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Sleepers, Busts and Bets: The 2022 Los Angeles Chargers

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Dan Fornek and Jeremy Popielarz continue with the 2022 Sleepers, Busts and Bets series to preview all 32 NFL teams for the upcoming year. Next up: The Los Angeles Chargers.

 

Dan and Jeremy will list their picks with confidence in “The Answers,” Then expand upon their picks with more details reason in “The Explanation.”

The Answers

Favorite Sleeper

Fornek: Isaiah Spiller
Popielarz: Gerald Everett

Biggest Bust

Fornek: Austin Ekeler
Popielarz: Keenan Allen

Boldest Bet

Fornek: Mike Williams Outscores Keenan Allen, Is Top-5 WR
Popielarz: Justin Herbert Finishes as the QB1

 

The Explanation

Sleeper

Fornek: Isaiah Spiller

Don’t get me wrong: Austin Ekeler is a stud and should be going as a first-round pick in fantasy drafts. This pick is more about lending credence to the fact that the Chargers (and Ekeler) seem to know that he is at his best if he isn’t playing a ridiculous number of snaps. The five-year veteran finished last year with the highest snap share of his career (65%), his third consecutive season with at least a 57% share. The Chargers spent last year searching for a running back to take the hard carries, splitting backup touches between Justin Jackson, Larry Rountree and Joshua Kelley. Jackson was the most efficient (5.4 yards per carry) but wasn’t given a new contract and remains a free agent. Instead of re-signing Jackson or hoping for development from Rountree or Kelley, Los Angeles opted to use a fourth-round pick on Isaiah Spiller.

Spiller begins his rookie season after three strong years at Texas A&M. The rookie averaged 5.5 yards per carry in his career and scored 25 touchdowns. Spiller also flashed ability as a receiver, recording at least 20 receptions and 189 receiving yards per season during his three-year career. A lack of testing caused Spiller to drop to Day 3 of the NFL draft, but he couldn’t have landed in a better spot. Spiller is currently being drafted as RB36 but could see enough opportunity to exceed that ADP out of the gate.

Popielarz: Gerald Everett

Last season. Gerald Everett set career highs in receiving yards (478), receptions (48), targets (63) and touchdowns (4) — all while missing two games and playing part of the season without Russell Wilson. However, the Seahawks chose not to bring him back, and he decided to return to Los Angeles, the city where he played his first four seasons … only now he’ll be with the Chargers instead of the Rams. The new team presents huge opportunity, as the Chargers passed 63% of the time last season en route to finishing top five in points scored. They also targeted the tight end 32 times in the red zone, 18 to last year’s lead tight end, Jared Cook. This is an area of the field where Everett’s perfect contested catch percentage will come in handy in 2022. Last season, Cook saw 83 targets (per the FTN Fantasy advanced receiving stats, 63 on first reads), showing us the importance of the tight end position within the offense. Everett will only add a new layer to the offense with his ability to create after the catch, which was on full display last season — he had 254 yards after the catch (53.10% of his total yards). Everett should have a huge opportunity to produce back-end TE1 numbers in 2022.

Bust

Fornek: Austin Ekeler

Austin Ekeler 2022 Los Angeles Chargers Sleepers, Busts and Bets

As I said above, Austin Ekeler should be going in the first round of fantasy drafts. Based on his current ADP though, people aren’t baking in the fact that the Chargers are actively looking to reduce his workload to make sure he stays healthy throughout the season. Ekeler is currently being drafted as the RB2 in fantasy drafts, which is where he finished last season at a 65% snap share. Los Angeles has invested a draft pick in the last three NFL drafts trying to find a capable player, including using fourth-rounders on Joshua Kelley and Isaiah Spiller. Additionally, in 2019 and 2020, Ekeler averaged a touchdown once every 28.1 touches. Last season, that rate skyrocketed to once every 13.1 touches. A more realistic rate probably lies between those two numbers. Ultimately, an unsustainable touchdown rate combined with the team actively trying to find another running back to spell Ekeler means that he will be a “bust” relative to his ADP, even if he still finishes as an RB1 on the season.

