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Los Angeles Chargers Fantasy Football Preview

Updated: Jul 26, 2022

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Before we look at where we're going, let's take a look at where we've been (that's a shoutout to Mader from Cars for all you fellow Moms and Dads).

Brandon Staley's first year as an NFL head coach was an exciting one for fantasy football purposes, finishing 5th in the NFL in scoring (27.9 points per game), 4th in yards (390.2 per game), 7th in plays run (66.4 per game), 3rd in first downs (23.6 per game) and 4th in scoring percentage (45.7%). They turned the ball over 22 times which was the 13th "fewest" in football.

They were especially exciting under their stud sophomore QB, Justin Herbert, finishing:

  • 3rd in passing attempts (39.7 per game)

  • 2nd in passing yards (282.35 per game)

  • 3rd in passing 1st downs (15.1 per game)

  • 5th in passing TDs (38)

The lone dark spot was that they did throw 15 interceptions which was the 9th most in football.

But like...who cares?

They were far less exciting on the ground, finishing average to below average across the board statistically:

  • 22nd in rushing attempts (24.9 per game)

  • 21st in rushing yards (107.9 per game)

  • 16th in rushing 1st downs (6.6 per game)

Encouragingly, they did finish 11th in rushing TDs (18) which is what's most important here.

The heavy air raid and low rushing volume likely has a lot to do with the fact they allowed the 4th most points in football last year (27 per game) and needed to keep pace with their opponents. Is it fair to assume the defense will be much sturdier? Is it fair to say they won't?

All in all, it was an exciting first year of the Brandon Staley era for the Staley-Herbert duo to build on in 2022.

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Justin Herbert returns for his 3rd year in the big leagues and, for the first time in his career, he'll get a 2nd straight season in the same offensive system. In fact, all of the main characters of Herbert's supporting cast are returning, and the Bolts upgraded Herbert's tight end from geriatric Jared Cook (35 years old) to 28 year old Gerald Everett who's flashed at times in the NFL with the Rams and Seahawks.

The only other notable change from a fantasy football standpoint is that the Chargers added RB Isaiah Spiller with their 4th round pick. Spiller was, at one point, projected to be a second round selection before an awful NFL Pro Day tanked his draft stock. Regardless Austin Ekeler remains firmly atop the depth chart for his age 27 season.

There's no reason not to target this offense for fantasy football again in 2022.

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Justin Herbert 📈

2020 fantasy points per game: 22.2 (QB 9)

2021 fantasy points per game: 22.1 (QB 2)

Justin Herbert continued his ascension as one of the budding superstars in the NFL last season, landing behind only Josh Allen at QB2 with 22.1 fantasy points per game and ranking highly across the board as a passer:

  • 2nd most completions

  • 3rd most yards (4,631)

  • 4th most TDs (35)

He even added 301 rushing yards (10th most among QBs) and 3 rushing TDs (9th most) with his legs.

There's two slight blemishes on his 2021 resume if you're desperate for some negativity:

  • Herbert threw 14 interceptions which tied for the 5th most in football...meh...who cares?

  • Much more importantly for fantasy football purposes, Herbert's floor was fine but not nearly as safe as some of his peers. Herbert hit 20 fantasy points in just 50% of his games last season. Meanwhile, Josh Allen, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Jalen Hurts, Dak Prescott and Kyler Murray all bested that, most of which hit 20 fantasy points at least 60% of the time.

Still, his floor was still strong enough and his ceiling was one of the best in the biz. Herbert hit 30 fantasy points in 25% of his games—which tied Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson for the the league high—and he was one of just two QBs to hit 40 fantasy points in a game all year; Lamar Jackson scored 41.88 fantasy points in week 5 but finished as the QB 2 behind Justin Herbert and his

42.82 points.

One more time in case you missed that; Herbert had THE high score among QBs last season.

Don't overthink this one. With another year in Staley's system, the return of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, the progression of Josh Palmer and the upgrade of Gerald Everett, there's a lot to love about Herbert and it's entirely realistic that he finishes as THE QB1 in 2022.

Fantasy Drafts 👎: Justin Herbert is currently the QB 2 behind only Josh Allen in Underdog Best Ball drafts, selected around pick 44 (4th round). That's expensive and difficult to stomach with the likes of Terry McLaurin, Ezekiel Elliott, Gabriel Davis, Diontae Johnson, Darren Waller, Breece Hall, cam Akers, Jerry Jeudy, Allen Robinson and Patrick Mahomes all drafted within 5 picks of him. Unless I drafted Keenan Allen and/or Mike Williams and I'm targeting a Chargers stack, I'm usually passing on Herbert when I can get Lamar Jackson (51), Kyler Murray (60), Joe Burrow (71), Russell Wilson (77) and Dak Prescott (86) later—sometimes MUCH later.

