What a change a year makes. Last season the Chargers were making headlines for all the right reasons. They had numerous Pro Bowl selections, won their Division, and seemed to be a breeding ground for positivity and work ethic. Then the offseason rolled around and Jekyll turned to Hyde and the Chargers became tabloid fodder for all the wrong reasons. Names like Tomlinson, Jackson, Merriman, and McNeill who used to be associated with positivity and praise, have now become synonymous with contract disputes, hold out threats, suspensions, off the field disciplinary issues (A literal shot at Tila Tequila), and general unpleasantness since their playoff collapse. The only way for the Chargers to turn it around is by stepping out on the field, playing the game, and proving that they can persevere through it all and come out on top. Ahead I will discuss their chances of doing just that by analyzing their top fantasy prospects as well as their coaching strategy and 2010 NFL schedule.
San Diego Chargers 2010 Fantasy Football Draft Targets
Philip Rivers: Based upon performance alone last season I would have thought that Philip Rivers and co would be poised for another big fantasy year, but with the Chargers being in a sort of state of flux and controversy in the offseason it is hard for me to continue that line of thinking. Rivers' number one receiver has been suspended, his supporting cast of wide outs are relative unknowns, and his Pro Bowl left tackle Marcus McNeill is a hold out threat, which would make their already weak O-line even worse. This is not to say that Rivers wont produce when the time comes, but it just makes one unsure as to what level of production he will have. Last season he was a 4,200+ yd, 28 TD guy, but this year there is potential for a slight decline. How much? It truly is hard to say, but with a lack of running game he will be forced to the air a lot more and subsequently reach the end zone 20+ times, but with an increase in attempts it makes their scheme predictable, which could lead to a marked increse in interceptions over the course of the year. He was a top-5 QB pick at the conclusion of 2009 and even with everything that has happened surrounding him he has always found a way to produce big numbers so look for Rivers to fluctuate somewhere in the top-7 again in 2010.
Darren Sproles/Ryan Mathews: With the departure of LaDainian Tomlinson to New York, the starting job in San Diego has become wide open. On one hand Darren Sproles has great quickness and can be an explosive force in the open field, but has issues running between the tackles, which doesn't bode well for a guy looking to be an every down back. On the other the Chargers took Ryan Mathews in the first round of the draft and is in the best position to be a major impact guy in his rookie season. Mathews has great speed and can break tackles in the open field and will be a great counterpart to Sproles' more finesse oriented running style. Mathews will be the man in San Diego once the season starts and has potential to be a 1,000 yd 6 TD guy right off the bat, but that is a best case scenario. Mathews may not be a starter in fantasy world, but he will definitely be a great Bye Week filler or a solid secondary starter in deeper leagues while Sproles will most likely take a back seat and continue to be a swing man out of the backfield with his hands and will still be a relatively minor contributor as the touches go Mathews way.
Vincent Jackson: With his suspension fresh in everyone's mind it is going to be hard to see Jackson and the Chargers entering the season on amiable terms and even when, and if, he comes back it is uncertain what sort of role he will continue to play. If things look promising he could be a good player to pick up in later rounds of your draft and keep hidden on the bench til the time comes, but until then the Chargers organization need someone, anyone, to step up on the outside, which leads us to this guy...
Malcolm Floyd: The number two WR in San Diego last year, if Jackson is absent he will be the go to guy in 2010. Floyd has great size at the position but had limited productivity as a third option for Rivers with only 45 catches for 776 yds last season. Those aren't pedestrian numbers, but his fantasy impact is in a little bit of doubt because he was rarely ever a target in the red zone with only 1 touchdown. He needs to become a bigger impact player in Jackson's absence and is certainly poised to do so. Look for all of his numbers, including red zone targets, to jump this year as he will become a 1,000+ yd, 6 TD guy this season.
Antonio Gates: TE is one position in the Charger lineup where there are no questions. Gates is one of Rivers favorite targets on third down and in the red zone and consistently produces when called upon. Besides his rookie campaign, Gates has scored a minimum of 8 touchdowns and had at least 700 receiving yards. The trickle down effect of possibly missing Vincent Jackson for most of the season could affect Gates the most. Gates will become Rivers' primary target, especially in the Red Zone, and his numbers will increase accordingly. There is potential for this to be one of Gates' biggest years to date and I see him going for 1,200 yds and 10-13 touchdowns.
