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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: San Diego Chargers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The Chargers were one of the biggest surprises in 2013. With new coach Mike McCoy, the team looked rejuvenated and reached the second round of the playoffs.

Now we'll find out if they can do it again.

For Fantasy owners, the bigger question is if San Diego's stars can have repeat performances in 2014. Philip Rivers was a Top 5 Fantasy quarterback in standard leagues. Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead were Top 20 running backs. Keenan Allen was a Top 20 receiver. Even Antonio Gates was a Top 10 tight end, although Ladarius Green appears to have more upside.

The Chargers added Donald Brown this offseason to muck up their backfield, but we'll find out how it shakes out. And Malcom Floyd (neck) should return as the starter opposite Allen. McCoy said he plans to use more two tight-end sets this year to maximize Green's potential, so there's plenty of reason for optimism with this offense.

San Diego opened last season as one of the better passing teams, which helped Rivers get off to a great start. But the Chargers closed the year running the ball at a high level, which was why Mathews finally delivered on his potential.

We'd like to see what San Diego's true identity is, but either way the Chargers have plenty of Fantasy options for owners to rely on this season.

What's next? ... Ryan Mathews

It was great to see Mathews bounce back and play at a high level again after a lost 2012 due to injuries and poor play. He had 285 carries for 1,255 yards and six touchdowns and 26 catches for 189 yards and a touchdown last year, and he finished with double digits in Fantasy points 11 times.

The addition of Brown -- who had a great season with the Colts (102 carries for 547 yards and six touchdowns and 27 catches for 214 yards and two touchdowns) -- makes it troubling for Mathews, along with Woodhead still in the mix. Woodhead had 106 carries for 429 yards and two touchdowns and 76 catches for 605 yards and six touchdowns.

Now, the Chargers are saying all the right things about Mathews. The thought is Brown is an upgrade on Ronnie Brown, who was the No. 3 running back last year. But that's quite an upgrade, and Donald Brown could definitely steal plenty of work from Mathews.

Prior to adding Brown, Mathews was considered a Top 12 running back worth drafting in Round 2. Now he's closer to a Top 20 option who should only be drafted in Round 4.

McCoy said in an interview with CBSSports.com this offseason that the Chargers could use a hot-hand approach with their backfield, which is bad news all around.

"You get in there, you get on a little bit of a roll and you're going to stay in there," McCoy said. "Donald is a perfect fit for our system, and that's why we went after him and got him. He understands what we want to do offensively, not only in the passing game but in the running game and pass protection. ... We'll let Donald come in there and show us what he can do, and we'll try to take advantage of what he does best and go with the flow of the game."

Woodhead is only worth drafting with a mid-round pick in PPR leagues, and he's a late-round flier in standard formats. And Brown is probably best left on waivers or as a handcuff for Mathews in deeper leagues.

We just hope Mathews, who is entering a contract year, doesn't suffer because he proved last season he can be a standout Fantasy option when healthy.

Headed for regression ... Philip Rivers

2013 Touches Leaders
864 total touches (rush attempts + receptions)
Ryan Mathews 311 (285 car., 26 rec.) 36.0%
Danny Woodhead 182 (106 car., 76 rec.) 21.1%
Antonio Gates 77 rec. 8.9%
Keenan Allen 71 rec. 8.2%
Ronnie Brown 53 (45 car., 8 rec.) 6.3%
All Others 170 19.7%

Of course when last season started you had Rivers in the same category as Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Come on, raise your hand if you did. Take a bow.

Rivers finished No. 4 in Fantasy points behind Manning, Brees and Andy Dalton, another surprise quarterback. He passed for 4,478 yards on 70 percent completions with 32 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

It was his best season since 2010, but it was deceiving. Rivers was great early in the year with 20 or more Fantasy points in four of his first five games, but he had just four of those performances in his final 11 outings when the Chargers got run heavy.