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Austin Ekeler ↔️

2020 (first year without Melvin Gordon) PPR points per game: 16.53 (RB 12)

2021 (first year under Brandon Staley) PPR points per game: 21 (RB 3)

Predictably, Austin Ekeler was a PPR dynamo in 2021, finishing 3rd among RBs in targets (82) and catches (65) but 1st in receiving yards (612) and receiving TDs (7). He alone accounted for 14% of the Chargers targets, 16% of the team's catches, 13% of the team's receiving yards, and 21% of the team's receiving TDs.

He had the 3rd/4th (depends if you count Derrick Henry) highest floor among RBs, scoring 15 or more PPR points in 73.33% of his games. And his ceiling was right up there with Christian McCaffrey's and Jonathan Taylor's, scoring 20 or more PPR points in 53.33% of his games, and 30 or more PPR points in 13.33% of his games. He even cracked 40 in week 11.

Things we're predictably less exciting on the ground, finishing 15th in rushing attempts (190) and 12th in rushing yards (847). That said, he did add 11 rushing TDs (5th most) to bring his TD count to a whopping 18 on the season. And you're not drafting Ekeler for his rushing stats anyways.

If you're concerned he's not getting enough work, know that he still tied for the 7th most touches among RBs last season—and it's a good thing that a lot of it is through the air.

But let's talk about these touchdowns for a minute...

Seven running backs had the same or more touches as Ekeler last season (some of which had a lot more). Combined, they averaged 302.9 touches and 11.7 TDs, and that's including Jonathan Taylor's 354 touches and 20 TDs.

302.9 touches and 11.7 TDs. Ekeler had 255 touches and 18 TDs.

There were ten running backs within 30 touches of Ekeler last season. They averaged 8.7 TDs. Ekeler had twice that.

Regression is very real in fantasy football, and with Gerald Everett and Isaiah Spiller added to the picture, I'm betting Ekeler doesn't score 18 times again. He probably doesn't even come close, tbh.

Still—and this is important—take away half of Ekeler's TDs (9) last season, and he still finishes with 260.9 points which would have been the RB 5 last year.

Even with Spiller in the picture as a possible vulture, there's a lot to like about Ekeler in PPR leagues.

Fantasy Drafts 👍: Austin Ekeler is currently the RB 3 on Underdog, selected around pick 6 overall. I'm fine with him there after tier 1 (the consensus top 5 is their own tier: Jonathan Taylor, Christian McCaffrey, Cooper Kupp, Justin Jefferson and Ja'Marr Chase), but I'm equally fine with his peers in that range: Derrick Henry, Stefon Diggs, Dalvin Cook, Najee Harris and Travis Kelce. I have my fair share of Ekeler after 150+ drafts this year, but I'm limiting my exposure to no higher than 20% of my leagues out of caution for TD regression, which is easy to do with so many other serviceable options available there.

Dynasty Leagues: Obviously he's a hold right now, but if you find yourself in a non-competitive position near your trade deadline, it would make sense to consider selling Ekeler. This is his age 27 season and he'll be a free agent after next season. He's likely reached his peak and will start descending down the mountain sooner than later.

Isaiah Spiller ↔️

Widely considered a 2nd round pick before he tanked his Pro Day, Spiller fell to the 18th pick of the 4th round where the Chargers grabbed their newest backup to Austin Ekeler.

There's some fantasy football appeal to the role if Spiller can seize it for himself.

In January, Chargers GM Tom Telesco hinted that the Chargers want to further limit Ekeler's touches to keep him healthy during the season, also hinting that the backups behind Ekeler were inconsistent and ineffective last season: "Austin can handle a heavy workload but he shouldn't have to...we've got to be able to rotate other guys in."

Last season, Justin Jackson, Larry Rountree and Joshua Kelley ineffectively combined for 137 carries, 553 yards (4.04 yards per carry) and 3 TDs. They "added" a combined 28 catches for 215 receiving yards (no TDs). Put simply, they were ineffective at best.

Jackson is gone and if Spiller can separate himself from Rountree and Kelley, he'll see the field plenty assuming the Chargers do in fact limit Ekeler's touches. Spiller is a name to be aware of in 2022 fantasy football and beyond.

Fantasy Drafts 👎: Spiller is currently the RB 43 in Underdog best ball leagues, drafted around pick 134 (12th round). That's too expensive for my taste considering there's no guarantee he locks down the RB2 role (and even if he does, Justin Jackson, Larry Rountree and Joshua Kelley combined still averaged less than 10 touches per game last season—9.7 to be exact). There's a lot of strong names drafted within ten picks of Spill