The San Diego Charger defensive unit is definitely not the force that they once were. Last season they became a team that relied heavily upon their offense to bail them out and win games for them. That is not to say that they had zero success, but they are a middle tier defense who do not do any one thing particularly well. They were in the lower half of the league in takeaways, accounting for only 13 interceptions, and had minor success attacking the quarterback with 35.0 sacks. The key to their season is going to be in their linebacking corps. Shawne Merriman failed to live up to his own high expectations last year with only 36 tackles and 4.0 sacks in his full season return from injury, but it allowed for other guys like Stephen Cooper (102 Tackles) and Shaun Phillips (7.0 sacks) to step up and prove their worth. These are the guys who are going to force quarterbacks to rush throws and make mistakes, if they are able to do that it will allow their secondary to attack the ball in the air and hopefully improve their turnover game. The Chargers offense is not going to be what it was a year ago, at least right out of the gate, so instead of the offense bailing out the defense there is going to need to be a major role reversal this season and the defense is going to be a major focal point.
Wk Date Opponent
1 Mon, Sept 13th @ Kansas City Chiefs
2 Sun, Sept 19th Jacksonville Jaguars
3 Sun, Sept 26th @ Seattle Seahawks
4 Sun, Oct 3rd Arizona Cardinals
5 Sun, Oct 10th @ Oakland Raiders
6 Sun, Oct 17th @ St. Louis Rams
7 Sun, Oct 24th New England Patriots
8 Sun, Oct 31st Tennessee Titans
9 Sun, Nov 7th @ Houston Texans
10 BYE WEEK
11 Mon, Nov 22nd Denver Broncos
12 Sun, Nov 28th @ Indianapolis Colts
13 Sun, Dec 5th Oakland Raiders
14 Sun, Dec 12th Kansas City Chiefs
15 Thurs, Dec 16th San Francisco 49ers
16 Sun, Dec 26th @ Cincinnati Bengals
17 Sun, Jan 2nd Denver Broncos
The Chargers will again be in the drivers seat in the AFC West division this year with their only true competition being the Denver Broncos, but with the loss of Brandon Marshall and questions at QB could struggle mightily on offense. Their overall schedule does not seem too daunting and could be a major asset as they try to get their revamped offense on track, with their only major challenges being New England, Indianapolis, and Houston, the rest of their opposition is on par with them talent-wise and if they can get over those minor speed bumps are poised to have an 11-5 year and will rest atop the AFC West once again.
Norv Turner and his offensive unit need to establish a running game. With the departure of LT there will be a lot of pressure on the rookie shoulders of Ryan Mathews. Over the years it is pretty obvious that Turner prefers to use Sproles sparingly and allow him to continue to be the big play threat that he is, so Mathews will be the every down back come opening day. He will get his touches and will have some success with a decent offensive line in front of him, but if he struggles it could spell trouble for San Diego because of their depleted receiving corps. Outside of Antonio Gates the Chargers really lack a true number one guy. Floyd has potential to be a big downfield threat and the addition of Josh Reed from Buffalo gives them some depth but they are going to need more than just him to be successful and that could come in the form of Legedu Naanee. Although he only caught 24 balls last year, he will be a major player in the Chargers offense this year. He may not have the best speed in the league but he has solid hands and is a great physical presence down the middle of the field. Without Jackson in the lineup he will get more attention from Rivers and could be a solid back up in the early weeks while Jackson watches from home.
The Chargers D needs to step up the pressure big time this season. For far too long they have been able to sit back, allow the game to come to them, and merely play damage control style defense. This year needs to be different. When the Chargers had the most success they were aggressive up front and put relentless amounts of pressure upon the quarterback and jammed the receivers at the line, but it has been a few years since we have seen them play at that level. All the talk has been about the offensive success of the team and I think that this year things turn around and the focus returns to the defense, and it will start with Eric Weddle in the secondary. Poised to be a major player last season he underachieved along the same lines as Shawne Merriman, but that downturn will not continue this year and his improved play will only help Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer become more effective on the outside. While they may not reach the heights of the 2007 season, the Chargers defense will step up their aggression, attack the ball, and relieve some of the pressure from the offensive unit.