As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness. – Proverbs 26:11
Here we are again, like 2016 never happened. This is me telling you to draft Philip Rivers, and you telling me he’s not elite. Just as I did last year, I’m nodding again. He’s not elite. But he’s a draft value.
Last year, I had a few reasons for defending Philip Rivers: He’s far better with Keenan Allen than without, he is uber-consistent at hitting 4,000 yards and completing 64% of his passes, and he wasn’t going to have a high price tag in 2016 drafts.
Looking back, Philip Rivers didn’t reward his owners for a QB11 price in 2016, but two of my three arguments held true. Rivers threw for over 4,000 yards for the eighth time in nine years, and the loss of Keenan Allen dramatically reshaped the passing game — who saw the Tyrell Williams explosion coming? Perhaps the loss of Allen played a role here as well, but Rivers only completed 60.4% of his passes, his lowest rate since 2007.
Rivers finished 2016 as QB14 in total points and QB19 in points-per-game. He was a QB1 in fewer than 20% of his games. That’s painful to type. Wow.
Looking at our Philip Rivers QB Card, you can see, however, that 2016 stands out from Rivers’ recent history:
That fall from his career averages makes Philip Rivers a potential buy-low for me this year. In fact, last month I compared him to 2016 Matt Ryan for that reason:
Last March, I called Matt Ryan your 2016 draft value. Almost exactly twelve months later, I’m giving Philip Rivers that title, for nearly the same reasons.
Through a full week of MFL10 bestball drafting, Philip Rivers is QB15, a four-spot fall from his price last offseason. (For more MFL10 ADP data, check out this great tool from @FantasyADHD.) Prior to 2016, Rivers had cost you the QB14, QB15, and QB23 picks in his last three years. Now, his ADP has fallen back to its old levels, discounting him significantly from his QB11 price last season.
Coming off an Aberrant Year
Like 2016 Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers is cheaper because he struggled last season, after nearly a decade of consistency. 2016 was Rivers’ career high in interceptions and interception rate, his worst completion rate season since 2007.
Rivers and Ryan have long careers with enough data to give us a reliable sample size. We know who they are. Ryan had a 2015 year that was an aberration, an exception from his norm. That small hiccup deflated his draft price, but it did not change my long-term view of the player. So, too, with Rivers this year.
Last year I wrote:
I tend toward the belief that we should ignore one-year aberrations in favor of multi-season trends in predicting how a quarterback will perform. Too often, recency bias ties us to the previous season, and we ignore history.
And it’s still true. I love exploiting one-year blips on the radar, because the community as a whole tends to overreact to the most recent data they have. Where we have reliable data over a longer time span, I’ll fall back on that unless I see strong reason to believe last year is the new normal.
Philip Rivers, before 2016, had finished as QB12, QB12, and QB5 in his last three seasons — those same three seasons where his draft price was QB14, QB15, and QB23. He never had a lower QB1 rate than 25% until 2016, when it dipped to 18%. He was a QB1 in nearly half his games each of the two seasons before that.
It seems clear that 2016 was the exception to the rule that Philip Rivers can be counted on for volume and high-end QB2 numbers almost every week.
The chart below comes from the illustrious Mike Beers (@beerswater), and it paints a picture of how different 2016 was from Rivers’ other recent history. Notice the relative lack of QB1 weeks, and how he barely made it over the green QB1 line even in the weeks he finished top-12. Even if I’m wrong about 2016’s lack of upside being an aberration, I love the lack of bust weeks in red that I see in this chart; he’s a reliable option at a mid-QB2 price.
The Injury Plague
Last year, the Chargers’ offense lost Keenan Allen, Danny Woodhead, Stevie Johnson, and Branden Oliver early in the season. They also lost three starting offensive linemen after Week 4. Geez. Much has been written of the injury plague in San Diego over the past several seasons, but little buzz has been given to the news that the Chargers are dramatically overhauling their injury study this offseason. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the team is committed to figuring out the problem. John Spanos, president of football oeprations, said, “I can assure you this year is going to be more in-depth and thorough than ever before.”
This is getting a bit too narrative-heavy for me to give it much stock, but imagine if the Chargers could even slightly improve their injury situation from 2016. What if they only lost one offensive lineman? What if Keenan Allen gets to play more than one game this year? I’m excited to think about a Los Angeles Chargers offense with more healthy pieces on the field each week.
I am not prepared to tout Philip Rivers as an elite quarterback option for 2017, but I will gladly buy him anywhere outside the top-12. He has a long history of flirting with the top-12 at the position, and his price is back to assuming he can’t do that. I am willing to bet he bounces back, and I am calling him your 2017 draft value.