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Juggernaut Index, No. 6: Chargers roster stacked with fantasy talent

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Los Angeles Chargers fans have plenty to be excited about entering 2018. This team’s offense is loaded and the D has a chance to be great. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Philip Rivers is one of those boring mid-draft fantasy picks that pretty much always pays off. He’s finished as a top-12 quarterback in our game eight times in the past decade, including last season. Rivers ranked second in the NFL last year in passing yards (4515), fourth in yards per attempt (7.9) and fifth in passing TDs (28). At 36, he remains the face of the Chargers and one of the league’s best and most efficient passers.

Fans may not widely recognize Rivers as an all-time great, but he ranks top-ten in league history in passing yardage, touchdowns, passer-rating, yards per attempt and completion percentage. If you can get past the cartoonish facial expressions and the random-dad-at-the-beach throwing motion, then it’s easy to appreciate Rivers’ stellar career. He’s certainly capable of passing your fake team to a league title. Rivers works behind an excellent pass-blocking line and he has a talented receiving corps at his disposal. He’s an undeniable bargain at his recent draft price (ADP 105.4, QB12).

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Hunter Henry’s offseason ACL injury was a significant blow to the Chargers’ offense, and, as of this writing, Antonio Gates remains unsigned. Keenan Allen’s name is still atop the team’s receiving hierarchy, however, and he’s coming off a phenomenal season. Allen caught 102 passes for 1393 yards and six scores last season on a whopping 159 targets. He’s a safe, bankable pick at any point in the second round of a typical draft. While it’s true that Allen has missed a bunch of games in his career, he’s not a guy who has a worrisome history with any one specific injury. It’s been a collarbone here, a kidney there. The man is a great receiver, a heavy-volume player in a terrific offense. There’s no reason to avoid him entering 2018.

Philip Rivers, under-appreciated fantasy asset. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Mike Williams, rocketing up the receiver ranks

Williams, who caught exactly 11 passes as a rookie, is now being drafted as WR44. His average draft position has jumped two full rounds over the past month — and to be honest, it’s kinda tough to argue with the leap. Williams was the seventh overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, he has ideal size (6-foot-4) and he’s tied to a fun passing game. As you’re probably aware, his draft price spiked after this ridiculous preseason catch…

Williams can play. A back injury derailed his first pro season, yet he still has obvious upside. He’s not a guy with exceptional separation skills, but he’s a physical receiver with terrific body control. Williams looks the part of a dangerous red-zone threat. The profit potential here is decreasing by the day; let’s hope you can land him outside the top-40 receivers when your draft rolls around.

Tyrell Williams saw a serious decrease in targets, predictably enough, with a fully operational Keenan Allen back in the mix. Tyrell delivered a breakout 69-1059-7 season in 2016, but slipped to 43-728-4 last year, on 50 fewer chances. He’s a legit vertical threat with size (6-foot-4) and after-the-catch ability, though we can’t expect significantly better numbers than those he produced a year ago. Travis Benjamin remains in the picture as well, but he’s only a deep league fantasy option. Virgil Green is the apparent plan at tight end, for better or worse. He has touchdown potential in this offense, certainly, but his position is loaded with talent and sleeper in our game.

Melvin Gordon, no-doubt fantasy first-rounder. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Melvin Gordon is actually quite good

Gordon enters his fourth NFL season having not yet averaged better than 3.9 yards per carry in any year. That sort of track record doesn’t normally describe a dynamic 25-year-old back with special traits, but Gordon is an exception. He’s a player who consistently passes the eye test — here’s a sample of his work — even when the efficiency numbers aren’t there. Gordon’s line has graded as a below-average run-blocking crew in his three seasons, which of course is part of the problem; it’s no easy thing to disentangle a running back’s performance from his blocking. This team addressed the line in a meaningful way in the offseason, which should be a win for the offense as a whole, assuming good health.

In any case, Gordon’s efficiency relative to the other upper-tier backs is not actually a huge fantasy concern. Our game rewards volume, and that’s an area in which Gordon is a beast. He’s averaged 22.0 touches and 103.3 scrimmage yards per game over the past two seasons while reaching the end-zone 24 times. Those numbers will always pay the fantasy bills. Draft Gordon near the first/second round turn with total confidence. It’s hard not to feel as if his best seasons are ahead of him.

Austin Ekeler was a revelation last season on limited snaps, emerging as Gordon’s clear handcuff. The undrafted back gained 539 total yards on 79 touches, including 27 receptions. If Gordon misses time at any point, Ekeler could very well rank among the RB2s. He can’t be ignored in 12-team leagues.

The Chargers D deserves your attention

This team’s defense ranked third in the league against the pass last season (197.3 YPG), third in scoring (17.0 PPG), fifth in sacks (43) and sixth in takeaways (27). That’s obviously a recipe for fantasy success. Casey Hayward (hamstring) and Joey Bosa (foot) are both dealing with injuries at the moment, but neither is expected to miss the opener against Kansas City. The Bolts have several friendly first-half matchups, including Buffalo and Cleveland, so this D needs to be among the first off the board in any draft.

2017 Offensive Stats & Ranks

Points per game – 22.2 (13th in NFL)
Pass YPG – 276.9 (1)
Rush YPG – 99.7 (24)
Yards per play – 5.9 (4)
Plays per game – 63.8 (15)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) Buffalo, 31) Miami, 30) NY Jets, 29) Baltimore, 28) Oakland, 27) Cleveland, 26) Indianapolis, 25) Washington, 24) Chicago, 23) Tennessee, 22) Jacksonville, 21) Dallas, 20) Tampa Bay, 19) Cincinnati, 18) Denver, 17) San Francisco, 16) Arizona, 15) Seattle, 14) Detroit, 13) Carolina, 12) Houston, 11) Philadelphia, 10) Green Bay, 9) Atlanta, 8) Kansas City, 7) NY Giants, 6) LA Chargers

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