GAME OVERVIEW ::
BY HILOW >>
How Los Angeles Will Try To Win ::
The Chargers saw large changes from last season in their offense. However, because these changes occurred at Offensive Coordinator (new OC Joe Lombardi) and along the O-line (four new starters), rather than at the more well-tracked skill positions, casual players might not realize how different this offense could look this year. It’s reasonable to expect Lombardi to install the offense he ran successfully for years with Drew Brees and the Saints. The change at OC is substantial enough to essentially throw out the way the Chargers played in 2020. The Chargers frantic pace of play (fastest in the league) should decline to below league average (like the Saints of past years). While that means fewer plays, it also likely means higher efficiency.
Justin Herbert had one of the best real football rookie years in NFL history (he was also the number six fantasy QB after he took over). Putting it plainly, my man balled out, despite playing behind a bottom-five offensive line. Herbert eviscerated the blitz, ranking first in the league against pressure, ahead of Patrick Mahomes. Herbert’s success against the blitz could be interpreted as an unstable stat, likely to regress, but good QBs tend to shred the blitz (some of the top QBs against the blitz since 2014 are Mahomes, Brady, Wilson, and Rodgers), so maybe Herbert is just good. With a proven OC and an improved offensive line, Herbert is set up for success in 2021.
Los Angeles has a solid group of WRs, headlined by alpha slot man Keenan Allen, and deep-threat Mike Williams who is entering a contract year. Allen should continue to see high-volume targets in the “Michael Thomas” slot role in Lombardi’s offense. Williams has millions of reasons to produce this year, and although he has been dealing with a hip flexor during camp, he is currently expected to be ready for Week 1. In Lombardi’s offense, Williams should see five to seven intermediate/deep looks a game, with high upside and a low floor week to week. Behind Allen/Williams we are likely to see a rotation between deep-threat Jaylon Guyton, and third-round rookie Justin Palmer. They should occupy low-volume roles, similar to the Saints ancillary WRs of the past. The Chargers brought in Jared Cook, who already has a familiarity with Lombardi’s offense. Cook looked like he had something left in the tank last year and has weekly touchdown upside to go along with an expected range of four to six targets, with spiked usage weeks possible in positive matchups.
On the ground, the Chargers attack is likely to mirror the Saints running back usage of the past decade. Austin Ekler fits perfectly into the “Alvin Kamara” role, with whoever wins the position battle at RB2 (Justin Jackson, Larry Roundtree, Joshua Kelley), filling the “Mark Ingram/Latavius Murray” role. Expect Ekler to see 15-20 touches (many of them being receptions), with whoever functions as the RB2 (possibly a rotation to begin the year) picking up the rest. Lombardi wasn’t shy about using Kamara at the goal line, but Ekler’s skill set isn’t ideal for short yardage, and it remains to be seen which back will see the most red zone work.
How Washington Will Try to Win:
Washington has one of the most aggressive head coaches in the NFL in Ron “Riverboat” Rivera. His teams consistently play to win, rather than to not lose, and although it may not have always looked it at times in 2020, that was more due to roster limitations than a desire to be conservative. Expect Washington with a now functional, aggressive QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, to come out firing. Fitzmagic has always lived up to his name: he gives you fits, and he gives you magic. He is diet Jameis Winston, and Rivera will give him leeway to attack. Washington should increase their tempo and pass rate from last year. Across the O-line, Washington looks like a solid unit, but they did lose RT Morgan Moses, who they hope to replace with second-rounder Samuel Cosmi. This unit is still strong but might take a step backward to begin the year.
Washington’s WR room is a lot more crowded than it was last year. Terry Mclaurin (F1) is joined by newcomers Curtis Samuel, Adam Humpries, and rookie Dyami Brown to go along with holdover Cam Sims. Fitzmagic has long loved himself an Alpha, and F1 should fill that role. Expect high target volume most weeks, around eight to twelve looks, with plenty of those coming downfield. Behind F1 a lot of guesswork comes into play. Samuel has upside, but he has missed most of camp with a lingering groin injury, and how he’ll be used is difficult to determine. Assuming Week 1 health, something around four to six looks with a few carries thrown in feels like a fair projection, with a lot of possible variances either way depending on his deployment. Humpries will be the slot WR, a role Fitzmagic has never heavily utilized. He should see five to seven low upside possession targets. Behind the top three, you’re hoping for a broken play. Last year’s breakout TE Logan Thomas screams regression. His 110 targets feel almost impossible to replicate with increased competition, and Fitzmagic is not known for targeting his TEs. Expect a significant drop in volume, with Thomas landing somewhere between three to five TD upside looks per week.
Washington’s backfield is lead by popular breakout candidate Antonio Gibson. There is every reason to think Gibson will be utilized as a 20-touch plus per game back, but J.D. McKissic is still on the roster, and it’s hard to envision his passing game role disappearing completely. Coach speak has been that they want to utilize Gibson in a “CMC role”. If you believe the coaches, Gibson’s projected volume makes him a Week 1 value, regardless of match up. Fitzmagic’s gun-slinging is bittersweet for Gibson. Fitzmagic’s play should increase his scoring opportunities while decreasing his target potential. Gibson may become more touchdown-dependent than currently accepted thought suggests, and he might end up being a player to target only in positive matchups.
