Could Philip Rivers Finish as This Season's Best Fantasy Quarterback?
Its almost Halloween, and we all know what that means. The carved pumpkins will be out, fake cobwebs will be hung, and for one day people everywhere will be dressed up as something that they're not.
In San Diego, some will say that Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers got an early start to Halloween all the way back in September, where he put on his elite quarterback costume to masquerade as the league's top quarterback. But through the first seven weeks of the season Rivers now sits second on the list of fantasy quarterbacks in standard-scoring leagues, leading many to ask if perhaps Rivers is the real deal this season?
So can Rivers keep up his current pace to challenge Tom Brady as fantasy football's number-one quarterback this year or will the mirage begin to fall apart as the season goes on?
Ranking Among the Elite
If you're looking at fantasy points per game alone, Rivers stands fourth in the league with an impressive 21.5 points per game in standard-scoring leagues. Not bad for someone who was being drafted at the end of the eighth round in most 12-team leagues.
While his numbers were certainly helped by a big 500-yard game against Green Bay,Rivers is more than a product of a few great games. He's tied for second in the league with Aaron Rodgers with four 20-plus point games (Brady leads the league with six), and in terms of top-12, QB1 performances, he currently sits third in the league with five. His three top-six performances so far this year also ranks him second behind Brady in this category.
While some may argue that all these points have been a result of the Chargers' defense forcing his quarterback into pass-heavy shootouts each week (the Chargers defense ranks 26th overall according to our advanced metrics, and he currently leads the league with 330 pass attempts on the year), a look at our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics reveals that he's also been highly efficient on those throws.
For those unfamiliar, NEP is our in-house metric that measures a player's contributions to a team's chances of scoring above or below expectation. A positive NEP means a player improved his team's scoring opportunity and, as you might expect, a negative score means the opposite. For quarterbacks, this stat is a good way to measure quarterback efficiency and a signal caller's ability to drive the ball down the field and move the chains.
And if we're judging Rivers by this standard, then it becomes obvious that, despite being forced in pass-heavy game scripts, Rivers is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league, with his 0.20 Passing NEP per drop back the sixth best mark among all signal callers with at least 100 drop backs this year.
Help in All the Right Places
If you're throwing the ball 47 times a game, it helps that you have capable playmakers on the receiving end of all those targets.
Malcom Floyd and Steve Johnson have been surprisingly efficient with their targets, averaging a Reception NEP per target of 0.762 and 0.757, respectively to rank in the top-24 in the league among all wideouts with at least 30 targets. And while Dontrelle Inman has just 16 targets on the year, his 1.14 Reception NEP per target has him on pace to sit near the top of the class in the NFL.
Keenan Allen has been a bit less efficient on all his targets, averaging 0.70 Reception NEP per target to rank him 32nd among all wideouts, but what he lacks in efficiency he's more than made up for in volume. Rivers' favorite target by far, Allen and his league-leading 62 receptions on 84 targets for 690 yards and 3 touchdowns has him on pace for 141 receptions and nearly 1,500 yards this year.
At the tight end position Ladarius Green and Antonio Gates have come up clutch for Rivers. In Gates' two games back from suspension, the 35-year old tight end has put up 18 receptions for 187 yards and 2 touchdowns on 27 targets for the Chargers. And Green himself has been a dependable target in the middle of the field for Rivers, averaging a stellar 0.83 Reception NEP per target to amass 304 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns so far this season.
And in the backfield, third down and red zone weapon Danny Woodhead not only leads all running backs with 38 receptions so far, but also his 0.65 Reception NEP per target leads all running backs with at least 20 targets on the season.
All these weapons have not only helped Rivers move the ball down the field, but also they've also helped him be remarkably efficient where it counts the most -- in the red zone. Rivers currently has 11 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions on 38 pass attempts in the red zone this season, which has helped propel Rivers to the third most touchdowns in the NFL with 15, behind just Brady and Carson Palmer with 16 each.
A Favorable Schedule
Perhaps what's impressive about Rivers strong first-half is the fact that he seems to be matchup-proof. He's faced four defenses that have ranked in the top half of the league in pass defense according to our advanced metrics, and his 500-yard, 2-touchdown performance leading to 28.1 fantasy points actually came against the Packers' ninth-ranked secondary.
Looking ahead, things look even better for Rivers. Other than having to face the Broncos number one-ranked passing defense twice (in Weeks 13 and 17), he matches up against Kansas City (14th-ranked) two times, along with games against Baltimore (18th), Chicago (31st), Jacksonville (27th), Miami (21st), and and Oakland (28th). If you're making a run for the top spot at the quarterback position, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more favorable schedule.
Making a Run at the Top of the List
Putting everything together, it's obvious that Rivers stands poised to challenge Brady and Andy Dalton for the honor of being this season's best fantasy quarterback. And with the high-volume passing attack of the Chargers combined with the efficiency he's shown on his passes, a talented core of pass catchers around him, and a nice schedule ahead, I certainly like his chances.