The 2017 NFL regular season has concluded, so it’s time to briefly examine the state of each team’s skill positions for fantasy purposes with an eye towards next season. I will be reviewing each team in the reverse order of the 2017 NFL standings. The next team on the docket:
Los Angeles Chargers (9-7)
As it seems to be the case every season, Philip Rivers provided exceptional value as a back-end QB1 that was often drafted at the tail end of fantasy drafts. Rivers has thrown no fewer than 26 touchdown passes in any season since 2008, while 2012 is the only season over that span where he’s failed to eclipse 4,000 yards passing. Additionally, Rivers is on a 12-year iron-man streak of having never missed a regular season game since becoming the Chargers’ starting quarterback in 2006. One of Rivers’ bugaboos in 2016, however, was turnovers, and he was able to cut them down to just 11 in 2017 after committing 26 the year prior. With an embarrassment of riches at Rivers’ disposal in terms of skill position talent, the 36-year old veteran is poised to again be a late-round fantasy draft value at the quarterback position that can be add after the hotter names are off the board. That said, it does bear mentioning that Rivers doesn’t carry the same rushing upside as many of his younger counterparts.
Melvin Gordon continues to be an interesting case, as while he finally crossed the 1,000 threshold in his third NFL season, he has yet to average better than 3.9 yards-per-carry (YPC) in any campaign since entering the League in 2015. At the end of the day though, fantasy owners don’t care about its getting done, just that it is, and Gordon’s late first-round draft price proved well deserved. Despite being banged up at times during the season, Gordon received at least 15 offensive touches in every game, and went over 100 total yards seven times. One somewhat overlooked aspect of Gordon’s game was his ability to catch balls out of the backfield, as his reception totals have climbed with each NFL season (his 58 in 2017 were good for second on the team). Undrafted rookie Austin Ekeler emerged mid-season with a four game stretch where he averaged 71.7 total yards with three touchdowns between Weeks 10 and 13, and made folks wonder if he’d be a threat to Gordon’s workload. Those fears turned out to be unwarranted, however, as Ekeler touched the ball just seven more times from Week 14 onward. With Gordon turning just 25 years old in April and locked into a voluminous workload, the former Wisconsin Badger is a safe option in the back-end of the first round of Summer fantasy drafts as a RB1, while Ekeler will be nothing more than a handcuff.
Keenan Allen’s 1,393 receiving yards were good for third overall in the NFL this past season as the fifth-year wideout snagged the 2017 Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year Award after being limited to just 9 total games played across the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Allen was particularly impressive over this final 7 games, a span that saw him average 8.3 catches 113.9 receiving yards per game while scoring five of his six 2017 touchdowns (a start contrast to Allen’s ho-hum 4.8/66.2 with one touchdown over his first 9 games). Turning just 26-years old this April, Allen is firmly established as the top receiving target in the Chargers offense, and will be an excellent WR1 choice in the second/third rounds of Summer fantasy drafts. With Allen healthy and producing, Tyrell Williams predictably took a step backwards after putting up 1,059 receiving yards in 2016. Tyrell’s role in the offense could potentially be scaled back even further in 2018 as the Chargers look to fully incorporate 2017 seventh overall draft pick Mike Williams into the offense. Little was expected of Mike Williams in his rookie year after he missed most of the Chargers’ offseason practices due to a back injury, which resulted in six missed games and spare usage in the rest. The Chargers didn’t use such lofty draft capital to have Mike Williams languish on the bench, so expect him to be given every opportunity to win the no. 2 receiver job this Summer. Two seasons after a breakout 2015 campaign with the Browns, Travis Benjamin has settled in as more of a situational deep threat/gadget player with the Chargers, and won’t be a 2018 fantasy factor.
This past season was supposed to be the one where the Chargers’ tight end torch was officially passed from Antonio Gates to Hunter Henry, as the now 23-year old sophomore tight was often drafted as a mid-tier TE1 in most fantasy drafts last Summer. Henry posted modest improvements in catches and yards (he caught 36 passes for 478 yards as a rookie in 2016), but regressed in the touchdown department, and was consistently inconsistent through out the 2017 season (four games of 73 receiving yards or more, and seven games of 28 receiving yards or less, including two bagels). Henry did appear to turn the corner during a three game stretch between Weeks 12 and 14, a span that saw him accumulate 16 catches for 207 yards and two touchdowns, though he unfortunately suffered a lacerated kidney in the Chargers’ Week 15 loss to the Chiefs, which effectively ended Henry’s season prematurely. Fifteen-year veteran Antonio Gates served as a more of an annoyance to Henry owners rather than providing stand-alone fantasy value himself, and it is currently uncertain as to whether the Chargers plan to keep Gates around to play for a 16th season. Regardless of whether Gates stays or goes, Henry will offer post-hype appeal as a fantasy TE1 who stands a high probability of having the 2018 season many thought he would in 2017.