2021 Stats (Rank)
Total Offense: 6,634 (4th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 56 (2nd)
Offensive Plays: 1,128 (7th)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 668 (6th)
Rush Attempts: 423 (22nd)
Unaccounted for Targets: 132 (22nd)
Unaccounted for Carries: 70 (17th)
The Chargers’ hiring of ex-Rams DC Brandon Staley as a first-time head coach last offseason was met with rave reviews thanks to Staley’s full-on embrace of new-school football and analytics coupled with his exceptional Rams defense along with his background as a former quarterback. He was the total package. But his inaugural coaching campaign was a mixed bag. His Chargers defense couldn’t stop the run to save its life, gave up the third-most points, and was bottom-10 in yards allowed. On offense, however, the Bolts were a volume-driven unit capable of putting up points in bunches, and Staley was maybe the most aggressive coach in football when it came to third and fourth downs. Staley definitely had his failures in those situations, and the failures will stand out, but overall, his team was third-best in fourth-down success rate. Strapped with perennial MVP candidate Justin Herbert at quarterback, Staley put everything on his young passer’s plate, and Herbert largely succeeded. Staley’s coaching future is exceptionally bright with Herbert in tow. Both OC Joe Lombardi and DC Renaldo Hill are back for a second season in Los Angeles, but run-game coordinator Frank Smith did land the Dolphins’ OC gig under first-year coach Mike McDaniel. Lombardi will likely start getting play as a head-coaching candidate sooner than later being attached to Herbert.
In his first season under first-time head coach Brandon Staley, Herbert eclipsed 5,000 passing yards, joining Tom Brady as the only two to accomplish the feat in the league’s first-ever 17-game season. Playing for an ultra-aggressive coach in Staley, Herbert was second in pass attempts, second in completions, and third with 38 touchdown passes. He was fantasy’s overall QB2 in points per game, trailing only Josh Allen. Herbert also rushed for 302 yards and three touchdowns to raise his fantasy floor. The 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year has been everything and more for the Chargers in two seasons. Getting to the postseason is the next mission. The Chargers re-signed top outside wideout Mike Williams to a multi-year deal ahead of free agency, and Los Angeles subbed out veteran tight end Jared Cook for Gerald Everett to pair with red-zone threat Donald Parham. In an effort to keep protecting Herbert, the Chargers used the No. 17 overall pick in the draft on RG Zion Johnson. Herbert is headed into his second year in OC Joe Lombardi’s offense, so he won’t have to learn a new system for the first time in three offseasons. He’s also been packing on muscle in anticipation of carrying another big workload in the uber-competitive AFC West. Keenan Allen is now 30 years old and showing some signs of decline, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see Williams become Herbert’s true No. 1 target in 2022. Playing for a coaching staff that believes in throwing the ball and taking risks, Herbert is an undeniable upper-tier QB1.
Allen continued his five-year reign as the Chargers’ top receiver in 2021, but just barely, scoring more fantasy points than all but 11 wideouts. He was fifth among all pass-catchers in red-zone targets and fourth in targets inside the 10-yard line, functioning as Herbert’s main threat near the end zone. Allen has been held below eight yards per target in each of the past two seasons with an elite quarterback under center for Los Angeles. With Allen on the back side of his career, the Chargers ponied up the dollars to keep Mike Williams from entering free agency. As noted previously, Allen is headed into his age-30 campaign and has seen his yards-per-route numbers experience a sharp decline in recent years. Still, the Chargers pass the ball enough and don’t have any depth at the position, keeping Allen locked in as a top-15 fantasy wideout.
Williams came through for fantasy managers last season with a top-12 campaign, edging out Allen by 0.2 half-PPR points per game despite seeing 28 fewer targets and catching 30 fewer passes than his teammate. Williams opened the season with six touchdowns and 471 yards through five weeks before going dormant in the middle of the year. A late-season resurgence got Williams to a 76-1,146-9 finish across 16 games. He commanded the 11th-most red-zone targets (19) among wide receivers and the 10th-most downfield targets (26), finishing 11th in the league at 15.1 yards per catch. The productive season netted him a three-year, $60 million deal ahead of free agency. Allen is likely to again pace the Chargers in targets and catches due to the high-volume nature of his slot role, but Williams is smack-dab in his prime at 27 years old and showed very real signs of overtaking Allen as Herbert’s most-lethal weapon. Williams is a highly-volatile per-week fantasy player, but he has top-10 upside in a pass-first offense playing with an MVP candidate at quarterback.
