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The Chargers made a splash at the NFL Draft when they moved up to select running back Melvin Gordon from Wisconsin. We hope Gordon turns into a standout Fantasy option, and he should be the best rookie running back this season.
Gordon should be better than Todd Gurley, who went to the Rams and is coming off a torn ACL. And San Diego was a great landing spot for Gordon based on his role and the offense around him. He should be a significant contributor right away.
Chargers coach Mike McCoy said he will use all of his running backs, which likely means Gordon getting the bulk of work on running downs, Danny Woodhead playing on passing downs and Branden Oliver working in when he can. But all Gordon has to do is play like Ryan Mathews, the former starter, did in 2013.
That season, Mathews had 285 carries for 1,255 yards and six touchdowns and 26 catches for 189 yards and one touchdown, and he finished as the No. 12 running back in standard leagues. Gordon could easily replicate those stats, and he was a standout at Wisconsin with 343 carries for 2,587 yards and 29 touchdowns and 19 catches for 153 yards and three touchdowns last season. He only had 22 career catches in college, but if he gets about 25 this season, his production should still be solid.
We recommend drafting Gordon in Round 3 in seasonal leagues in standard and PPR formats, and he's a top-five overall pick in rookie-only drafts. He's one of several Chargers worth drafting with Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates and Woodhead, but we hope Gordon is the best of the bunch.
Quality running backs are hard to find these days for Fantasy owners, but Gordon should be one of the better ones. The Chargers hope so as well after moving up in the NFL Draft to take him.
Starts hot, fades fast: Philip Rivers
For the past two years, Rivers has done well early in the season only to fade toward the end of the year. Can he buck that trend this season? In 2013, Rivers had 20 or more Fantasy points in four of his first five games and just four of those performances in his final 11 outings. Then last season, Rivers had at least 20 Fantasy points in six of his first eight games and reached that number just twice in his final eight outings. He makes a good case to be a streaming quarterback since you can draft Rivers with a late-round pick and pair him with another No. 2 quarterback and then ride the hot hand, especially when Rivers cools off. Overall, Rivers has posted good stats the past two seasons with at least 4,200 passing yards and 31 touchdowns each year. But ideally you'd like to see Rivers be more consistent and spread his production around. He has plenty of quality weapons, highlighted by Gates and Allen, and Rivers should perform well in a potential contract year. He's just not someone to target as a starter based on his fast starts and poor finishes the past two seasons. And we'll have to see how he does with Gates suspended for the first four games, although we doubt it will hurt Rivers enough to lower his value.
If the Woodhead from 2013 shows up this season then Fantasy owners should be getting a steal with a late-round pick, especially in PPR leagues. Woodhead missed 13 games last season with a broken ankle, but he's expected to be fine for Week 1. And his role is defined as the change-of-pace running back and receiver out of the backfield behind Gordon. In 2013, Woodhead had over 1,000 total yards and eight touchdowns in his first year in San Diego, and he also added 76 catches. He finished as the No. 19 running back in standard leagues, and it's hard to overlook that kind of potential. McCoy said this offseason that getting Woodhead back at 100 percent is like adding key free agent, and he should get plenty of work. He had 106 carries and 86 targets in 2013, so at least 170 touches should again be realistic. You don't have to invest an early-round pick on Woodhead, but the results could be substantial. Just make sure his role doesn't change now that he's healthy again.
Still worth trusting: Keenan Allen
McCoy said this offseason he was proud that four receivers for the Chargers had over 750 receiving yards in Allen, Gates, Malcom Floyd and Eddie Royal. While that was great for the team, Fantasy owners with Allen hated it. In 2013, Allen was a Fantasy star with 71 catches for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie. He benefitted with Floyd and Gates battling injuries then, but both were healthy last season, which might have hurt. Gates is now out for the first four games, which could help Allen rebound. We think Allen is better than what he showed last year, but Fantasy owners shouldn't overvalue him. The positives were last year he led the team in targets with 121, and he's entering his third season in the NFL, which is when receivers tend to have a breakout season. And we know what could happen if Floyd and/or Gates get hurt and miss extended time. But McCoy said this offense will spread the ball around, and Allen may never ascend to bigger heights than what he showed as a rookie. If you target Allen as a low-end No. 2 Fantasy receiver with a mid-round pick then you should be in good shape. But if you reach for him before Round 5 then you might be disappointed based on what we saw last year.