QB: You might have heard that Peyton Manning had a good season. It wasn’t ridiculous – and it was perhaps almost obvious – to say that the 2013 Broncos were the most talented offense Peyton had ever played on during his illustrious career. And now two years removed from neck surgery, Peyton proved it. In 2013, he posted numbers we might not see again for a long time, if ever. Peyton went 450/659 (68.3%) for 5477 yards and 55 TDs, with his yardage and TD totals setting new NFL records. He threw only 11 INTs and averaged 31.1 FPG, easily #1 in the entire NFL, and the best fantasy season in history for a QB. The season culminated in a Super Bowl appearance for the Broncos, a storybook season for a man who has established himself firmly in the argument for the greatest player of all time. For fantasy, Peyton was an absolute stud, and a consistent one. He opened the 2013 season by shredding the Ravens for 7 TDs and 50.4 FP, and closed it with 8 TDs and no INTs over his final two regular-season games. Only once all season was Peyton held below 20.0 FP, which is absurd. And if you isolate every possible four-game stretch for Peyton this year, only once did he rank below #4 among QBs. That was from Weeks Nine through Twelve, when he finished 10th among all QBs. He was a starting fantasy QB for the entire season, and for all but one game he was an elite fantasy starter. Peyton threw for 2 or more TDs in 15 of 16 games, and 266 or more yards in 15 of 16 games. Ridiculous. Playing with elite talents like Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas certainly helps – they are arguably the most talented WR and TE, respectively, Peyton has ever had. But credit goes to Peyton, this coaching staff, and his offensive line for dealing with season-ending injuries to LT Ryan Clady and C Dan Koppen (C Manny Ramirez became one of the best at his position in the entire league). The ending was ugly in his final game of the season, but this was a magical season we won’t soon forget.
RB: Knowshon Moreno waited a long time for this, but he’s finally getting his last laugh. After 3.75 NFL seasons in which he looked like a bust, Moreno seized his opportunity late in 2012 to become the Broncos’ featured back. And despite Denver spending an early pick on Wisconsin star Montee Ball this past April, Moreno opened the 2013 season as the Broncos’ starter and never relinquished the job. Providing value on the ground, through the air, and as a pass protector, Moreno totaled 242/1039/10 rushing (4.3 YPC) and 60/548/3 receiving on 74 targets (81.1%). In PPR leagues, he was a beast, ranking #5 among all RBs, with 18.5 FPG, providing an incredible return on a value pick, as many (including us) thought Ball or even second-year man Ronnie Hillman would be the starter here. Only three times all year did Moreno post fewer than 10 FP in a PPR league. But it’s in those PPR leagues where he had by far his most value – he had 3 or more catches in 11 of 16 games, and he ran for more than 100 yards only once. That was in a 37-carry, 224-yard romp against the Patriots in Week Twelve. More than anything, Moreno was an efficient back who bought into Peyton Manning’s offense, and he was a reliable option who fumbled only once all year and rarely dropped passes. Still somewhat of a robotic runner, Moreno nonetheless ran physically, and took advantage of the holes the Broncos’ passing game naturally opened for the run. An impending free agent, the Broncos’ decision on Moreno becomes very interesting, and recent reports suggest they don’t expect to retain him. That’s because Montee Ball played very well after a slow start. As a rookie, Ball totaled 119/560/4 rushing (4.7 YPC) and 20/145/0 receiving on 27 targets (74.1%). He ranked 52nd among RBs with 7.2 FPG. Playing through fumbling and pass pro issues, Ball contributed sparingly through Week Ten, averaging only 3.4 FPG over that span. But after that, with Denver making a concerted effort to limit Moreno’s touches, Ball became a big contributor down the stretch and in the playoffs. Over the final seven games of the regular season, he averaged 12.0 FPG, and ranked 27th at the position. He had 78 touches over that span, and averaged 6.0 YPC. Balls emergence meant Ronnie Hillman (55/218/1 rushing and 12/119/0 receiving while being active for only nine games) and C.J. Anderson (7/38 rushing) were used sparingly.
