I've never been a huge fan of Philip Rivers. His face just looks kinda punchable, but hey, that's no reason not to draft him. It's actually a reason to go ahead and draft him, as some newbies just don't want his crying meme-y face on their team, and you might be able to get him at value in some leagues. But there are plenty of real reasons that Rivers will return to being a fantasy asset in 2016, none related to his face.
Just how good has Rivers been in his career, fantasy-wise? Well, he's had a bit of a roller-coaster career, especially over the last five seasons. Since he became a starter in 2006 he's finished eighth, 16th, third, seventh, fourth, ninth, 21st, sixth, 12th and 11th. Those finishes aren't going to knock you out of your seat, but overall, he's averaged 4,130 yards passing, a 65 percent completion rate and 28 touchdowns per season. Those are solid, but he's had a lot of trouble with turnovers in his career, which has hurt his fantasy bottom line. But before we get to the turnover/efficiency question, let's take a gander at his 2015 season.
In 2015, Rivers threw for a career-high 4,792 yards with 29 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and two fumbles. He was sacked 40 times and played all 16 games. Over his career, Rivers has never missed a game, which is astounding in itself, but last season was an extra tough one for him as he was beat up with numerous ailments. And talk about beat up, most of the San Diego Chargers' offense was injured at some point in the season.
Most notably injured was No. 1 receiver Keenan Allen. Allen, who left San Diego's Week 8 game against Baltimore with what appeared to be back spasms, was later found to be a lacerated kidney, which ended his season. If you extrapolate Allen's 7.5-game season into 16 games, he would have caught 134 receptions for 1,450 yards and eight touchdowns. And that's without taking into account a second half against the Ravens in Week 8, who were getting absolutely destroyed through the air. And through 7.5 weeks, he ended up with the second-most receiving yards on the team to Danny Woodhead, who totaled just 756 yards, i.e. this offense was hurt by Allen's loss, and in turn, so was Rivers.
But just as bad or maybe even worse than the loss of Allen, was the revolving door that injured offensive linemen were taking on their way to the sidelines. Not sure why it was revolving and on a football field, but they stepped through it often. For the season, the Chargers had six different starting combinations on the offensive line, with Orlando Franklin, King Dunlap, D.J. Fluker, Chris Watt and Chris Hairston, all missing multiple games.
That sketchy line was not a help to rookie running back Melvin Gordon, who had a forgettable rookie campaign. Besides having trouble with pass protection, he had trouble holding onto the ball and he was often hit before getting to the line. That lack of a between the tackles - whoever they were at the time - running game, coupled with the backup offensive line and a lack of receivers who could win their routes, made Rivers' job extremely difficult.
Rivers was also without Antonio Gates for five games, Malcom Floyd for three and Stevie Johnson for seven. To finish out the season, Rivers' starting receivers were Dontrelle Inman and Javontee Herndon. This all goes to explain Rivers' first and second half of the season splits, which look like this:
Philip Rivers (first 8 games)
Philip Rivers (last 8 games)
And since I love the word extrapolate, here is what Rivers' numbers might have been if Allen and first-half norms were there for 16 games.
Philip Rivers (16 games extrapolated)
That would be a healthy 5,500 yards passing, which of course wasn't going to happen, but his final numbers sure would have looked a lot better with some injury luck on the offense.
Let's say, hey, injuries happen, stat nerd! Rivers' numbers were because he sucks on his breakfast biscuits because he's teething like a huge baby! Okay sir, I hear you. So let's add a new wrinkle to the story.
One, Mr. Ken Whisenhunt of the 3-20 Titans, who was just canned for going 3-20 and picked up by the Chargers as their offensive coordinator. Yeah, he sucked as the head coach, but this is the same coordinator who helped Rivers to one of his best seasons. In 2013, the Chargers dumped Norv Turner and hired Mike McCoy, who brought in The Whiz as his coordinator. This was just after an awful 2011 and 2012 when Rivers turned the ball over an amazing 47 times, 35 of which were interceptions. Those two seasons looked like the end for Rivers. Another year with 20 turnovers and San Diego'd have to search for a replacement, but Whisenhunt went to work with Rivers and coaxed a 69.5 completion percentage, 32 touchdown passes and just 11 interceptions, to go along with one fumble. That 69.5 completion percentage was key, as Rivers had never topped 66 percent in his career. And his 12 total turnovers were also the fewest in his career. And now, The Whiz is back and he's going to keep Rivers movin' on down, movin' on down the road.
With Whisenhunt and Allen back, Rivers should have a good chance to get back on track with upside as a Top-5 fantasy quarterback. Add in what should be an improved running game (Whiz had the Chargers ranked 13th in rushing in 2013, compared to 30th and 31st the last two years), and Rivers will have more time to work before getting stuffed into the turf. A little more luck for the offensive linemen, coupled with reinforcements, and I'll be happy targeting Rivers late in drafts this year.