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AFC West preview

San Diego

Chargers

Philip Rivers, QB

: Not great last season – less passing yards, less touchdowns, more interceptions. He suffered a torn ACL in January (AFC Playoffs), although offseason reports of his recovery have been positive. Only four of San Diego’s 2008 regular season games are

not against Top 10 pass defenses from a year ago. And the most difficult stint in Rivers’ schedule is December, otherwise known as Fantasy Playoffs Month, when the Chargers play each division opponent and the Buccaneers. He did play well over the latter half ‘07 (it’s not a coincidence that Norv Turner’s play calling improved with each game). He also rarely gets sacked and is once again surrounded by an excellent supporting cast. Excellent QB2 candidate; Rivers averaged only 29 pass attempts/game the past two years, while our projections for him validate the 9th round ADP.

LaDainian Tomlinson, RB

: Although his rushing/receiving yards and touchdowns took a drastic downturn last season, he remains deserving of the #1 overall pick in your draft. His sprained knee will be a thing of the past come September, and there are plenty of reasons to expect another dominant year from the consummate fantasy juggernaut. Stellar O-line, favorable run schedule (especially during Fantasy Playoffs Month) and finally a multi-faceted Chargers passing attack to keep opposing defenses honest. Few defensive coordinators will routinely put eight in the box against the Chargers, leaving LT with more room to run this season than in 2007 (a scary thought).

Backup

RBs

: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to whether you should target rookie

Jacob Hester or returnman/scatback

Darren Sproles. I’d recommend Hester, based on the assumption that he would get looks near the goal line in LT’s stead.

Chris Chambers, WR

: While his athleticism and natural ability have never been called into question, Chambers’ NFL career has largely been erratic and unpredictable. But since trading for Chambers last October,

San Diego

seems to have found the best receiving threat outside that they’ve had since … Anthony Miller? A comparative look at his 2007 numbers reveals much. On the one hand, Chambers was targeted 11 times per game before

Miami

traded him (31 catches, no touchdowns). On the other, he was thrown to less but maximized his opportunities in

San Diego

(51 catches and five touchdowns, including AFC playoff games). If his final five games of the season are any indication, Chris Chambers is at the very least a solid WR3; 23 catches for 398 receiving yards (17.3 avg.) and three touchdowns when it mattered most. I’ve got him ranked higher than most (WR #23 based on the Shark scoring format).

Vincent Jackson, WR

:

A year ago,

San Diego

decided against re-signing veteran receiver Keenan McCardell and Eric Parker required toe surgery. Vincent Jackson failed to rise to the occasion as the presumptive #1 wideout, which probably had a lot to do with Chambers joining the team via trade. Only a pair of the 16 games he started during the regular season netted double-digit fantasy points. It was during the postseason that

Jackson

glimmered, pacing

San Diego

with 18 catches for 100 receiving yards/game and two touchdowns. If Antonio Gates (injury) is slow to re-establish himself as the #1 target in

San Diego’s passing game, I think it’s Vincent Jackson who will reap the benefits. Selecting him in the 10th round as your WR3 would not be a stretch, although it’s hard to expect consistent fantasy points from week to week.

Backup

WRs

Craig Davis was drafted in the first round a year ago but was targeted only about twice per game. Good speed and run-after-the-catch ability, but barring injury to others ahead of him on the depth chart, he’s realistically the fifth option in the Chargers passing game. There were a few games in which

Legedu Naanee contributed as a rookie, including a big play in the playoff game against

Indianapolis. The sizable receiver has reportedly impressed the coaching staff this offseason, and will figure into

San Diego’s offensive plans a little more in 2008.

Antonio Gates, TE

: Between him, LT, and Philip Rivers, it is Antonio Gates who appears least likely to be completely healed from surgery and ready for the rigors of another NFL season. When healthy, Gates has to be considered the best receiving tight end in the game. But that’s the rub – entering the preseason, Gates’ toe situation is iffy and one fantasy owners would be wise to monitor. We know from the number of games he played hurt last season that he has a high pain threshold; I guess that’s a positive, not having to worry about whether Gates will suit up if he shows up “questionable” on the injury report. Will he again catch over 60 percent of the passes thrown his way? Probably. Will he contend for the most touchdowns among tight ends? Probably. I’m more confident, though, in Jason Witten giving us an encore performance as the reigning #1 fantasy tight end, given that we don’t know how close Antonio Gates is to 100% at this point. (But that’s just me.)

Nate Kaeding, K

: Nate was the kicker to have throughout the fantasy playoffs in most leagues, a year ago; he went 3-for-3 in field goal attempts each game in weeks 15 through 17, and totaled 11 extra points in those three weeks. He has converted a remarkable 89% of his field goals over the past three seasons. Kaeding has also converted over half of his field goal attempts from 50+ yards out in his career.

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