Since posting a 13-3 record in 2009, the San Diego Chargers have slipped to a .500 team. Last season, the Chargers were off to a 4-1 start, but went on a six-game losing streak. They were close in every game, with their largest loss coming by 11 points to Chicago. Had San Diego capitalized on a key play, not only could it have changed the outcome of one game, but quite possibly the rest of their season.
Head coach Norv Turner is entering his sixth season with the Chargers and their success in 2012 will dictate his future with the club. The clock is ticking on San Diego and their window at making a deep playoff run is slowly closing.
2011 is a season that Philip Rivers would like to forget. Not only did the Chargers fail to make the playoffs, but he also threw for a career-high 20 interceptions while losing five fumbles. Without left tackle Marcus McNeill and left guard Kris Dielman for a combined 17 games, it seemed as though Rivers was constantly under pressure every time he dropped back. Too many times he felt that he had to make a big play with defenders in his face. With both linemen retiring, Rivers could be in for another tough year physically. To compound the problem, big-play wideout Vincent Jackson signed with the Tampa Buccaneers, and running back Mike Tolbert went to Carolina during the offseason. Those four pieces will be sorely missed. However, Rivers finished on a positive note, throwing 11 touchdowns to just three picks in his final five games. Given the uncertainties surrounding him, Rivers has been lowered to a borderline top-10 fantasy quarterback.
In his first preseason carry of 2012, Ryan Mathews went down with a broken clavicle. He has been recovering at a nice progress, but his status is still in doubt for the season opener against the Oakland Raiders. Injuries will always be a concern with him. But when Mathews takes the field, he can perform like an elite back. In four of his 14 games last season, he rushed for at least 112 yards while averaging 4.9 yards per carry. He's also a dependable receiver, finishing seventh in receptions among running backs. Once a first-round fantasy option, Mathews cannot be taken any higher than the latter portion of the second round. Ronnie Brown will contribute as his backup. He was hardly a factor in Philadelphia last year, and could contribute with some decent outings should Mathews miss time. If you take Mathews, target Brown as a handcuff in the late rounds of fantasy drafts. Le'Ron McClain will also be in the mix for touches and could be an option in goal-line packages.
Wide Receivers and Tight End
Playing in the shadows of Marques Colston, Lance Moore and Jimmy Graham, Robert Meachem finally gets his chance to shine as the No. 1 receiver for San Diego. Meachem has a nice combination of size and speed, but there are concerns if he can become a legitimate starter. In a limited role with the Saints, his best season came in 2009 where he had 45 receptions for 722 yards and nine touchdowns. Considering the weapons the Saints had, those are solid numbers. Now that Meachem is one of Rivers' primary targets, his yards and catches should increase just by seeing more action. Consider Meachem a No. 3 receiver with upside. Malcom Floyd remains the team's No. 2 wideout. He presents Rivers with a tall target and can stretch the field, averaging over 19 yards per catch during the past two seasons. Floyd has also become a better scorer, notching 11 of his 20 touchdowns in the same time span. However, Floyd does not post high reception totals and has only played a full season once in his seven-year career. With Jackson gone, he has value as a late-round pick because of his increased role in the Chargers offense. Vincent Brown had some appeal as a deep sleeper, but he broke his ankle in the second game of the preseason. He is expected to miss at least eight weeks. Eddie Royal will play in the slot for the Chargers. Since recording 91 receptions in his rookie year, his numbers have suffered a dramatic fall due to injury and lack of playing time. But if he can provide Rivers with a dependable underneath option, Royal has a shot to reach 45 catches and three scores.
Age and injury have slowly sapped Antonio Gates of his speed and athleticism. It has also been three years since he last played a full schedule. Still, he remains Rivers' favorite target, especially in the red zone where he caught six of his seven touchdowns within the 11-yard line last season. With Jackson in Tampa Bay, the 10th-year tight end should see a jump in all of his receiving stats. Behind Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, Gates is the next best option.
Nate Kaeding tore his ACL in the opening kickoff of 2011 and missed the whole year. He has competition to fend off, as Nick Novak did a decent job of filling in for him. Kaeding may be the better kicker, but Novak has a friendlier contract and is still a reliable option. Whoever wins the job in San Diego is worth starting in fantasy.
The defense noticed a steep decline last season. In 2010 they ranked first in yards allowed per game and second in sacks. A year later the unit fell to 16th and 23rd, respectively. Despite the drop-off in overall production, the Chargers still have some intriguing playmakers. Safety Eric Weddle was tied for first in the NFL with seven interceptions, linebacker Antwan Barnes finished with 11 sacks and rookie Melvin Ingram instantly helps their front-seven get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Chargers defense should see improvement, but only start them when the matchup is favorable.
Travis Chan is a fantasy sports enthusiast and contributor for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. You can follow him on Twitter @Travischan1.
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