WR/TE: Peyton Manning has played with future Hall of Famers Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and (maybe) Dallas Clark. He’s played with Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, Marcus Pollard, and Brandon Stokley. But we’d argue that he has never played with a group of receivers as collectively gifted as the one he played with in Denver this year. In fact, we think it’s obvious. Manning himself called Demaryius Thomas the most physically gifted receiver he’s ever played with, including Harrison and Wayne. It’s hard to argue that. A 6’4” beast who can stretch the field and who is maybe the best YAC receiver in football, Thomas had a monster season. He hauled in 92/1430/14 receiving on 141 targets (15.5 YPC, 65.2% catch rate) and finished #3 among all WRs with 19.9 FPG. He lived up to expectations and then some, as he was generally the third through fifth receiver taken in most fantasy drafts. In no way did he disappoint, going over 100 yards six different times, having both 100 yards and at least 1 TD four times, having either 100 yards or a TD 11 different times, and scoring multiple TDs four different times. He had double-digit PPR points in all but one game (unfortunately, that came in Week Fifteen). Thomas is the NFL’s most dangerous WR on rocket screen plays, and the Broncos used them as a staple. He was also deadly on fade patterns around the endzone. His presence helped open things up for Eric Decker, not as gifted but certainly a force to be reckoned with when faced with single coverage. Decker posted 87/1288/11 receiving on 135 targets (14.8 YPC, 64.4%), ranking 9th among WRs, with 17.6 FPG. Decker was more inconsistent than Thomas, with five games of fewer than 10 FP in a PPR. But he ended the year on an absolute tear, scoring 4 TDs in Week Thirteen alone and finishing with 8 over his last five games. Decker had a penchant for huge games – he went over 100 yards five different times and scored at least 1 TD in each of those games. Like Demaryius, Decker occasionally struggled with drops, but at times he was near impossible to stop when in single coverage, of which he saw quite a bit. The addition of Wes Welker certainly helped. Overall, Welker posted 73/778/10 receiving on 111 targets (10.7 YPC, 65.8%). He averaged 16.2 FPG in a PPR, ranking him #14 among all WRs. But after a very hot start, with 8 TDs over his first six games, Welker settled into more of a complementary role, which he admitted he expected when he signed in Denver. Welker missed the final three games of the year with a concussion, capping off a seven-game span over which he ranked only #31 among WRs with 12.1 FPG (he was #4 from Weeks One through Six with 20.5 FPG). Welker still provided Peyton with a lethal red-zone target on his patented pick/rub plays, and his 10 TDs set a career high (on the flip side, his 5.6 receptions per game were his lowest average since 2006 with the Dolphins). If those receivers weren’t enough, Peyton’s weapons got even more lethal this year with the development of TE Julius Thomas, by far the most gifted TE he’s ever played with. An extremely raw player who had only 1 catch over his first two seasons, Julius exploded onto the scene in Week One of 2013. He posted 5/110/2 in Week One, catching Peyton’s first of 55 TDs on the year (he also caught Peyton’s record-setting 51st TD). Julius finished with 65/788/12 receiving on 90 targets (12.1 YPC, 72.2%) and ranked #3 among all TEs, with 15.4 FPG. He had two 100-yard performances, catching 2 TDs in each. In 14 games, he had 10 double-digit PPR performances and was a no-brainer for inclusion in lineups. A freak athlete, Thomas could line up in line, in the slot, or out wide, and provide unique matchup advantages in each spot. He also fought through a late-season knee injury to contribute down the stretch and in the playoffs. He needs to improve as a blocker, but he gave the Broncos one of the league’s best young TEs and another deadly addition to Peyton’s group. Behind these guys, TE Jacob Tamme (20/184/1) and WR Andre Caldwell (16/200/3) made some contributions and provided solid depth when Welker and Orange Julius got hurt.
Key Free Agents: RB Knowshon Moreno, WR Eric Decker, LB Wesley Woodyard, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, OG Zane Beadles, CB Chris Harris (RFA), CB Tony Carter (RFA), S Duke Ihenacho (ERFA), OLB Shaun Phillips, LB Paris Lenon, DE Robert Ayers, S Mike Adams, S/CB Quentin Jammer, WR Andre Caldwell, DT Mitch Unrein (RFA), KR/WR Trindon Holliday (ERFA).
