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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
Packers' Davon House unlikely to return in regular season
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:03 am ET) Packers cornerback Davon House is expected to miss the remainder of the regular season while recovering from an injury to his right shoulder blade, the Journal Sentinel reports.

"I have the mind-set, I'll be back tomorrow," House said. "Will I be back tomorrow, most likely not. I can't give a time frame. Hopefully, sooner than later. Talking to Doc (team physician Patrick McKenzie), we're going to take it week by week, day by day. But they said my improvement is where we want it to be. The good news was that I was able to start running today, which was great."

House may be able to return during the postseason, so the team has decided not to place him on injured reserve at this time.


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(12/18/2014) Jaguars defensive tackle Roy Miller will require surgery on his meniscus injury, the Florida Times-Union reports.

Miller sustained the injury during the team's Week 15 loss to the Ravens and was inactive Thursday. He'll end the season with 30 tackles and one sack.


Titans kicker Ryan Succop hits both field goals Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Titans kicker Ryan Succop hit both his field goals Week 16 against the Jaguars.

Succop was tested early, but managed to convert on a 50 yard attempt. Things got easier late in the contest, as Succop hit from 23 yards. He added one extra point. Succop will look for more Week 17 against the Colts. 


Titans RB Leon Washington makes an impact Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Titans running back Leon Washington made an impact Week 16 against the Jaguars.

Washington wasn't a huge factor in the running the game, gaining 11 yards on four carries. He excelled in the passing game, however. Washington hauled in seven catches, gaining 62 yards. He finished second on the team in receiving for the game. Washington was the only player on the team to score, pulling down an 8 yard touchdown pass on the team's first drive. 

He'll look for more Week 17 against the Colts. 


Titans WR Kendall Wright leads the way Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Titans wideout Kendall Wright led the team in receiving Week 16.

Wright came into the game questionable due to a broken hand, but was able to excel despite the issue. He only hauled in four passes, but was able to connect on some deep passes. In the fourth quarter, Wright pulled down a 39 yard reception. He finished with 73 yards on five targets.

Wright will look for more Week 17 against the Colts. 


Titans RB Shonn Greene receives seven carries Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Titans running back Shonn Greene carried the ball just seven times Week 16 against the Jaguars.

Greene took a backseat to Bishop Sankey during the contest, though neither did all that much on the ground. Greene gained 28 yards, good for a 4.0 yards per carry average. Greene was not involved in the passing game, and did not receive a target.

He'll look for more Week 17 against the Colts. 


Titans RB Bishop Sankey fails to do much Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Titans running back Bishop Sankey failed to do much Week 16 against the Jaguars.

Sankey led all Titans runners, carrying the ball 14 times for 44 yards. He was held to just 3.1 yards per carry. Sankey had a hard time breaking anything loose, with his longest carry going for just 8 yards. He wasn't all that involved in the passing game either, coming up with one reception for 9 yards.

Sankey will hope for more Week 17 against the Colts. 


Titans QB Charlie Whitehurst tosses one score on Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Titans quarterback Charlie Whitehurst tossed one touchdown on Thursday against the Jaguars.

Whitehurst completed 24 of 35 passes for 287 yards and a touchdown. He did not turn the ball over during the contest. Whitehurst looked to attack Jacksonville down the field, averaging 8.2 yards per completion. This sometimes came back to bite him, as he wound up taking four sacks. Whitehurst's only score came on the team's first drive. On the 13th play of the drive, Whitehurst found running back Leon Washington for the 8 yard score. Whitehurst also picked up 12 rushing yards on three attempts.

Depending on the team's injury situation at quarterback, Whitehurst may be in line to start next week against the Colts.


Jaguars K Josh Scobee scores three points vs. Titans
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee was limited to just three extra points in his team's 21-13 win over the Titans in Week 16.

It was the third time this season Scobee wasn't called upon to attempt a field goal. Thursday's win marked just the second time this season Scobee kicked three extra points in a game. He'll travel to Houston to face the Texans in Week 17.


Jaguars WRs quiet in Week 16 win vs. Titans
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Jaguars wide receivers Marqise Lee led his team with four receptions and 65 yards in his team's 21-13 win over the Titans in Week 16.

The Jaguars managed to pick up just 124 receiving yards on the day and Lee was responsible for more than half of that total while seeing six targets. Allen Hurns was also targeted six times, picking up 26 yards on three receptions. Cecil Shorts caught just two of his seven targets for 15 yards but also completed a nine-yard pass.

Tight end Marcedes Lewis managed just six yards on two receptions but did secure the team's only receiving touchdown on a four-yard strike at the end of the first half. The Jaguars will hit the road to face the Texans in the season finale next Sunday.


 
 
 
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