Most Likely Game Flow:
This is one of the lowest game totals on the slate, checking in at only 44.5. Additionally, it’s projected to be one of the closest contested games on the slate, opening as a PK, before moving to the Chargers as a one-point road favorite. Washington’s defense faced a soft schedule last year, but they also dominated their competition, and even though they might be overrated as a unit this year, they’re still well above average. The Chargers defense is more middle of the pack, but isn’t weak, and will be facing a Washington offense that has a lot of new faces at the skill positions. Expect both teams to come out aggressively trying to win, but both defenses to hold up relatively well. The most likely outcome is a low-scoring, competitive slugfest that is close throughout, with the game being decided late in the 4th quarter.
While I think the “most likely” game flow is “highly likely” in this contest, there is one tributary worth considering. This alternate game flow relies on two beliefs. The first, that Washington’s defense is overrated based on a soft 2020 schedule. The second, that Justin Herbert is a superstar. If both those things are true, and Herbert can quickly grasp Lombardi’s offense, it’s possible the Chargers surprise everyone and pastes Washington. Think of Herbert looking like a young Brees with legs. The line has moved one point in Los Angeles favor, and while not significant yet, if the line keeps moving and crosses three, that could be a sign that this tributary is in play.
This game has one of the lowest totals on the slate and is an anticipated low-scoring affair without much fantasy goodness. While these types of games can be easy to overlook, they can also provide a big edge on our competition if we can find a big score, since almost everyone on both teams will come with low ownership.
On Washington’s side of the ball, it’s hard to get excited about much in their WR room beyond potentially F1. The Chargers have Derwin James who at times has been capable of shutdown play, but the rest of their secondary isn’t threatening. New DC Brandon Staley called a zone-heavy scheme for the Rams last year. The Chargers are going to try and keep everything in front of them, and force teams to move the ball up the field. This is a less than ideal setup for F1, but he could benefit from high target volume and a lot of deep looks. His price is reasonable at only $6,400 for a clear alpha WR. Behind F1 is a lot of uncertainty. You could roll the dice on Samuel coming off a camp injury, but rolling the dice is exactly what you’d be doing. Humphries looks locked into a low upside role, he is free at $3,000 for bargain hunters, but you get what you pay for in this case. The other WRs are “praying for a broken play” options. I’m content to avoid Washington’s WRs this week, except for considering F1 in large field play. The Chargers run a lot of zone coverage, which is vulnerable to a strong TE. Logan Thomas has the tools to continue last year’s breakout, but the change at QB and increased target competition hurt his projections. Priced aggressively based on last year as the slate’s 6th most expensive TE ($4,600), I’m likely to avoid him.
Washington’s backfield is two guys, Gibson and McKissic. Playing McKissic doesn’t seem viable since he is priced at $5,100, which reflects his role last year, not this year. Gibson will have multi-touchdown upside almost every week, but he may also end up dependent on those touchdowns. If you believe that Gibson will be utilized in a true every-down “CMC” role, rather than a more traditional early-down back that gives way to McKissic in passing situations, then he is a Week 1 value priced at only $5,900 based on projected workload. I will keep a close eye on Gibson’s Week 1 props as roster lock approaches.
Los Angeles is going to have a new-look offense that I fully expect to mirror the Saints of the past decade. No one really knows how quickly Herbert will grasp Lombardi’s offense, but my guess is faster than most people are predicting. When looking at what Herbert did last year, it’s hard to reach any conclusion other than he is simply good at football. While this is a tough match-up (maybe not as tough as public perception), on the road, in his first game in a new offense, I think there is a chance Herbert lights up the scoreboard anyway. In this scenario, he would be viable, and extremely low-owned option, priced at $6,700.
Alpha slot man Keenan Allen headlines the stacking options with Herbert and should see significant volume in the old “Michael Thomas” role. Weak competition and an elite pash rush covered up a subpar Washington secondary. Only safety Jeremy Reaves (seven games played) had a PFF coverage grade above 70. Kendall Fuller often kicks into the slot, and he has consistently declined over the past three seasons. Allen should win that match-up. Mike Williams always has upside, but that upside comes with a low floor. Even though Washington has a weak secondary, they do have an elite pass rush, and time to throw downfield will be limited. Couple that with Lombardi’s offenses never featuring a ton of downfield passing, and I’m happy to take a wait-and-see approach with Williams. Behind Williams and Allen, you’re taking a shot on hitting a big play. Washington was most vulnerable through the air to TE’s last year and relies heavily on zone coverage on first and second down. Cook is familiar with Lombardi’s offense and will be close to an every snap player. He offers cheap TE appeal priced at only $3,800.
On the ground, Los Angeles should feature Ekler in the old “Kamara” role. Expect 15-20 high-efficiency touches, with as many as half being receptions. We’ve all seen what Kamara has been able to do, and there is reason to believe Ekler could produce similar results. However, don’t expect workhorse usage, and it’s unclear where he will fall in the red zone pecking order. Priced as the eighth most expensive back ($7,000), Ekler isn’t cheap, and will probably carry under 10% ownership. I’m far more likely to use Ekler in a game stack that predicts a big day for his offense, than as an isolation piece. Whoever wins the RB2 role (if it’s not a rotation), might have value in certain spots, but against an elite D-line, this isn’t one of them.