Last week, the quarterback taken by the San Diego Chargers with the first overall selection in the 2004 NFL Draft announced his retirement. On Monday, Jay Glazer reported that the Chargers were set to move on from the QB they got when they traded the first to the New York Giants. If Glazer’s report is accurate, Philip Rivers’ time with the Chargers ends after 228 regular-season games, 59,271 passing yards, and 397 touchdowns. Sadly though, it also ends without an appearance in a Super Bowl.
With this changing of the guard in mind, here are some instant thoughts as to what the news means for the dynasty value of the Chargers players left behind, not to mention the man himself.
It would betray no secrets to say that Rivers was not at his best in 2019, both from a real-world and fantasy point of view. The numbers were there in terms of production, but efficiency wasn’t his bag.
After posting QB1 numbers three times in the seasons opening four weeks, Rivers was a top-12 option at the position only twice the rest of the way. A large cause of his struggles was the apparent loss of his deep ball. Rivers attempted 75 deep pass attempts in 2019, No. 6 among all quarterbacks. But his completion percentage on these throws was just 30.7%. Twenty-six QBs had a better deep-ball completion rate.
Rivers will be 39 during the season but appears set on continuing his NFL career. Without knowing where he ends up, his dynasty appeal is questionable at best. Rivers recently moved to Florida, prompting rumors of a move to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But what use Bruce Arians, lover of all things vertical, would have of a QB without the ability to push the ball downfield is open to debate.
Whatever way you look at it, Austin Ekeler’s 2019 season was a personal triumph. When Melvin Gordon was out of the lineup, he was sensational. When Gordon played, he was efficient and productive. This is especially true in the passing game. Whatever Gotham needed him, he was.
Like Rivers, Ekeler saw his form trail off after a hot start. But his seasonal production was still up there among the best in the game.
Ekeler is a restricted free agent in 2020. This plus his production means that he is likely to still be a Charger in the new season. Perhaps he will continue in the role he played when Gordon was healthy. But almost certainly he’d be alongside a new running back. Ekeler has shown that he can be a productive workhorse or an efficient role player. The ambiguity surrounding the Chargers QB situation makes him someone that I would be holding in dynasty, but not necessarily aggressively trying to acquire.
Keenan Allen was targeted more times by Rivers than any other Chargers pass catcher over the last 16 years apart from Antonio Gates. Their connection was best described as efficient rather than explosive, at least in terms of adjusted yards per attempt.
That description probably sums up Allen’s 2019 season quite nicely too, I’d say. Allen commanded enough volume to keep him fantasy relevant. But his touchdowns and efficiency made you wish for just a little bit more.
2020 will be the last year of Allen’s current deal with the Chargers. He’ll only be 28 when it expires, giving him a few years of “prime” left. But without knowing who his 2020 QB will be, it is hard to be too excited about Allen as anything more than a WR2 with occasional trips to into WR1 airspace. He’s pretty much been a lock for 1,100 yards and six touchdowns over the last three seasons. But in that time he has been a WR1 only 33% of the time. Unless you can guarantee him playing with a QB who can establish chemistry with Allen right from the get-go, he’s a hold or sell for me.
Short of the Chargers making Blake Bortles their new face of the franchise, Mike Williams could be in for a big 2020. Even with Rivers unleashing a noodle arm, Williams led the NFL with a 20.4 yards per reception average in 2019. He was a big play waiting to happen at any stage of any game thanks to Rivers’ tendency to target him down the field. While not great for efficiency, it did lead to a bunch of splash plays — plays that would have helped Williams and his fantasy owners but for one thing: very few of them ended up in the end zone. Williams scored twice all season. But his air yards profile suggests that he is a major candidate for touchdown regression in the future.
But while more touchdowns may be in his future, it’s hard to see Williams commanding huge volume in the Chargers offense, regardless of the signal-caller. He started as a boom-or-bust WR3, and he’ll stay a boom-or-bust WR3. Such players are not priority adds for me in dynasty. If you have him, stick with him. If you haven’t got him, but feel like you would like to have him, don’t offer too much.
Of all the players mentioned here, Hunter Henry is the one that I will enthusiastically encourage you to go out and acquire. Yes, I’m biased given the high regard I hold tight ends in. But if Henry is going into a season healthy for the first time in what seems like forever, then there is plenty to get excited about.
The most exciting thing about Henry’s rankings, other than the fact he put up the numbers with Rivers, is that he managed all of it in just 12 games. He is also entering the TE prime, as he’ll be 26 during the season. He’s a young 26 at that given the number of games he has missed. If he can finally stay healthy, then he offers whoever the Chargers QB is a genuine field-stretching threat at the TE spot. Henry was No. 6 among all TE’s in air yards last season despite the missed games. He’s a reliable red-zone weapon who caught three touchdowns among his eight red-zone receptions last season.
It will be good news for Henry if Tyrod Taylor is given the first crack at replacing Rivers. Between 2015 and 2017 for the Bills, Taylor’s favorite target was TE Charles Clay. I’m doing Clay no disservice by saying that Henry is a superior talent. He could flourish even with Allen and Williams sharing the workload.
In dynasty, you don’t (or you shouldn’t) draft rookie TEs. You let someone else do that. Then when they have become bored waiting for things to finally come together, you make your move then. 2020 will be Henry’s year, even without Rivers.