In Defense of Philip Rivers
If you want to draft a top-tier quarterback this upcoming 2QB fantasy football season without wasting too high a pick, Philip Rivers is your man. As I write this, our redraft rankings have Rivers at QB11, narrowly ahead of Blake Bortles. Although we rank Rivers as a top-12 option, I suspect he will fall farther than that in many drafts. In particular, I expect some of the sexy young names—possibly including Bortles, Tyrod Taylor, and Jameis Winston—to pass him on many draft boards.
Boring and unsexy. History teaches that fantasy owners, on the whole, chase the sexy upside of young players, hoping we haven’t yet seen their ceiling. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it fails miserably. As the young upstarts climb draft boards, reliable veterans like Rivers tend to fall, sometimes precipitously.
Philip Rivers has 4,000 yards or more in seven of his last eight seasons. He’s completed 64% or more of his passes in seven of those same eight seasons. His touchdown base is not at the elite level of a Brees or Brady, but he still has at least 26 in all eight of those years. For contrast, Blake Bortles has one season with 4,000 yards and more than 26 touchdowns. (He only completed 58.6% of his passes in that year, compared to Rivers’ typical 64%.)
Philip Rivers’ value is reliable production you can count on, compared to the numbers from a player with only one good season under his belt. When a player has performed at the same level for eight straight years, you may safely bet that he will perform that way again. When a QB has only done it once, there is far less certainty. A one-year wonder might be on his way to a decade of greatness, but he might as easily be Josh Freeman.
None of that is meant to argue here that Bortles—or any other young quarterback—won’t be good in 2016. Instead, the cautionary message is to remember the element of risk inherent in drafting those young QBs. Andy Dalton’s drop from 2013 to 2014 is a great case study of this phenomenon: young QBs can quickly rise and fall, often based upon the weapons around them.
On the other side, age and its side effects are the risk for older players like Rivers. While we cannot perfectly predict when age will catch up with a player, Philip Rivers seems a safe bet to produce at high levels for at least another couple seasons. Rivers will be 34 this season, years younger than Tom Brady and Drew Brees, and younger than Peyton Manning was in his record-setting 2013 season.
Philip Rivers is All-In on Allen
Philip Rivers had a 2015 season that could reasonably be considered a down year for him. He finished QB12 overall, but he was only QB16 in points per game.
For my sake, I am ready to blame much of the struggle on the loss of Keenan Allen, who was out for the season after Week 8. (The offensive line and rushing game were also weaknesses. Rivers was sacked 8th-most in the NFL in 2015.) In the two years Allen has been in the league, Philip Rivers has performed significantly better when the young wide receiver is involved.
This early in the offseason, we have little news on Keenan Allen, but reports last year were that he was expected to make a full recovery. A lacerated kidney is no trifling matter, but it should not be something that limits him in 2016.
If we saw Philip Rivers’ floor in 2015, there is reason for optimism going into this season. He is likely to be drafted around QB12, which is where he finished last season. I see nothing but value at that price, and he will be a strong QB2 or an ideal QB1 if you decide to wait on the position.
Sometimes, boring and unsexy is just what the doctor ordered.