Fantasy Football Profile: Philip Rivers Not Top-12?
It’s not often that a team allows their quarterback to be abused the way Philip Rivers has been throughout his career, especially when he’s one of the best in the game. Some will disagree with that because of the end result, which is wins, but Rivers has quietly been one of the best quarterbacks in the league despite having sub-par weapons in the passing game and one of the worst offensive lines in all of football. Is it too late for him to be considered a top-12 option in fantasy leagues?
Well, I suppose the correct question would be, “Can Rivers return to being a top-six option in fantasy leagues?” because he’s finished inside the top-six three times in his career (2008, 2010, 2013). There have only been three seasons in which he finished outside the top-12 at his position and he now has the best receiving corps he’s ever had, yet I’m ranking him outside the QB1 range.
Offensive Line Issues
Again, this isn’t really Rivers’ fault, as his offensive line has ranked outside the top-18 since way back in 2008, according to PFF. The Chargers released offensive tackle King Dunlap, guard D.J. Fluker, and guard Orlando Franklin this off-season, making it a necessity for them to select two offensive guards in the draft. Forrest Lamp with their second-round pick, and Dan Feeney in the third-round. It’s not that they aren’t solid prospects, but depending on rookies to fix their issues could be problematic. They did add a new left tackle in Russell Okung, but he’s been a much better run-blocker throughout the course of his career than a pass-blocker.
Abundance of Passing Options
Moving onto his options in the passing game, they’re quite impressive. After adding Travis Benjamin via free agency last year, they added Hunter Henry via the draft, and then had a former undrafted free agent Tyrell Williams break-out in 2016 after Keenan Allen went down with a torn ACL. Most expected Antonio Gates to walk away from the game, but he’s returning for his 15th season. Dontrelle Inman showed glimpses of a solid slot receiver in 2016, totaling 631 yards over the final 10 games, which was 23rd among wide receivers in that span. And then, after all that, the Chargers spent their No. 7 pick on Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams, a player who has No. 1 wide receiver traits.
Most have even overlooked how good running back Melvin Gordon was last year, hauling in 41 passes for 419 yards in just 13 games. If he would’ve played the final three games, his pace would’ve given him 50 receptions (tied for 11th-most among running backs) and 516 yards (fourth-most among running backs). On top of that, the Chargers seem to be excited to bring back Branden Oliver, who caught 49 passes in 2014-2015, despite being a part-time player.
The Dreadful Schedule
With all those weapons, as well as an attempt to rebuild the offensive line, Rivers should be poised for a big year. But looking closer at his schedule, it’s going to be extremely difficult for that to happen. Over their first nine games, the Chargers will play the Broncos twice, Chiefs (will play them again in Week 15), Giants, Raiders, Patriots, and Jaguars. Here’s some tidbits on those teams:
Denver Broncos: Allowed just 185.8 passing yards per game in 2016. Rivers totaled 445 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions in the two games against them last year.
Kansas City Chiefs: Over the last three years, Rivers has averaged 241.5 yards, 0.83 touchdowns, 1.17 interceptions, and just 10.7 fantasy points against them. No game has amounted to more than 14.9 fantasy points.
New York Giants: Allowed just 12.5 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks in 2016. Just two quarterbacks were able to score more than 15 fantasy points against them. This game will also be in New York.
Oakland Raiders: Rivers has had some success against them at home, but the Raiders continue to build their young, up-and-coming defense. The offensive line will be tested in this matchup.
New England Patriots: There was just one game in 2016 where they allowed more than two passing touchdowns. They also added the top cornerback on the market this off-season, Stephon Gilmore.
Jacksonville Jaguars: After allowing three 20-plus fantasy point games in the first seven games of the season, the young defense held opposing quarterbacks to an average of just 13.5 fantasy points over the final nine games. They also added mega-free-agents Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye this off-season.
While past statistics don’t automatically mean future success, teams don’t go from one of the best to one of the worst overnight. Rivers’ schedule to start the season is among the worst in football, though it does clear up from Week 11 through Week 14, but that’s where Rivers has struggled mightily over the last three seasons.
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There is a lot of small sample sizes that we need to rely on a majority of the time, but when we’re talking about three years of data, over a span of 48 games, we have a clear trend here. So by the time Rivers’ schedule clears up, it may be too late if this trend continues.
I wanted to love Rivers this year with all of the improvements going on around him, but after looking at everything a bit closer, I can’t get him into my top-12 at the quarterback position. You see, Rivers is like a dinosaur that hasn’t aged with the game very well. He’s scored between 254-287 fantasy points in eight of the last nine seasons. While you can’t beat that consistency, quarterback scoring has inflated to the point where his 259 points in 2016 kept him out of the top-12, whereas he would’ve been the No. 7 scoring quarterback with those numbers back in 2010.
The return of Ken Whisenhunt hurt his overall outlook in 2016, as we knew his pass attempts would decrease. He went from a league-leading 661 attempts in 2015, to just 578 in 2016, which ranked him 10th in that category. In fact, Rivers only season with more than 582 attempts was in 2015, without Whisenhunt. With the way the schedule aligns, it’s hard to make a case that he should be throwing more. It wouldn’t shock me to see Rivers overcome all of these obstacles and finish inside the top-12, but you’d be betting against all odds, which is not what we do if we want to win fantasy championships. Instead, wait three rounds and take Tyrod Taylor.
To see all the player profiles that have been done this off-season, click here. There will be many more in the coming weeks.