And that's where they're headed again this year, running before throwing. The biggest offseason addition on offense was a third running back in Brown instead of a second receiver, even though Floyd is coming off a serious neck injury.

Rivers will definitely still have plenty of good moments, but the inconsistency will hurt you if he's drafted as a No. 1 Fantasy quarterback. The best strategy is to draft him as a No. 2 option with a late-round pick; he's worth pairing with a shaky No. 1 quarterback like Nick Foles, Jay Cutler, Robert Griffin III or Cam Newton.

If one of those quarterbacks don't deliver, you'll have Rivers waiting in the wings. Otherwise he can sit on your bench or be used as trade bait, but just have reasonable expectations for him this season.

New tight end in town ... Ladarius Green

Even though Antonio Gates finished No. 9 in Fantasy points at tight end last season, he was a bust for most owners. He had 77 catches for 872 yards and four touchdowns, which was his lowest total since his rookie season in 2003.

He's getting older and slower at 34, and the Chargers have a replacement option in Green. The younger tight end outplayed Gates down the stretch last year with at least eight Fantasy points in four of his final seven games.

That prompted McCoy to say in an interview with CBSSports.com this offseason that he wished he used Green more earlier in the year.

"What happened with him last year was he made the most of his opportunities," McCoy said. "Early in the year, they were limited. As time went along, and as an offense, you always evolve to what your players do best. Being together for the first time, there were some things we were still learning about our team. It takes time. And Ladarius made the most of his opportunities. When he was in at the right time, he was continuing to make plays. You wish you would have done that a little earlier."

Gates could easily return as a No. 1 Fantasy tight end this year, especially if the touchdown total rises. Remember, he scored at least seven touchdowns from 2004-12. But with Green's presence that could be hard.

We don't recommend drafting either tight end as a No. 1 option in a 10- or 12-team league, but Green is the one to target as a second tight end with a late-round pick if you're looking for upside. Forget about Gates and the name recognition. Let him prove himself first and then add him off waivers before drafting him in most formats.

Schedule analysis

Good luck to any Fantasy owner who wants to rely on the Chargers in the first two games of the season. There might not be a tougher two-game opening set then at Arizona in Week 1 and vs. Seattle in Week 2. And the Fantasy championship game in Week 16 is at San Francisco. It won't be easy for the Chargers this year if the defenses on the schedule play to form, with Denver upgrading and the NFC West on the docket. San Diego also faces Baltimore, New England, the Jets and Buffalo, which should have above-average defenses as well. And there are also three games on the East Coast with early starts; at Buffalo, Miami and Baltimore.

Training camp battles

Who's the best tight end? It would be shocking to see Green start over Gates this year, but the starter is irrelevant. Gates is still going to get plenty of stats, and he should have more targets than Green. But Green's ability to get downfield and help Rivers should make him more valuable, as he proved to close 2013. We have Green ranked ahead of Gates heading into training camp.

What's the pecking order at running back? Mathews is the No. 1 option without question, but who is the handcuff on Draft Day? If Mathews were to get hurt you'd probably see Brown take over on rushing downs, and Woodhead should remain in his same role as the receiver out of the backfield. We rank them Mathews, Woodhead and Brown in all formats, but only Mathews and Woodhead should be drafted in the majority of leagues.

Is there a No. 2 receiver? Allen should repeat as a Top 20 Fantasy receiver, and he's worth drafting in Round 5 in most formats. But does he have a running mate? Floyd's return is important after he played in just two games in 2013 before sustaining a neck injury. Vincent Brown struggled as a starter last year, and Eddie Royal is just a slot receiver with minimal upside. We don't recommend drafting any of these receivers behind Allen, but Floyd could emerge as a waiver wire option if he rebounds at 100 percent.