Kansas City Chiefs
QB: Kansas City gave up plenty to acquire QB Alex Smith from the 49ers last off-season, giving up two 2nd-round picks, but the Chiefs have to be pretty satisfied with their return so far. The Chiefs went from a 2-14 team that finished with the #1 pick in 2012 to an 11-5 team that made the playoffs in 2013, thanks in large part to Smith. He now owns a 30-9-1 record over the past three seasons, but it certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s had some pretty good supporting casts during that time. Smith didn’t exactly set the world on fire to start the season, but he played better as the season progressed, as he got more and more familiar with HC Andy Reid’s offense. Smith completed 308/509 passes (60.5%) for 3313 yards, 23 TDs, and 8 INTS in 15 games (he rested in Week Seventeen), and he finished 6th among QBs in rushing with 76 carries for 431 yards (5.7 YPC) and 1 TD. He ranked 15th among fantasy QBs with 20.4, but Smith played exceptional from Week Eleven on, ranking 5th among QBs with 23.7 FPG on 1394/14/4 passing and 23/166 rushing. Smith set new career-highs in passing yards, passing TDs, and rushing yards in his eighth season, so the new marriage with Reid certainly helped him for fantasy. Smith even played arguably the best game of his NFL career in a 45-44 loss in the Wild Card Round, completing 30/46 for 378 yards, 4 TDs, and no INTs, while adding 8 carries for 57 yards. Smith certainly has plenty of momentum heading into the 2014 season, so he’ll be an intriguing option as a #2 fantasy QB, especially if WR Dwayne Bowe is in better shape and if the Chiefs can upgrade over #2 WR Donnie Avery. Smith has one season left on his current deal, so if the Chiefs were truly pleased with his performance this past season, they could look to lock him up this off-season. Backup QB Chase Daniel continues to look impressive when he’s given playing time, as Daniel always seemed to shine during preseason action in his first three NFL seasons with the Saints. He started his first NFL game in Week Seventeen with Reid resting his starters, and Chase impressed in the mini-audition. He completed 21/30 for 200 yards and 1 TD and adding 7/59 rushing while playing with the second-team against the San Diego starters. Daniel is a top-notch backup quarterback for next season, but the Chiefs still have undrafted rookie Tyler Bray in the fold. Bray is a bit of a project with some raw skills, so we’ll see if he can make some progress this off-season.
RB: Just how good was RB Jamaal Charles last season? The six-year pro led the Chiefs in both rushing and receiving this past year, edging out wide receivers like Dwayne Bowe for the top passing numbers. Charles also had one of the best-documented fantasy games in NFL history during the fantasy playoffs in Week Fifteen against the Raiders, registering 8/20/1 rushing and 8/195/4 receiving for 59.5 FPG in PPR formats. He also finished the season as the top fantasy RB this season, crushing the next closest RB Matt Forte, 25.5-to-21.3 FPG. Charles finished the year with 259 carries for 1288 yards (5.0 YPC) and 12 TDs, adding 70 catches for 693 yards (9.9 YPC) and 7 TDs on 104 targets (67.3% catch rate). He finished 3rd in the NFL in rushing yards, tied for 1st in rushing TDs, 1st in RB receiving yards, 1st in RB receiving TDs, and 5th in RB catches. Simply put, Charles dominated all season long, and he’ll be a hot commodity at the top of fantasy drafts in 2014. It also didn’t hurt that Charles had one of the best fullbacks in the game leading the way for him in Anthony Sherman. Charles, who turned 27 in December, has also been fairly durable throughout his NFL career, outside of a serious knee injury that cut his 2011 season short after just two games. He did suffer a concussion on the opening drive of their Wild Card Game against the Colts, but he made a full recovery and played in the Pro Bowl. Rookie RB Knile Davis showed this season that he has a chance to be a pretty special player if he can get his ball security issues under control. Davis showed that he could be a pretty decent backup for the future, with the potential to get more work next season to give Charles more breathers throughout the season. Charles handled a heavy workload in 2013, so Reid could be inclined to give Davis a few more opportunities throughout 2014. He played well in a spot start in Week Seventeen, with the Chief starters resting, racking up 27/81/2 rushing. He also filled in well during the Wild Card Round after Charles went down early with a concussion, running for 18/67/1 and catching 7/33/1. However, Davis also left that playoff game early with a fractured fibula and a sprained left knee, which has him questionable for OTAs. Davis did miss his entire junior season at Arkansas with a broken ankle, so he does have some durability issues. Davis also had fumbling issues in college, and he lost 1 fumble during his rookie season. Third-string RB Cyrus Gray has just 16 carries and 9 catches in the first two seasons of his career, so he hasn’t exactly been used extensively. He does have some speed to burn, but Gray will be on the roster bubble once again next season and the Chiefs could look to upgrade their depth at the position.
