Justin Herbert avoided the sophomore slump and the Chargers once again feel like they're on the verge of joining the ranks of the elite. They just need the defense to catch up after finishing 29th in points allowed last season. Of course, it feels like we've been expecting the Chargers to make the leap to the elite tier for a while now, going back to the Phillip Rivers Era, but maybe this is the year.
Record: 9 - 8 (13)
PPG: 27.9 (5)
YPG: 390.2 (4)
Pass YPG: 282.4 (2)
Rush YPG: 107.9 (21)
PAPG: 39.6 (3)
RAPG: 24.9 (22)
2021 Fantasy finishes
Number to know: 5.4%
I'll admit, I was one of those people who faded Justin Herbert expecting regression from his historic rookie season. Instead, he actually improved statistically across the board and now sits at a 5.4% touchdown rate through his first two NFL seasons, the best in NFL history through two seasons (min. 1,000 attempts). He also has the third-best yards per attempt for any QB in their first two seasons.
Of course, it's important to remember that progress isn't always linear, as some of the other names on the "best early QBs" list show: Cam Newton took a step back as a passer after his first two seasons, and Herbert doesn't have the rushing skills to make up for that in the same way Newton did, for example. But, generally speaking, Herbert's first two seasons suggest he's going to be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL for a long, long time, and the fact that he got even better from Year 1 to Year 2 bodes very well.
So, what could go wrong for Herbert in Year 3? It's hard to come up with a good explanation for how things go sideways for him, beyond something generic like, "He just plays worse." It's possible that happens, but we don't exactly have a ton of warning signs to go off. One concern, I suppose, is that he gives a pretty significant percentage of his targets to a receiver in Keenan Allen who might just be in decline -- he has fallen from 8.4 yards per target in 2018-19 to 7.0 over the past two seasons, and entering his age-30 season, it's possible he takes another step back.
On the other hand, there's the potential that Herbert becomes an even more productive rusher. That's been a decent part of his game -- 302 yards and three touchdowns last season -- but Herbert ran a 4.68 40-yard dash at the combine, so there's certainly room for more rushing production from him. That's one way he could potentially even take a step forward.
1. (17) Zion Johnson, G
3. (79) JT Woods, SAF
4. (123) Isaiah Spiller, RB
5. (160) Otito Ogbonnia, DT
6. (195) Jamaree Salyer, OL
6. (214) Ja'Sir Taylor, DB
7. (236) Deane Leonard, DB
7. (260) Zander Horvath, RB
64 carries, 27 RB targets, 130 WR targets, 2 TE targets
Chris Towers' projections
|QB||Justin Herbert||PA: 644, YD: 4699, TD: 35, INT: 14; RUSH -- ATT: 65, YD: 293, TD: 3|
|RB||Austin Ekeler||CAR: 217, YD: 867, TD: 9, TAR: 97, REC: 77, YD: 716, TD: 5|
|RB||Isaiah Spiller||CAR: 87, YD: 373, TD: 4, TAR: 32, REC: 26, YD: 206, TD: 1|
|WR||Keenan Allen||TAR: 140, REC: 94, YD: 1079, TD: 7|
|WR||Mike Williams||TAR: 116, REC: 85, YD: 935, TD: 7|
|WR||Josh Palmer||TAR: 78, REC: 56, YD: 586, TD: 3|
|TE||Gerald Everett||TAR: 90, REC: 69, YD: 684, TD: 5|
Is there any breakout potential here?
Between Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen, and Mike Williams, there wasn't much room for anyone else in this offense to make much of an impact; no other player had even 600 total yards. This is one of the best offenses in the league, and you always want as much exposure to an offense like this as possible, but the touches are so concentrated between those three that you're going to have to be pretty patient if you are chasing upside with someone like Joshua Palmer, Gerald Everett, or Isaiah Spiller.
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One sleeper, one breakout and one bust
Spiller was productive in college, but didn't have an especially good pro day, running a 4.69 40-yard dash, but we've been waiting for someone to take a step forward in the Chargers backfield next to Ekeler since Melvin Gordon left. Spiller could be that guy, as a bigger back with early-down skills, and there should be an opportunity for something like 12-15 touches per game and potentially a decent red-zone role. Just keep in mind, this role may not be as valuable as it once seemed now that the Chargers have shown a willingness to use Ekeler as a goal-line back as well.
Everett has never had more than 63 targets in a season, so expectations are pretty limited right now. However, Jared Cook leaves behind 83 targets from the Chargers offense, so the opportunity for Everett to grow into a larger role is evident. Everett has shown some flashes, but the 7.6 yards per target and 5.2% touchdown rate he posted with Seattle last season are reasons to be optimistic about what he could do with a high-level quarterback. I don't think there's a ton of upside with Everett, but he could absolutely emerge as a viable starting-caliber option in this offense, say in the Hunter Henry mold.
I've referenced Allen's diminishing efficiency a few times in this piece already, but that isn't much of a concern as long as he continues to earn massive target volume. Allen has consistently been in the 10-targer per game range, and as long as that is the case, he's going to be a must-start Fantasy option. However, it's fair to wonder if the Chargers might not start to limit his usage if the inefficiency continues. I don't expect that to happen at this point, because the Chargers have been awfully consistent about his usage, but there's some risk there given that Allen really does need elite volume to be a must-start Fantasy option. It's not that hard to envision him becoming a glorified Jarvis Landry if things go south early.