2008 represented a up and down year for the San Diego Chargers. The team started horribly then somehow rebounded to finish 8-8 and managed to steal the AFC West from the Denver Broncos by beating them 52-21 on the final week of the regular season. The Bolts then defeated Indianapolis 23-17 in the Wildcard round before finally bowing to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Pittsburg Steelers 35-24 in the Divisional Playoff. The year saw QB Phillip Rivers emerge as one of the NFL’s elite and also witnessed the first sign that LaDanian Tomlinson may be on the decline. What kind of options do the 2009 Chargers provide fantasy owners? I now offer my thoughts on the topic.
Rivers really came into his own in 2009 by throwing for 4009 yds and 34 Td’s with only 11 Int’s. The former NC State product was on point all year long despite the teams early struggles and it was a complete joke that Rivers failed to make the Pro Bowl as he clearly was one of the best QB’s all season. Rivers returns this year with pretty much the same offensive unit however it will be hard to duplicate last year’s numbers. First, as I will discuss further in a moment, I expect LT to rebound this year and if he does that will cut into Rivers numbers. Furthermore, I not really sold on the Chargers receivers especially when Vincent Jackson is your number one guy. It’s tough to get on Rivers case and he is certainly one of the top five QB’s available in fantasy drafts along with Manning, Brady, and Brees. I would be surprised but not shocked if he exceeds his 2008 numbers. Draft him around the 3rd or 4th round.
According to all the pundits Tomlinson had a “horrible” year. Since when is a horrible year 1110 yards and 12 total TD’s? 99% of the RB’s in the NFL would call those stats a CAREER year. It really shows you what kind of career Tomlinson has had when everyone is ready to kick him to the curb after one injury riddled, slightly sub-par year. Granted 3 of his TD’s came in week 17 which is the fantasy equivalent of the Pro Bowl week as most leagues conclude the previous week and if I had drafted LT first overall I probably would have been pissed too. But seriously people. Give the dude a break. I don’t think LT is the next Shaun Alexander and unlike NFL.com’s Michael Fabiano I don’t think Tomlinson is done although his days of rushing for 28 Td’s are over. From all reports I am hearing out of San Diego Tomlinson is practicing with a chip on his shoulder and is 100% healthy and looking awesome. With Darren Sproles proving to the nation last year that he is a more than adequate substitute despite his size, LT will not have to take the pounding as he did in the past. Sproles will spell LT more this year thus Tomlinson should stay fresh throughout the year. LT has been going anywhere from the late first round to the late second round of the mock’s I have been doing. I have even nabbed him coming back around after drafting Peterson number one overall so essentially round 3. If you can get Tomlinson anywhere in the 2nd round you are committing larceny. If you draft him just make sure you handcuff him later in the draft with Sproles.
In my estimation the Chargers receiving corps is average at best with Jackson leading the way with 1098 yards and 7 TD’s. After Jackson the Chargers have Chris Chambers, Malcom Floyd, and Legedu Naanee essentially rounding out the position. I had Chambers last year and was starting him before he got hurt and the former Wisconsin product was actually on a pretty nice TD run before his injury. He would have one catch and that catch would usually go for a score. Then he fell off dramatically after sustaining the injury and was subsequently firmly entrenched on my bench. As for Jackson, a lot of people think he has the potential to break out this year and that belief is illustrated by the fact that he has been going around the 4th-5th round of the CBS Sports mock drafts. In my estimation that is too high for him but that is only my take and if you have a gut feeling that he will perform then draft him. The Chargers sport a potent offense and Jackson is unquestionably the number one receiving option on the squad along with TE Antonio Gates. Im just pointing out that 2008 was the first time that Jackson has been over 1000 yards and I honestly view him no more than a number 3 receiver or Flex option. Furthermore, Jackson has a accumulated a series of DUI’s one of which is currently being litigated on and thus will be a character risk for any owner that selects him. To his defense, he does have Rivers throwing him the ball and that will certainly help as will the fact that the Bolts offense is capable of putting up serious points. If you have a gut feeling about Jackson take him I just personally don’t have that gut feeling and will more than likely avoid him on draft day. As for Chambers, Naanee, and Floyd, avoid all until they prove they are capable of putting up consistent stats. Floyd, based on his last year’s performance is the wildcard to watch for the Chargers early on as he and Rivers seemed to form some nice chemistry as the season progressed.
TE Gates remains one of the NFL’s elite at the position. 2008 witnessed his yardage drop significantly but TD’s remaied on par. Last season Gates caught 60 passes for 704 yards and 8 scores. The yardage total was clearly Gates lowest output since his rookie campaign but I don’t really think that there is any cause for concern. First, Gates turns 29 tomorrow so age is not a factor. Furthermore, the stubborn toe injury that may have played a part in his yardage totals dropping is healed and Gates appears to be 100% healthy. Finally, he is still the number 1 option in the potent passing attack led by Rivers. In summary, don’t be swayed by the somewhat off year that Gates had in 2008. The former Kent State product still remains one of the best at his position. Draft him behind Dallas Clark and Jason Witten only.
The Chargers DST is one of the best options for fantasy owners heading into 2009 for a variety of reasons. First, Shawn Merriman returns this year after missing nearly the entire season in ’09 after undergoing knee surgery. Furthermore, the Chargers used their first round pick in this years draft on OLB Larry English out of Northern Illinois thus giving the Bolts a very formidable duo at LB pairing the rookie along with Merriman. Moreover, Sproles is threat to return every punt or kickoff he touches for a score. The Chargers DST struggles early then came on late much in the same way the entire team did and that was without the services of Merriman and English. Look for this unit to be one of the best fantasy options in ’09 and expect them to be off the board after Pittsburgh, NE, and possibly the NY Jets who will no doubt be stout defensively with new Head Coach Rob Ryan in town. Next up: The Denver Broncos.
Chris Limburg is the fanatical purveyor of OaklandRaidersCentral.com: A Oakland Raiders/Fantasy Football blog that provides commentary on everything that is the NFL. Sign up for my free newsletter at http://www.oaklandraiderscentral.com and receive my fantasy football e-course that will prepare you for your draft and enable you to dominate your league in 2009.