WR/TE: It’s not a good sign for a set of wide receivers when the team’s leading receiver happens to be a running back. That was the case this year for the Chiefs, as RB Jamaal Charles (693 receiving yards) topped leading wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (672). Bowe is facing a critical off-season after playing this past season far from in top shape. He needs to rededicate himself to bounce back from a terrible statistical year and a tough personal year, as well. Bowe was arrested in November for speeding and possession of a controlled substance, so we’ll see if he faces any kind of discipline from the NFL in the future. Bowe, who is listed at 6’2” and 221 pounds, said he wants to play next season around 208 pounds, so he can be “more explosive and faster.” He plans to change the way he eats and work on his endurance this off-season. Bowe finished the year with 57 catches for 672 yards (11.8 YPC) and 5 TDs on 101 targets (56.4% catch rate), ranking 46th among WRs with just 10.3 FPG. Bowe was expected to get a boost from playing with new QB Alex Smith, but he finished with his second worst statistical season (2009 was his worst) in his seventh year. Bowe did play a little better in the second half of year once Smith got more comfortable in the system and started throwing it a little more downfield, as Bowe posted 31/370/3 in his final seven games. The Chief offense lacked offensive playmakers outside of Charles last season, so the franchise needs to upgrade at wide receiver or Bowe needs to come into training camp in better shape. Also, don’t be surprised if Reid shows some interest in his former Eagle WR Jeremy Maclin this off-season, who is coming off an ACL injury in training camp. WR Donnie Avery made a couple of plays but not nearly enough for a #2 NFL wide receiver. He finished the year with 40 catches for 596 yards (14.9 YPC) and 2 TDs on 70 targets (57.1% catch rate) for 7.5 FPG. WR Dexter McCluster emerged as the better fantasy option playing out of the slot over Avery. McCluster caught 53 passes for 512 yards (9.7 YPC) and 2 TDs on 82 targets (64.6% catch rate) for 7.8 FPG. McCluster is a free agent this off-season, but the Chiefs will likely push to keep him around because of how valuable he is to the team’s special teams unit. Reid finally started to get McCluster a little more involved later in the season, which helped the fourth-year pro to post career-best numbers. WRs A.J. Jenkins (8/130) and Junior Hemingway (13/125/2) each showed a little bit of progress as second-year pros, but both players have a long way to go to become consistent playmakers. Jenkins is a former 1st-round pick for the 49ers in 2012, so he’s got some skills, but he’ll need to make a big leap this off-season to make any kind of impact next season. The tight end spot also held the Chiefs down this season, as both Anthony Fasano (23/200/3) and Sean McGrath (26/302/2) were below-average options for the position. Fasano played in just nine games this season because of knee, ankle, and concussion issues, and he managed 30+ yards in just one game. Rookie TE Travis Kelce will be asked to be a bigger factor in this offense next season, as the Chiefs could use a chain mover in the middle of the field. The 3rd-round pick didn’t appear in a single game in 2013 after needing micro-fracture surgery in October. It’s a notoriously tough procedure to come back from, but Kelce will have more fantasy upside than Fasano. The Chiefs need Kelce or former basketball player Demetrius Harris, who stands at 6’7” and weighs 230 pounds, to make some major strides this off-season. Both Kelce and Harris ended their seasons on injured reserve.
Key Free Agents: WR Dexter McCluster, LT Branden Albert, DE Tyson Jackson, RG Jon Asamoah, FS Kendrick Lewis, OT Geoff Schwartz, ILB Akeem Jordan, OLB Frank Zombo, FS Hussain Abdullah, KR Quintin Demps, WR Kyle Williams, TE Richard Gordon.
