Even the Chargers probably didn't know Justin Herbert would be that good as a rookie. They smartly invested in the offensive line this offseason, and the hope is he'll be even better in Year 2. Coming off arguably the best rookie season ever for a QB, the sky is the limit here.
Record: 7 - 9 (17)
PPG: 24.0 (18)
YPG: 382.1 (9)
Pass YPG: 270.6 (6)
Rush YPG: 111.5 (18)
PAPG: 39.2 (5)
RAPG: 29.1 (9)
2020 Fantasy finishes
Number to know: 21.4
That's what Herbert averaged in Fantasy points per game from Week 12 on, compared to 29.2 before. That's not just an arbitrary endpoint, either; that's when Austin Ekeler made his return from injury. You wouldn't think getting a dynamic playmaker like Ekeler would hurt Herbert, but he became a less aggressive downfield passer, with Ekeler earning so many short-area targets; Herbert's average intended air years was 7.7 per attempt before this point, compared to 6.9 after. Was this just Herbert hitting a rookie wall? Was it just bad coaching from the departed Anthony Lynn? Or, is Herbert better off focusing on taking chances down the field with his bevy of big-play receivers? It's a key question when considering Herbert's value as a perceived must-start Fantasy QB, as well as Ekeler's chances of being an elite Fantasy RB in his own right. I'm inclined to think Ekeler can still play a huge part in an Alvin Kamara-like role in Joe Lombardi's offense, but finding the right balance is going to be the key to unlocking this offense's obvious potential.
1. (13) Rashawn Slater, OT
2. (47) Asante Samuel Jr., CB
3. (77) Josh Palmer, WR
3. (97) Tre' McKitty, TE
4. (118) Chris Rumph II, DE
5. (159) Brenden Jaimes, OT
6. (185) Nick Niemann, LB
6. (198) Larry Rountree III, RB
7. (241) Mark Webb, S
95 carries, 34 RB targets, 0 WR targets, 110 TE targets
Chris Towers' projections
|QB||Justin Herbert||PA: 613, YD: 4477, TD: 31, INT: 13; RUSH -- ATT: 58, YD: 263, TD: 3|
|RB||Austin Ekeler||CAR: 170, YD: 765, TD: 5; TAR: 117, REC: 93, YD: 792, TD: 5|
|RB||Joshua Kelley||CAR: 101, YD: 434, TD: 3; TAR: 18, REC: 14, YD: 83, TD: 0|
|RB||Justin Jackson||CAR: 91, YD: 376, TD: 3; TAR: 24, REC: 17, YD: 110, TD: 0|
|WR||Keenan Allen||TAR: 160, REC: 108, YD: 1193, TD: 8|
|WR||Mike Williams||TAR: 107, REC: 61, YD: 948, TD: 6|
|TE||Jared Cook||TAR: 77, REC: 48, YD: 531, TD: 4|
Can Austin Ekeler be an elite Fantasy RB?
The talent isn't the question. Ekeler was the No. 13 RB in points per game last season despite scoring three touchdowns on 170 touches. He could be a top-five RB in Fantasy, but in his first season as the lead back, he suffered a quad injury that cost him nearly two months. Ekeler is a workout warrior, but can he be a 12-plus carries every week kind of back and stay healthy?
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One sleeper, one breakout and one bust
For how good the Chargers passing game was with Herbert, it was disappointing to see Williams regress like he did in 2020. There were flashes -- he had at least 69 yards in four of his first six games, excluding one he left early with an injury -- but too often he and Herbert couldn't get on the same page. That's sort of the nature of being a deep threat, but the hope is Herbert and Williams will fare better in year two. Herbert is not lacking for arm strength, and he was proved effective with the likes of Jalen Guyton and Tyron Johnson in the deep game, so there's plenty of hope. Williams has shown the ability to be a touchdown hog in 2018, and he topped 1000 yards on just 49 catches in 2019, so he can be a dynamic big-play hitter, too. Let's hope this is the season he puts it all together because that could take this offense to the next level. He's a very enticing bench pick in the 10th round range.
Allen is rightly viewed as one of the safer options at wide receiver, an incredibly proficient possession receiver who doesn't necessarily have the red zone chops or big-play ability to be one of the truly elite Fantasy options at the position. But it's worth remembering that he was on pace for 122 catches for 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns in the first 13 games -- he left Week 15 after 24 snaps with just one catch and didn't play in the final two games of the season. He would have been WR4, tied with Calvin Ridley, based on his per-game scoring in those 13 games. But, one reason he might be even better than that is that new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi spent the last 13 seasons as the Saints quarterbacks coach and is installing a system that shares a lot of similarities with that Saints offense -- new tight end Jared Cook says there's about 30-40% overlap between the two teams, and the passing game could especially resemble the Saints'. Allen is a route-running technician who does much of his best work closer to the line of scrimmage, which sounds an awful lot like a certain Saints WR who had 3,130 yards, 274 catches, and 18 touchdowns in two seasons before an injury-plagued 2020. Can Allen be the West Coast Michael Thomas? It's an exciting possibility to consider.
The consensus expectation is that Herbert will only build on his incredible rookie season, one that saw him pass for an NFL record 31 touchdowns while coming up just 41 yards short of Andrew Luck's rookie passing yardage record (in just 15 games). However, his production did wane as the season went on, and there's no guarantee he'll improve in year two -- remember how high expectations were for Baker Mayfield coming off his then-record rookie season only for him to finish with 22 touchdowns and 21 interceptions? I'm not expecting that from Herbert -- and the fact that the Chargers invested so much into their line bodes well for his chances of at least holding steady -- but if you're looking for one way for this offense to go sideways, Herbert suffering through a sophomore slump is it.
So which sleepers, breakouts and busts should you target and fade? And which QB shocks the NFL with a top-five performance? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy cheat sheets for every single position, all from the model that called Josh Allen's huge season, and find out.