Bold prediction

Mathews is ranked No. 20 at running back for me heading into training camp, but I'm debating keeping him there ahead of Stevan Ridley, Toby Gerhart and potentially Ray Rice, who could face a suspension. If Rice isn't suspended, which would be a shock, he'll move ahead of Mathews. And I might move Gerhart up there as well. I really hope Mathews does well this season, but the addition of Brown has me concerned. We know Mathews has durability issues, and his workload from 2013 could come back to haunt him. I still expect him to be a starting-caliber Fantasy running back this year, but I won't be surprised if he finishes outside the Top 20 when the season is over.

Injury report

Corey Liuget (shoulder), probable for start of training camp. ... Jason Verrett (shoulder), questionable for start of training camp. ... Manti Te'o (foot), questionable for start of training camp

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Player News
Texans waive DT Brandon Ivory
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(7/2/2015) The Texans waived rookie defensive tackle Brandon Ivory on Thursday, according to ESPN.com

Ivory was arrested on first degree burglary charges in Tuscaloosa, Ala. just one day ago. Ivory's agent Jeff Guerriero said Ivory is not guilty of the charge. 

"I spoke to Brandon he is not guilty and his name will be cleared of all charges," Guerriero said. 


Chargers TE Antonio Gates suspended 4 games for PED use
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(7/2/2015) Chargers tight end Antonio Gates has been suspended four games for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drugs policy, the team announced. 

It's unknown at this time what drug Gates tested positive for. Gates, in a statement, said he was unaware that he took a banned substance

"In my 12 years in the NFL, I have taken tremendous pride in upholding the integrity of the NFL shield and all that it entails," Gates said. "I have taken extreme care of my body with a holistic approach and I have never knowingly ingested a substance that was banned by the NFL. In an effort to recover from this past season, I used supplements and holistic medicines, and unfortunately, I have now learned that those substances always present a risk because they may contain banned substances even if the ingredient list doesn’t reflect them.

"As an NFL veteran and team leader, I should have done my due diligence to ensure that what I was taking for recovery was within the NFL guidelines. I understand that I am responsible for what is in my body and I have always believed that ignorance is no excuse when it comes to these issues. I take full responsibility for my actions. I’d like to express my sincere apologies to the Chargers, my teammates, coaches, fans and the league who have always supported me and expected and gotten nothing but the highest level of integrity from me."

With Gates out for four games, the Chargers will turn to Ladarius Green as the team's top tight end, though it was expected for Green to continue getting more looks in the passing game. Green is entering the final season of his rookie contract. 

The Chargers expressed disappointment in Gates for his suspension but plans to stick with the longtime veteran through the suspension. 

"We are tremendously disappointed for our team and our fans as well as Antonio, but no more disappointed than Antonio is with himself," the Chargers stated. "Antonio is a member of the Chargers' family and we will continue to support him 100-percent. We have the utmost confidence he will stay in excellent shape for the season and be ready to go when he returns in Week 5. While it's unfortunate to not have him to start the season, we have complete confidence our tight end group will continue to play at a high level."  


Packers' Datone Jones out 1 game for substance-abuse violation
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(7/2/2015) Packers defensive lineman Datone Jones will be suspended for one game for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, according to NFL.com. 

Jones will miss Green Bay's season-opener against the Bears. In 2014, Jones totaled 22 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks in 13 games played. 


Cowboys LB Rolando McClain suspended four games for 2015
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(7/2/2015) The Cowboys announced that linebacker Rolando McClain has been suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season due to violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. 

McClain hasn't been able to participate much in offseason workouts due to going under offseason knee surgery. McClain will be eligible to practice in training camp and is expected to be healthy by then. 

"I apologize to my family, the Cowboys organization, my teammates and Cowboys fans for my mistake. I will not break the rules of my profession in the future, and I regret my error," McClain said in a statement, via CSN Bay Area. "I look forward to returning to the field on week 5, when I hope to help my team beat the Patriots.

In 2014, McClain, who had previously retired twice before being traded from the Ravens to the Cowboys, totaled 81 tackles and a sack in 13 games played.