QB: The Raiders learned this season that they more than likely didn’t have their future starting quarterback on their roster in 2013. QB Terrelle Pryor gave a couple rare glimpses as a potential dual-threat QB, but he eventually showed more often than not that he couldn’t throw the ball well enough to be an NFL quarterback. Pryor showed some elite ability as a running quarterback, but he had absolutely no pocket passing game and little accuracy, which really started to become evident after a knee injury started to limit his mobility. Pryor showed some potential early in the year, but he soon lost his confidence in the middle of the season. Pryor never got close to getting back to the same form, especially after the beatdown he took against the Chiefs when he was sacked 9 times. He lost his starting job to UDFA rookie Matt McGloin for six games, and the former walk-on at Penn State played better than the former 5-star recruit from Ohio State. However, it wasn’t like McGloin grabbed control of the starting quarterback job for the future, as he simply played better than the very low expectations set for an undrafted quarterback and better than the low expectations set by Pryor. HC Dennis Allen yanked McGloin from the starting lineup in the finale to get a final look at Pryor, but he did little to impress or give any hope that he’s the solution for this franchise in 2014. Pryor broke Oakland records for rushing yards by a quarterback in a season, racking up 82/580/2 for a 7.1 YPC average, but he really struggled where it mattered most, in the passing game. He completed 156/271 passes (57.6%) for 1798 yards, 5 TDs, and 7 INTs in 11 games, ranking him 26th among QBs with 17.1 FPG. McGloin gave this passing game and WRs Rod Streater and Andre Holmes more life, but he likely just earned himself a couple more NFL contracts as a second- or third-string quarterback in the league. McGloin completed 118/212 passes (55.7%) for 1547 yards, 8 TDs, and 8 INTs for 16.0 FPG in seven games. The Raiders own the #5 overall pick in the draft, and we could see them pull the trigger on a quarterback if there is one available that meets their standards. At the very least, the Raiders will spend an early round pick on a quarterback or address the need through free agency. The likely best-case scenario for Pryor next season is that he could be the backup quarterback with some special packages to keep him involved as a dual-threat option. He certainly isn’t the franchise quarterback, as the Raiders found out in 2013.
RB: The entire Raider backfield could look drastically different next season, not just the quarterback position. It looks like RB Darren McFadden’s time in Oakland will be up after another injury-filled season in 2013. The former 1st-round pick had hoped to earn another contract this off-season, but his mostly disappointing tenure in Oakland will more than likely come to an end. Run DMC showed some promise after a breakout season in 2010, but he never came close to playing a full 16-game season in any of his six years with the Raiders. McFadden’s balky hamstring never let him get on track this season, as it bothered him for most of the year. McFadden’s injuries have run the gamut over his six years as he’s dealt with toe, knee, hamstring, shoulder, foot, and ankle issues. He finished this season with just 114 carries for 379 yards (3.3 YPC) and 5 TDs, adding 17 catches for 108 yards (6.4 YPC) on 25 targets (68% catch rate) to average 10.1 FPG in 10 games. McFadden put up his best numbers in 2010 under new Bengal OC Hue Jackson, so Cincy seems like a logical team to pursue Run DMC. The more interesting decision will be made on free agent RB Rashad Jennings, who looked much better than McFadden and had a bounce-back season after a dreadful 2012 campaign with the Jaguars. We’d have to wonder if Jennings early season knee injury in 2012 lingered for most of that season and caused him to average just 2.8 YPC. He looked significantly healthier this past season, carrying 164 times for 733 yards (4.5 YPC) and 6 TDs. Jennings added 36 catches for 292 yards (8.1 YPC) on 47 targets (76.6 catch rate), averaging 11.6 FPG despite being a backup for a decent chunk of those games. The Raiders could probably keep Jennings around for a reasonable price, but they may go a more unexpected route and give prospect Latavius Murray a chance to start. The Raiders essentially redshirted Murray in 2013, placing him on the IR before the season after he underwent an ankle scope. The procedure was relatively minor in nature, so he likely could’ve played at some point in 2013, but the Raiders didn’t want to rush him back to a bad team. Murray flashed a little bit in limited preseason work before the ankle injury shut him down, but HC Dennis Allen did call him out for accountability issues. Murray is a big back (6’2”, 223 pounds) who can run a 4.4 40-time, so he’s got the physical tools to be a stud, now he just needs to get out on the field and prove it. FB Marcel Reece earned the only Pro Bowl nomination for the Raiders, but OC Greg Olson didn’t get enough production out of the very effective Reece. The Raiders used him primarily as a blocker, but he’s useful as a receiver out of the backfield and he can carry the mail if needed, like he did against the Jets for 123 yards and a TD on 19 carries. Reece should get more touches next season, especially if the Raiders decide to go with the youngster Murray as the starting running back. The Raiders could go a number of different ways with this backfield, so we’ll closely watch the decisions they make this off-season.