Popielarz: Keenan Allen

Keenan Allen turned 30 in April, meaning he’s definitely in the range of the dreaded age cliff for wide receivers. Last season, he was as consistent as ever, seeing 9.8 targets a game and producing 71.1 yards per game and scoring 6 touchdowns on the season. That was good enough to have him finish as the WR11 in PPR. You know who didn’t finish top 24, though? Any receiver over the age of 30

On top of that, we saw Mike Williams put up career-high usage numbers across the board, while rookie Joshua Palmer saw his workload increase over the course of the season (2.1 targets per game through Week 13, 5.6 in Weeks 14-18). With Williams developing into a bona fide weapon and Palmer, plus Everett arriving in free agency, Allen’s target dominance is likely to start to slip.

Possibly the biggest question mark for Allen will be his usage down deep — per the FTN Fantasy red-zone report, he saw only 9 end-zone targets last year, 5 fewer than Mike Williams and tied with the now-departed Jared Cook. Allen did convert 5 of his 9 end-zone targets for touchdowns (compared to 3-of-14 for Williams), but if the team is going to look Williams’ way down deep, Allen will have plenty of trouble producing spike weeks. Ultimately, the veteran is unlikely to fall too far in fantasy, but landing outside the top 15 is definitely very much in play for 2022. 

 

Bet

Fornek: Mike Williams Outscores Keenan Allen, Is Top-5 WR

There was a lot of chatter before last season that new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi would push targets outside to Mike Williams in a similar way to the outside receiver at his previous stop, Michael Thomas. The rumors turned into truth, with Williams setting career-highs in targets (129), receptions (76) and receiving yards (1,146) and putting up the second-most touchdowns (9) of his career. Williams finished as the WR13 in PPR points per game (15.4), just two spots behind Keenan Allen (16.1). The Chargers rewarded Williams with a three-year contract extension during the offseason when he was eligible to become a free agent.

Williams started last season hot, averaging 10.2 targets, 6.2 receptions and 94.2 receiving yards in the first five games while scoring six touchdowns. He did come back to earth after that, but for the season he finished only 11.2 PPR points behind Allen despite a 30-reception difference. So how does Williams make up the difference on Allen and ultimately find his way to the top five? By becoming more efficient in the red zone or a change in his role in the offense.

As mentioned above, Williams saw more end-zone targets than Allen last year (12-9), though Allen out-targeted Williams in the red zone overall 25-23. Williams only converted 3 of his end-zone targets into touchdowns. He’s always going to be subject to inconsistent production down deep because so many of his red-zone and end-zone targets come on low-percentage jump ball throws, but even a small improvement in efficiency would lead to more touchdowns and more fantasy points.

The Chargers could also decide to utilize Williams more on short to intermediate routes (similar to Thomas in New Orleans), which would elevate his target and receptions. Allen has made a living playing out of the slot, and at this point, Williams has established himself as the more dynamic receiver. Adding easier-to-complete targets that allow Williams to use his big body and explosiveness would elevate his floor in PPR leagues. Combine that with more efficiency in the red zone and you have the makings of a top-five wide receiver.

Popielarz: Justin Herbert Finishes as the QB1

Justin Herbert 2022 Los Angeles Chargers Sleepers, Busts and Bets

Justin Herbert was a fantasy superstar last year, averaging 23.3 fantasy points per game and finishing as the QB2, behind only a Josh Allen season that was the fourth-best fantasy QB season ever. The Chargers ranked fifth in the NFL in neutral pass rate at 63%, leading to 672 pass attempts for Herbert, second in the league. He completed 65.9% of his attempts for 5,014 yards and 38 touchdowns against 15 interceptions. 

There’s no reason to expect the Chargers to suddenly throw less often in 2022, and the number could rise, especially as the AFC West stockpiled stars on every roster this offseason, which could lead to shootouts in divisional games. Any increase in pass attempts would only help Herbert close the gap between him and Allen. Also helping Herbert close the gap is the fact that Allen has a new offensive coordinator in Buffalo, and the growing pains of a new person calling the shots could be rocky compared to what Brian Daboll did with the team. Add in the Bills establishing the run late last season and focusing on adding to the backfield this offseason, and we could see Allen throw the ball less and hand it off more in 2022, making it easier for Herbert to overtake him. In Herbert’s third season (second under Brandon Staley), he could reach new heights in 2022. 

Previous Fantasy Football Crossroads: Derek Carr vs. Kirk Cousins Next Pope’s Pick 6: Running Backs to Avoid in Fantasy in 2022