second-string job at the midpoint of the season, but of course, monitor the situation closely and Jackson could end up being more valuable depending on how the COVID-19 situation shakes out.
Austin Ekeler: 653 Rushing Yards, Six Rushing Touchdowns, 78 Receptions, 815 Receiving Yards, Six Receiving Touchdowns
Justin Jackson: 487 Rushing Yards, Three Rushing Touchdowns, 24 Receptions, 120 Receiving Yards
Joshua Kelley: 569 Rushing Yards, Four Rushing Touchdowns, 45 Receptions, 311 Receiving Yards, Two Receiving Touchdowns
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
The passing offense should be interesting for the Chargers. While Ekeler will do his work out of the backfield, the receivers might take a slight hit based on the offense with Taylor under center. The switch to Herbert will make things a little bit more favorable for all receivers, but that won’t happen until halfway through the year, if at all in 2020. With that said Allen is still worth drafting as a starting-caliber receiver. He had at least 135 targets in the last three seasons and also went over 100 receptions two of those past three seasons. The Chargers are sure to take a more run-first approach with Taylor as the starting quarterback, but that shouldn’t affect Allen from being one of the premier fantasy receivers in 2020.
On the flip side, Williams will take a larger hit compared to Allen. Williams did go over the 1,000 yards receiving mark for the first time in his career last season. So the potential is there as always, but the offensive style will prevent Williams from being as dynamic as last season. He is still going to be worth drafting, but his value has dropped. Based on the match-up, he could be worth starting at your FLEX position but he will only see his stock rise if Allen were to get hurt or when Herbert gets inserted into the starting role. With Herbert as the starting quarterback, the passing offense should see a lift and Williams could be a valuable player for playoff rosters. It’s a big thing to hang your hat on, but Williams still can contribute to your roster even in a slightly smaller capacity.
A name to keep an eye on is rookie K.J. Hill. While he was drafted in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft, he has the makings of a future star from the slot position. Hill has excellent hands and was one of the better route runners in the 2020 wide receiver draft class. As mentioned already, the offense with Taylor as the quarterback may not see Hill being a fantasy-relevant option.
However, the thing that is helping Hill to see a blip on his fantasy heart rate monitor is the depth behind Allen and Williams is wide open. Hill’s route-running ability and hands could lead to Hill seeing the field early and being a possible late-season flier. Also, whenever the switch to Herbert happens then this offense could use a few more three wide receiver sets.
The last noteworthy receiving option in the Chargers passing attack will be the tight end, Hunter Henry. The oft-injured Henry saw the field for 12 games in 2019 and showed skills that put him on the map back in his rookie year.
If Henry can remain healthy, he should be able to turn in a good fantasy season in 2020. Even with Taylor as the quarterback, Henry could see another top-10 fantasy season. If you look at all 17 of his touchdowns scored in his career, Henry has scored the most touchdowns in the red zone with 14. Couple that with the fact that Taylor has thrown the most touchdown passes to tight ends and you have a match made in heaven.
Henry finished as the ninth-best fantasy tight end in 2019 and that’s even with four missed games. If he can play all 16 games in 2020 and even in a run-first approach offense, Henry has a chance to equal that mark if not surpass it.
Keenan Allen: 92 Receptions, 1,091 Receiving Yards, Eight Receiving Touchdowns
Mike Williams: 61 Receptions, 840 Receiving Yards, Four Receiving Touchdowns
K.J. Hill: 33 Receptions, 421 Receiving Yards, One Receiving Touchdown
Hunter Henry: 58 Receptions, 670 Receiving Yards, Six Receiving Touchdowns