WR/TE: The Raiders definitely have some young talent at wide receiver between Denarius Moore, Rod Streater, and Andre Holmes, but we didn’t see a ton of consistency out of this group this season. However, it’s not like they were playing with even league-average quarterbacks this season, between run-first Terrelle Pryor and undrafted free agent Matt McGloin. Even just a little bit of improvement at quarterback this off-season could go a long way for this group. It’s starting to look like Moore isn’t a true top option at wide receiver, although it’s not exactly like he’s playing with a good quarterback. Moore drops far too many passes to be considered an elite receiver, even though he flashed some of the athletic characteristics of a top receiver. Moore needs to develop into a more consistent downfield threat heading into next season. Moore finished the year with 46 catches for 695 yards (15.1 YPC) and 5 TDs on 82 targets (56.1% catch rate) in 13 games, finishing 36th among WRs with 11.2 FPG. He missed three games late in the year because of a shoulder injury but returned to play in the final three games. Moore caught some flack in the preseason for his lack of consistency and his lack of maturity at times, so he needs to clean up his act a bit. Streater showed some legit chemistry with backup QB Matt McGloin once he stepped into the lineup, so there’s reason for optimism for Streater if the Raiders can upgrade at QB this off-season. Streater is a solid but not spectacular prospect, but he could be a decent #2 possession WR opposite of a stud #1 WR. Streater is good at working the middle of the field and has the potential to be a PPR guy if he plays with a decent quarterback. He finished the year with 60 catches for 888 yards (14.8 YPC) and 4 TDs on 97 targets (61.9% catch rate), ranking 37th among WRs, with 10.9 FPG. Holmes came out of nowhere with a huge game on Thanksgiving Day against the Cowboys, racking up 7/136 on a national stage. He appeared in 10 games and made catches in the final 7 weeks, finishing with 25 catches for 431 yards (17.2 YPC) and 1 TD on 49 targets (51% catch rate). Holmes is a raw player that failed to catch on with the Cowboys, but he showed some intriguing size (6’4”), speed, and leaping ability with the Raiders this season. He’s definitely a player to keep an eye on this off-season and preseason to see what kind of reports are coming out of Raider camp. UDFA Jeron Mastrud was the starter at tight end because of his blocking ability, but rookie 6th-round TE Mychal Rivera flashed the most in the passing game. Rivera caught a pass in all but one game this season, but he did little more than that. He finished the year with 38 catches for 407 yards (10.7 YPC) and 4 TDs on 59 targets (64.4% catch rate). Mastrud had just 6/88 this season, so Rivera is clearly the best fantasy option at TE if the Raiders decide to let their rookies (they also have rookie Nick Kasa) continue to develop. Rivera did most of his work on seam routes, so he needs to become a more complete receiver.
Key Free Agents: RB Darren McFadden, RB Rashad Jennings, WR Jacoby Ford, RB Jeremy Stewart, TE Jeron Mastrud, OT Jared Veldheer, OT Khalif Barnes, OT Tony Pashos, DE Lamarr Houston, DT Vance Walker, FS Charles Woodson, SS Brandian Ross (ERFA), CB Mike Jenkins, CB Tracy Porter, DE Jason Hunter, S Usama Young, CB Phillip Adams, C Andre Gurode, CB Chimdi Chekwa (RFA), OLB Kaelin Burnett (ERFA), C Matt McCants (ERFA), DT Daniel Muir.
San Diego Chargers
QB: The fantasy world had just about considered Philip Rivers dead and buried after a miserable 2012 season that followed an underwhelming 2011 season. However, a couple of coaching changes would help resurrect Rivers’ career, as the team hired HC Mike McCoy and (now former) OC Ken Whisenhunt. Instead of the vertical passing attack that Rivers was a part of under former HC Norv Turner, the Chargers moved to a quicker passing offense, designed to get the ball out of Rivers’ hand much faster in an effort to make up for the lack of protection he had in 2012 (49 sacks). It worked wonders, as Rivers ended up being sacked just 30 times this past season, despite the OL dealing with injury issues almost every week. What’s ever more amazing about Rivers’ resurgence were the losses of WRs Danario Alexander (preseason) and Malcom Floyd (Week Two). With those veterans out, the Chargers turned to third-year WR Vincent Brown, who missed all of 2012, and rookie WR Keenan Allen. Of course, Rivers’ most reliable target, TE Antonio Gates remained in the mix, but he is nowhere near the player he was in his prime. Between the shift in how the passing game operated and a more of a reliance on the ground game, it gave San Diego a balanced and much more efficient offense with Rivers leading the way. He went 379/545 (69.5%, career high) for 4478 yards, 32 TDs, and 11 INTs, which put him 8th among QBs at 22.4 FPG. While he was better than expected, Rivers still had eight games in which he didn’t hit 20 FP, which can certainly be attributed to the team’s commitment to the run. The bottom line is Rivers proved he had plenty left in the tank and the change in offensive philosophy rejuvenated his career, so we can only hope that continues in 2014.
