It’s quite possible that the team that had the most questions heading into the 2010 season was the San Diego Chargers.
Was 5’6” Darren Sproles a legitimate backup if he didn’t?
Would Vincent Jackson keep true to his word and sit out the first 10 games if he didn’t get the contract he was after? If so, could Malcom Floyd hold up as a number one wide receiver? And regardless of whether he could or not, who else on the team was capable of first-string duties?
With so many questions and no way to know the answers until they presented themselves on the field, one player stood above all to take the biggest hit in fantasy value because of it: Philip Rivers.
Rivers was coming off of back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons in which he threw for a total of 62 TDs, but with a rookie running back behind him, no Vincent Jackson to throw to and a makeshift wide receiving corps due to his loss, the only thing fantasy owners could conclude was that Rivers’ stats were undoubtedly going to falter.
Boy were we all wrong.
So wrong, in fact, that the 29-year-old Chargers QB ended up having the finest season of his career!
How was this possible, you ask? I’ll tell you.
First of all, I firmly believe that the entire fantasy universe (myself included) thoroughly underestimated just how good Philip Rivers really is. It’s wholly conceivable that his cocky, mouthy, in-your-face attitude clouded even the most perceptive minds in the industry, thus leaving us all with a depreciated prognosis of his talent. The fact of the matter is, Rivers’ game has grown immensely over the course of his career, and despite the bitter taste he leaves in most people’s mouth, that growth has lifted him up into the elite group of QBs in the NFL.
Secondly, I think we all likewise miscalculated the worth of one Mr. Antonio Gates. The season he was having before, ultimately succumbing to his foot injuries, was possibly the most dominant year for a tight end the league has ever seen. Double-teams, triple-teams, it didn’t seem to matter. Gates was going to score or at least make a difference in the game, no matter what defenses would throw at him. Any quarterback would be better with Gates lining up beside him.
Lastly, and this is a factor no one could have predicted, but who knew Mike Tolbert had that kind of game?!? With Ryan Mathews (predictably) losing time due to injury, Tolbert stepped in and gave opposing defenses something to think about besides Rivers and Gates. Without the threat of Tolbert, Rivers would have been hounded even more than he already was during the year (he was sacked 38 times, 11 more than his previous high) and would never have been able to stay upright long enough to put up those gaudy numbers of his.
Sure, the assortment of second-rate receivers did well enough to help out Rivers’ cause, but I’d hardly say they had much of an impact on his ascension.
Whatever the reasons may be, Rivers’ game matured yet again last season, and you can count on him using what he learned come 2011. 4,710 yards, 30 TDs and 19.6 fantasy points per game is no joke, folks. I still find myself having a tough time putting him in the same fantasy class as Rodgers, Vick, Peyton, Brees and Brady, but at this point; I’m not so sure he doesn’t deserve it.
2011 Pros & Cons
(+) Was on pace to break Dan Marino’s single-season record for most passing yards through the first 10 weeks of 2010
(+) The Philip Rivers-Antonio Gates combo might be the most unstoppable hookup in the league
(+) Rivers is very Drew Brees/Kurt Warner-like in that he puts the ball in the best place for receivers to make things happen
(+) San Diego has the biggest WR corps in the NFL
(+) San Diego plays most of their games in warm weather
(–) Vincent Jackson was franchised yet again, so who knows what will happen there
(–) The Chargers running game may be inconsistent again as their running back of the future, Ryan Mathews, still has a lot to prove
(–) Other than VJax (who is an unpredictable, selfish idiot), the Chargers WR corps is basically a poo-poo splatter-platter of extremely average receivers
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