26th in a series.
Despite keeping both general manager A.J. Smith and head coach Norv Turner, the Chargers have a great playbook for the offense that produces fantasy points. The team will look toward solidifying the offensive line to protect QB Philip Rivers and to restock the wide receiver position.
Can QB Philip Rivers rebound in 2012?
Rivers went into the 2011 season with expectations of becoming an elite QB after playing at a high level the previous seasons. Instead, he took a step back in consistency, throwing for 4,624 yards, 27 TDs and a career-high 20 interceptions. He averaged 289 yards, 1.7 TDs with 1.25 interceptions in 16 games. He will drop in the 2012 draft because of a stretch of five games from Weeks 3-8 that saw him throw three TD passes and seven interceptions. The fantasy playoffs were a disappointment as well, as he posted only one TD each in Weeks 15 and 16, likely sending his owners to an early exit if his early-season run hadn't knocked them out already.
Many wondered if Rivers was hurt, but he said he was healthy, so there is an air of mystery about him and he'll be closely watched during OTAs and once training camp opens. Right now, assume it was a down year based on expectations, as his numbers were similar in yards and TDs. If he drops into the early middle-rounds, Rivers could be an undervalued pick. You can't ignore him but don't overvalue him and reach, let him fall to you. He's someone to watch in the offseason.
Can RB Ryan Mathews stay healthy and will Mike Tolbert move on?
Mathews came on last season after a disappointing rookie year, but he could not dispel his injury-prone reputation and is not someone you can count on for a full season. When healthy, he can post elite numbers. He needs to improve on his four games with more than 100 yards but is in a timeshare. Mathews ended the season with 222-1,091-6 rushing and 50-455-0 on 59 targets — an average of 20.1 utilizations for 110.4 yards from scrimmage and 0.43 TDs in 14 games — showcasing himself in both the rushing and receiving game. However, Mike Tolbert was a thorn in his side that wouldn't go away. Tolbert's a free agent so Mathews could see most of the carries in 2012 if the team brings in depth versus a complementary back to share time. Mathews is a keeper but his draft value will be determined after the free-agency period.
Tolbert showed starter ability in 2010 and many had him as a value pick in 2011. He disappointed and ended the season with a total of 121-490-8 rushing and 54-433-2 on 79 targets — anaverage of 13.3 utilizations for 61.5 yards from scrimmage and 0.7 TDs in 15 games — which were quality flex-position numbers. He ended the season as an injury fill-in, but with the Chargers about $20 million below the cap, it's affordable to bring him back. That's not a given yet and he will test the market. His return is not known but the team will make an effort if it thinks it can sign him without overpaying. He's someone to keep an eye on because he holds fantasy value in PPR leagues but until he signs his offseason value is unknown.
FB Jacob Hester is also a free agent.
Will WR Vincent Jackson remain with the team?
Jackson wants to stay in San Diego and some believe he will receive the franchise tag and then work out a long-term deal. The Chargers have no depth at the position and Jackson's the only proven wide receiver. Malcom Floyd and Patrick Crayton were disappointments in 2011 and Vincent Brown showed flashes but was not expected to help offset the subpar play of Floyd. Jackson ended the season with 60-1,106-9 receiving on 115 targets — an average of 3.75 catches for 69.13 yards and 0.56 TDs in 16 games — but he was inconsistent. Jackson had eight games with 49 yards or less and despite nine TDs he went scoreless in 10 games with five TDs coming in two contests. If he remains a Charger he will continue to be a high draft pick with the hopes last year's subpar play was because of the lockout. If he walks or receives the franchise tag and is traded, his value is unknown until we know which team he ends up with. Jackson's work ethic and attitude have been questioned and I wonder if he's going to be one of these players who doesn't respond after his payday.
Floyd is under contract and ended the season with 43-856-5 on 70 targets, having missed four games before a nice run from Weeks 13-17. He totaled 24-455-4 on 34 targets over that span, showing that when healthy he has talent and should return as a starter and be undervalued. He's an early late-round candidate entering 2012 and one to watch.
The Chargers are thin at the WR spot and will need to bring in free agents or use a pick in the draft.
Can TE Antonio Gates continue his run?
Gates will be 32 this season and hasn't played a 16-game season since 2009, having missed nine games the past two seasons. Despite that, he once again will be a top receiving option and is healthy. However, he loses value without Vincent Jackson to take the pressure off. Regardless, right now he's a keeper in all formats. If Jackson moves on, consider moving Gates for as much as you can. He ended the season with 64-778-7 on 115 targets — an average of 4.9 catches for 59.8 yards and 0.54 TDs on 8.85 targets in 13 games. There is risk in taking him, as he's older and has a two-year history of injuries. If you take Gates, plan on taking a quality No. 2 as well.
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