Palmer and Guyton split time as the third and fourth receivers behind Allen and Williams last season, with Palmer narrowly edging out Guyton 49-48 in targets despite Guyton playing 613 snaps to Palmer’s 458 as a rookie. With Williams and Guyton re-signed, Palmer likely won’t be a reliable source of fantasy production unless there’s an injury ahead of him. Guyton has shown promise as a deep threat for Herbert, averaging a robust 16.3 yards per catch on 103 targets over the last two seasons. But he’s in the same boat as Palmer, likely needing one of Williams or Allen to miss time in order to be a fantasy contributor. The Chargers signed veteran DeAndre Carter as pure depth.
Jared Cook’s 83 targets last season were fourth on the Chargers, and he turned in the overall TE18 fantasy season. Cook wasn’t brought back as a free agent, and the Chargers opted to swap out the 35-year-old for 28-year-old Gerald Everett after Everett spent one season with the Seahawks following his four years with the Rams. Everett knows coach Brandon Staley from their time together in L.A. Everett is coming off a “career year” with Seattle, but he still caught just 48 balls for 478 yards and four scores despite playing 75% of the snaps. Going from the Neanderthal coaching style of Pete Carroll to the ultra-aggressive, pass-loving Chargers should benefit the sixth-year tight end, however. His main competition for targets will be 6-foot-7 red-zone dominator Donald Parham and 2021 third-rounder Tre’ McKitty. Everett definitely has some late-round appeal in deeper leagues where players will be searching for tight end help.
Ekeler was able to stay healthy in 2021, for the most part, missing just one game, and he answered with career-bests across the board as a rusher, posting 206-911-12 on the ground. Only Jonathan Taylor, James Conner, Damien Harris, and Joe Mixon rushed for more touchdowns. But Ekeler is also one of the very best receiving backs in the sport, as he matched his previous career-high from 2019 with eight touchdown grabs. Only Derrick Henry and Taylor scored more half-PPR fantasy points on a per-week basis. The Chargers tried to create a one-two committee with Ekeler, but literally none of Justin Jackson, Larry Rountree, or Joshua Kelley were worth their salt when given chances, leading to Ekeler also developing into one of the best goal-line and red-zone rushers. Ekeler is one of fantasy’s safest first-round picks from a talent, role, and offensive situation standpoint; he just has to stay healthy, which has been his biggest hurdle. Even if rookie RB Isaiah Spiller proves to be a capable change-of-pace option, Ekeler should still get the bulk of the money touches and will always be the pass-catching threat. Ekeler will consistently be coming off fantasy boards in the top-six selections.
Spiller (6’/217) declared for the draft after a three-year career at Texas A&M in which he racked up 2,993 yards and 25 touchdowns on the ground while adding 74-585-1 as a receiver. Spiller skipped the 40-yard dash at the Combine before disappointing with a 4.63 at his Pro Day, though an injury might have affected his performance. Spiller's versatile skill set gives him multiple paths to NFL value, but there is no mystery as to how he will be used in 2022. After Jackson, Kelley, Larry Rountree all failed in 2021, the Chargers desperately want someone to take the load off Ekeler on early downs, if not necessarily at the goal line. Even if Spiller successfully earns No. 2 duties, we expect Ekeler to remain the man both inside the red zone and five-yard line. Spiller is nevertheless worth a summer flier in the event the Chargers decide to change up their touch distribution.
The Chargers’ win total sits at 10 in most places, with the juice on the over. Only the Bills and Chiefs are saddled with higher win totals in the AFC, so expectations are high for the Chargers in Year 2 of Brandon Staley and Year 3 of Justin Herbert. Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis has the Chargers slotted in at No. 20 in strength of schedule and projects them at 10.2 wins. There are several winnable games on the schedule ahead of their Week 8 bye, with home games against the Raiders, Jaguars, and Seahawks along with road dates against the Texans and maybe Deshaun Watson-less Browns. The Bolts then get the Falcons in Week 9 before things start heating up in the latter half of the season. In an AFC West division that is vastly more competitive, 10 wins feels about right for this Chargers team. Adding CBs J.C. Jackson and Bryce Callahan along with EDGE Khalil Mack should vamp up this defense, though.