2021 Los Angeles Chargers Preview

Chargers unveil new logo in a surprise move, with new uniforms coming in  April - CBSSports.com

The 2021 NFL Season is upon us and the Music City Drive In has you covered. We’ll be previewing all 32 teams, as well as our picks for award winners and playoff participants each day through Monday, September 6. Check back daily at 4 p.m. EST for each new piece in our preview series.

During the 2020 NFL Draft the Chargers snagged their quarterback of the future in Justin Herbert. That future began earlier than expected after an accident knocked out starter Tyrod Taylor in Week 2. Herbert got the start and never looked back, going 6-9 in 15 games as the Chargers finished a frisky 7-9. Herbert’s performance and the team’s competitiveness in games wasn’t enough, however, to save Head Coach Anthony Lynn. Now, with Herbert back and a new regime the question is whether the Chargers are on the cusp of reaching the post-season.

Off-Season Changes

Lynn is out, now the Offensive Coordinator for the Detroit Lions. In his stead is Brandon Staley, who led the Rams to the No. 1 overall defense in 2020. Staley brings a new energy that the Chargers hope will be able to take some strong pieces—like Joey Bosa, Derwin James, Kenneth Murray and Chris Harris, Jr.—and turn it into a top unit. The Chargers even added to that haul, snagged Asante Samuel, Jr. in the Second Round of the NFL Draft.

Chargers HC Brandon Staley has developed effective team culture

The team did see a number of high-profile players depart, too. Casey Hayward went to the rival Las Vegas Raiders, while Melvin Ingram went to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Guard Trai Turner went to the Steelers, while guard Forrest Lamp signed with the Bills and center Mike Pouncey also departed. In the biggest loss for Herbert, tight end Hunter Henry left in free agency for the New England Patriots.

But the Chargers did do some re-loading. Veteran tight end Jared Cook came over from the Saints. In 2020, Cook caught 37 passes for 504 yards and 7 TDs with Drew Brees. He figures to help fill the void and add another weapon for Herbert. The Chargers also added free agent center Cory Linsley and drafted tackle Rashawn Slater in the First Round. In the Third Round they snagged Tennessee receiver Josh Palmer to add to the receiving group.

Fantasy Projections

This team will go as far as Herbert can take them. As a rookie, he threw for 4,336 yards and a record 31 TDs. He finished as QB9 for the season. He’s a top option in dynasty formats and should be a Top 10 and borderline Top 5 option in the 2021 season.

Chargers RB Austin Ekeler hints he's nearing return from injury
Courtesy of USA Today

In the backfield, it’s all about Austin Ekeler. The Chargers’ back was limited to just 10 games in 2020 but finished with 530 yards and a TD, catching 54 passes for 403 yards and 2 TDs. Back and healthy, he is a weapon in all phases. I expect him to post RB1 numbers. Joshua Kelley and Justin Jackson are rotational pieces that are little more than late-round stashes at this point.

Among the pass-catchers, Keenan Allen is the alpha. In 14 games in 2020 he managed to catch 100 passes and finish as WR13. I think he finishes higher this year and I like him as a WR1. His ADP of WR9 is pricey but feels right. Mike Williams, in a contract year, is more of a question. I like the potential, and I think this is the year he can move into WR3 territory. The tight end spot figures to be split between Cook and Donald Parham, and I suspect neither ends up in the Top 24. The same goes for the receiver depth chart beyond Allen and Williams. Jalen Guyton had some moments in 2020 and the team added the rookie Palmer to the mix. Neither rates above a deep league dart throw at flex for me.

Prediction

The Chargers have a talented roster and a good coach but play in an uber-competitive division and conference. Wins won’t be easy to come by, but I think the Chargers are in the 9 to 10-win range in year two with Herbert and challenge for a Wild Card slot.

Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.

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