The Los Angeles Chargers drafted a first-round quarterback and will have someone new starting under center for the first time since their last first-round quarterback (Philip Rivers) took over for Drew Brees in 2006. Literally. Rivers started sixteen games a year for the Chargers for the last 14 years. There are also some changes to be had in the backfield. That begs the question: who is the biggest sleeper, breakout, and bust for the Los Angeles Chargers in 2020?
Sleeper – Justin Jackson, Running Back (WR56, 177 overall)
We learned a couple of things about running back Austin Ekeler and the Los Angeles Chargers last season. First, we learned that Ekeler can most definitely carry the RB1 role for a period of time. He was a top-flight RB in the first four weeks of the season, ranking as the #2 running back and averaging 20 touches per game. The second thing we learned is that the Chargers do not want to push one back that hard if they can help it. Upon Melvin Gordon’s return from self-imposed exile, Ekeler dropped down to about 13 touches per game as they stopped hitting the Ekeler gas pedal so hard.
Why am I talking so much about Austin Ekeler here? Well, I’m talking about the Chargers splitting backfield touches in 2020. There has to be a beneficiary of that, and it has to be either Justin Jackson or Joshua Kelley. Joshua Kelley I see as a permanent backup. He’s a little Austin Ekeler and a little Justin Jackson, and he can do enough to make sure if one of them goes down that we don’t have pandemonium in the Los Angeles Chargers backfield. That means more carries and touches for Jackson, who has a chance to blow up in 2020 with an increased workload. Injuries cost him a major chunk of 2019, but in his first two years, he averages 5.1 yards per carry on 79 carries. He is a good candidate to be the guy to spell Ekeler to the tune of maybe 13 touches per game or so.
Breakout – Hunter Henry, Tight End (TE6, 66 overall)
Poor Hunter Henry has had such a snakebitten career. On a per-game basis, he’s been a top-ten tight end throughout each year of his career. The problem is that injuries have cost him some or all of each of the last three seasons, not that he’s been ineffective when he’s been on the field. In games where Henry has topped 50% of the snaps, he plays on a 59 reception, 752 yard, 7 touchdown pace. Last year, he was TE10 in fantasy points per game, totaling 55 receptions for 652 yards and five scores in twelve games. Henry has the skills to be top-five, though we draft him every year assuming health.
There’s also the Charles Clay Conundrum. The last time Tyrod Taylor and Anthony Lynn joined forces was in Buffalo in 2016. This team was stacked, as their WR corps boasted Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, and Marquise Goodwin. A veritable murderers row option receiving threats. This, obviously, is why alliterative tight end Charles Clay led the team in targets that year. With Mike Williams and Keenan Allen as the threats outside, it stands to reason that we could be back in a position where Tyrod Taylor prefers his alliterative tight end, Hunter Henry, to anyone else.
Bust – Keenan Allen, Wide Receiver (WR19, 47 overall)
Philip Rivers’ departure likely hurts Keenan Allen more than anyone else. Anthony Lynn signaled he wants to go to a more conservative approach at wide receiver, and he likely wants to spread the targets out to accomplish that. A big portion of Keenan Allen’s value is his massive target load. Allen has the fifth-most WR targets over the last three years, and the third-most receptions. This is why he’s ended up with the fourth-most yards in this span, as well. Unfortunately, it’s been a massive target load that has buoyed Allen’s annual WR2 finish.
On a per-target basis, Keenan Allen declined each of the last two seasons. After peaking at 13.7 yards per reception in 2017, Allen’s dropped to 12.3 in 2018 and 11.5 in 2019. This is a big deal, since potentially getting fewer targets and getting fewer yards per target combine to be bad. Allen’s decline is likely already priced into his value, since WR19 is the lowest he’s gone since 2015, when he was WR23 off the board, behind Brandon Marshall and Golden Tate.
This is a soft bust on Keenan Allen, as I just see this season as another step on his decline. He could prove me wrong and turn in a big PPR season, but Tyrod Taylor likely gives way to Justin Herbert halfway through the year, which isn’t something I feel great about. It is going to get messy in Los Angeles in 2020, and I don’t want my WR2 to be a part of that mess, especially since his yards per target has declined each of the last two years.