RB: Much like QB Philip Rivers, the fantasy career of RB Ryan Mathews looked like it had already peaked. Little did we know that a change in his role would turn him into one of the best runners in the league. San Diego added RB Danny Woodhead in the off-season, which indicated the team and new regime wasn’t sold on Mathews’ role in the offense. While that was somewhat true, it also ended up being great news for Mathews. Instead of being asked to do everything, Mathews actually became more of a north-south, power runner, who didn’t play as big a role in the passing attack. Instead, that went to Woodhead, who racked up 76/605/6 on 87 targets (87.4% catch rate) and 106/425/2 (4 YPC) on the ground, putting him at 14.2 FPG (15th among RBs). While Woodhead had somewhat of a role as a runner, he was the primary pass-catcher out of the backfield and did a great job in that role. That took something off Mathews’ plate and helped him to his most efficient season of his career. For the first time, Mathews played every game, despite dealing with a variety of injuries throughout the year, and he ran 285 times for 1255 yards (4.4 YPC) and 6 TDs while adding 26/189/1 on 31 targets. That was good enough for 13.3 FPG, tying him for 20th at the position, which absolutely exceeded all expectations for him coming into 2013. In fact, RB Ronnie Brown, who spelled Mathews too often for our liking in 2012, carried just 45 times for 157 yards and a TD and had just 8/60 on 8 targets. The Chargers were able to lean on their ground game to help create long, sustaining drives, which at times was their best defense against high-powered offenses. The Mathews-Woodhead tandem looks like a strong one heading into 2014, and we can only hope they are as successful after a fantastic 2013 season.
WR/TE: Losing both of your starting WRs before the end of September would probably spell disaster for most teams, but the Chargers were able to overcome such losses and ended up playing into the Divisional Round. WR Danario Alexander suffered a torn ACL in August and was waived by the team soon after. The team lost another starting WR when Malcom Floyd suffered a neck injury in Week Two that ended up landing him on the IR. The injury is so bad that Floyd’s career may be in doubt, according to Union-Tribune San Diego. With their top two WRs down, the Chargers turned to WRs Vincent Brown and Keenan Allen. While we were excited about Brown’s chances, he was being pushed into a big role after missing his entire second season due to an ankle injury. Allen, who battled knee issues in college and in the off-season, also found himself in the starting lineup rather quickly. Brown put up decent numbers for a few weeks but ended up becoming nothing more than a background player, as he struggled to run proper routes, in addition to other correctable mistakes. While Allen had similar issues, he ended up having a fantastic rookie season. While Brown had just 42/472/1 (11.2 YPC) on 67 targets (62.7% catch rate) and 6.3 FPG, Allen had 71/1046/8 (14.7 YPC) on 104 targets (68.3% catch rate), which was good enough for 21st among WRs at 14.9 FPG in 15 games, while playing with a shoulder injury for much of the season. Veteran WR Eddie Royal scored five times in the first two games, but fell off after that and ended up with 47/631/8 (13.4 YPC) on 67 targets (70.1% catch rate) and was 48th among WRs at 10.7 FPG. Veteran TE Antonio Gates remained an active target for Rivers, but he was hardly dominating. He played every game and posted 77/872/4 (11.3 YPC) on 112 targets (68.8% catch rate), which was good enough for 11.8 FPG (t-13th). We were very intrigued by second-year TE Ladarius Green. He was a non-factor as a rookie and for the first half of 2013, but flashed a bit of his great size and speed in the second half of the season. He played every game, and got 10 starts with the team using a lot of 2-TE sets. Green finished with 17/376/3 (22.1 YPC) on 29 targets. We’ll be interested to see how the tandem of Gates and Green is used in 2014, as the youngster may find his way into a bigger role if he proves he can handle it.
Key Free Agents: QB Charlie Whitehurst, RB Ronnie Brown, WR Danario Alexander, OL Rich Ohrnberger, OL Chad Rinehart, DT Cam Thomas, LB Larry English, LB Reggie Walker, LB Donald Butler, CB Richard Marshall, S Darrell Stuckey.