32 for 32: Is Philip Rivers Still a Trustworthy Fantasy QB?
Editor’s Note: This is a part of our 32 for 32 QB Profiles series.
While he may not have captured Super Bowl jewelry like Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger have in their careers, the Chargers would be hard-pressed to say they haven’t received their money’s worth from Philip Rivers. Since his first start in Week 1 of the 2006 season, Rivers has played every regular season game for the Chargers. In those 192 games, Rivers has passed for 50,348 yards and 342 touchdowns. He has thrown for more than 4,000 yards in nine of his last 10 seasons, including each of the last five. Since his league-leading 34 touchdown passes in 2008, Rivers hasn’t thrown for fewer than 26 scores in a season.
Not only has Rivers been a great NFL quarterback, he has also been worth his weight in gold for fantasy owners. Below are his overall ranks in fantasy scoring since the 2008 season:
After three seasons with a dip in numbers, one could be forgiven for thinking Rivers was used up. Maybe it was time to look away from the Chargers as a fertile patch for fantasy production. Then, in 2017, Rivers finished as the QB8. Naysayers have now joined hands with the staunch Rivers supporters, confident he can still deliver the goods in 2018, and there is a very good reason why.
Philip Rivers’ 2017 season could have been even better.
Through Week 9, Rivers was averaging 36 pass attempts per game, completing 21.5 of them for 249.22 yards per outing (6.92 yards per attempt). He averaged 1.67 passing scores and 0.78 interceptions per game. For fantasy owners, he was scoring just under 20 points per game. From Week 11 to the end of the season, well, let’s just say he blew up. Rivers was still attempting 36 passes per game, but he was completing nearly 24 of them at more than nine yards per attempt. His passing yardage was more than 320 per game. His touchdowns per game went up to 1.86, while his interceptions per game dropped to 0.43. Indeed, his 1.7 percent interception rate was the lowest of his career.
In the closing weeks of the season, Rivers averaged 24.49 points per game. If he’d played a whole season at that pace, he would have finished the season as the overall fantasy QB1, with 5,147 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, and just seven interceptions. Rivers managed more than seven yards per pass attempt with five different pass-catchers in 2017, while two of those connections, Hunter Henry and Tyrell Williams, averaged more than 10 yards per attempt.
What brought about this sudden uptick in the fortunes of the Chargers’ quarterback, and their offense in general? They finally started targeting the right receivers, particularly Keenan Allen. In Allen’s first nine games of the season Rivers targeted him an average of nearly nine times a game, which Allen turned into almost five catches and 66.2 yards per contest. He was practically allergic to the end zone, averaging 0.11 touchdowns per game. After Week 11, Allen averaged more than 11 targets per game. His receptions rose to 8.3 per game, his yardage to 113.8 per game, and his touchdowns to 0.71 per game. If Allen had played at that pace for the whole year, he would have dropped one of the greatest fantasy seasons in recent history, with 133 receptions for 1,822 yards and 11 scores.
Hunter Henry also inserted himself into the offense to a greater degree during the season’s run. His 4.86 targets, 3.4 receptions, 45.57 yards, and 0.29 touchdowns per game in Weeks 1 to 9 became 5.6 targets, 4.2 receptions, 52 yards, and 0.4 touchdowns per game from Week 11 onward. Compared to a real finish of TE14, Henry’s extrapolated end-of-season pace would have been good for TE4.
If returning offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt has any modicum of sense, he will ensure the 2018 season begins with Allen and Henry as the focal points of the Chargers passing game. If, and sadly it has to be considered a big if, Allen can remain healthy for the whole of the season, he should flirt with high-end wide receiver numbers once again, which would be great news for Rivers and his fantasy appeal.
HANDCUFFING PHILIP RIVERS
One of the luxuries the Chargers have enjoyed with Rivers is his durability. He has never missed a regular season start in his career, resulting in a strong and solid fantasy floor. But should anything happen to Big Phil in 2018, would it be worthwhile enlisting his backup to your fantasy team?
The current Chargers backup is Cardale Jones. Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn was familiar with Jones after spending the 2016 season with him in Buffalo and was no doubt a big driver in the trade that brought him to the Chargers last year. Despite possessing a strong arm, Jones has had few chances to showcase his talents in the NFL. He appeared in one game for Buffalo in 2016, replacing the hapless E.J. Manuel against the Jets in the season finale (a game, incidentally, in which Lynn was acting as head coach). Jones was dreadful, completing six of 11 passes for 96 yards with an interception. Of his 96 yards, 64 came on one play, and Jones finished the game with a miserable 4.6 adjusted yards per attempt.
With very little professional production to look at, we should turn our attention to Jones’ college career at Ohio State. The problem with this approach, however, is he didn’t do an awful lot there either. He completed 61.9 percent of his passes for the Buckeyes and averaged a more than adequate 8.6 yards per attempt, but he only appeared in 23 games over three years, starting only 11. He won all 11, it should be noted, but he was raw coming into the NFL. With limited opportunities to showcase his talent, it is nigh on impossible to comment on what he’s like now.
One of Rivers’ greatest strengths is his accuracy. Jones probably, in fact almost certainly, possesses a bigger arm than the veteran, but he hasn’t exactly wowed anyone with his ability to put the ball in receivers’ hands. The Chargers offense is currently constructed to allow Rivers to get the ball to intermediate playmakers like Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry. It is not built for him to hurl aimless bombs downfield towards Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin. They are situational weapons, not suited to be focal points of the offense.
As I write these words, Cardale Jones is the No. 2 quarterback on the Chargers’ depth chart. With free agency and the draft upcoming, plus the Chargers possessing $23,762,546 in cap space (according to Over the Cap), I cannot categorically state that Jones will occupy the backup spot when training camp begins. With this mystery in place, I do not consider Jones a solid safety net option against Rivers getting injured.
Neil resides near Liverpool in England. He lives with his fiancé and their two daughters, as well as a guinea pig named Piggle.
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