Jets DL Sheldon Richardson suspended four games
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(7/2/2015) Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson was suspended four games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, the NFL announced Thursday.

“I apologize for letting down my family, teammates, this organization and the fans," Richardson said in a statement via the Jets, per Fox Sports. "However, words aren't enough. This is something that can only be addressed by how I handle myself from this point on. I don't want this to take away from what the team is trying to accomplish. While I won't be there at the start of the regular season, I will do whatever I can to support my teammates until I'm able to return to the field.”

Richardson, who was a 2013 first-round pick, is entering his third season in the NFL. He was the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013 and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2014.

He has totaled 84 tackles and 11 1/2 sacks in 32 career games. He also has one safety.


Texans DT Brandon Ivory arrested on burglary charge
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(7/1/2015) Texans defensive tackle Brandon Ivory was arrested Wednesday morning in Alabama and charged with first-degree burglary, according to a Tuscaloosa Police Department report obtained by SportingNews.com.

Ivory and another man were allegedly involved in a home burglary when the two entered the residence by kicking open the back door and then demanding money from the residents. The two stole money and two Ipads from the residence. Ivory and the other suspect were arrested at their apartment shortly after the incident with the stolen money and property.


Embattled Brandon Spikes pleads guilty to leaving scene of crash
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(7/1/2015) Former Patriots and Bills linebacker Brandon Spikes has pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a recent car crash and has received a fine and year of probation, per WBZ, which is further reporting that he has lost his license and will be forced to attend a driver's safety class.

Spikes has lost far more than his license. He has lost his livelihood, having been cut by New England for hitting another car and abandoning his vehicle on the highway. He later told the police that he had hit a deer.

No other teams have been rumored to be targeting Spikes for the coming season.


Terrelle Pryor ready to embrace new role with Browns
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6/30/2015) Terrelle Pryor once declared that he could not play football if he could not play quarterback.

Reality has since set in.

Pryor has been cut twice and is now playing on a Cleveland Browns team desperate for a quarterback, but apparently not desperate enough to give him a shot. He is instead embracing what he is calling a "slash-player" role.

"I'm going to give (it) a chance," he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I just want to play football. I'm a playmaker, and I believe if I can touch the ball, I can go to the house, especially if I have space. This should definitely open up some opportunities."

Pryor has already taken the first step by contacting Steelers receiving stud Antonio Brown and making plans to work out with him and Randy Moss so they can teach him the nuances of the position.

He also figures there's another reason he's ahead of the game.

"The thing that helps me is that I played quarterback, and I know what the quarterback wants," Pryor said.


Lions new DT Haloti Ngata too busy to think about new contract
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6/30/2015) Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata had his contract in mind in his last days with the Ravens, but he's too busy to think about it now that he's been traded to the Lions.

Ngata admitted that he suspected a deal could take place.

"The closer we got to free agency, I thought it could be a possibility," he told Monday Morning Quarterback. "It didn't surprise me ... since we weren't getting closer to any kind of contract stuff, I just figured there were a lot of things that could happen. I definitely started to have a trade in my mind as a possibility."

Ngata added that he's not thinking about a contract extension with Detroit.

"I'm just trying to get to know my teammates, get my playbook down, and my technique and terminology," he said.


Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon claims he'd pick himself in Fantasy
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6/30/2015) Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon doesn't have a Fantasy football team, but if he did...

"If ... I could take myself, I would," he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Never mind that Adrian Peterson has returned to the backfield. Never mind that Peterson has traditionally not yielded many carries to teammates. In 2012, for instance, he totaled 348 of his team's 401 rushing attempts.

The Vikings, however, are expected to use a more balanced approach in 2015. And McKinnon, who flashed as a starter with Peterson sidelined last season, is feeling dandy after undergoing lower back surgery in December.

"Two hundred percent," he declared in regard to his health. "If there is a 300, I feel 300. It's all good."

McKinnon averaged 4.8 yards per carry a year ago, which buoyed his confidence.


 
 
 
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