By Joe Kilroy
Every so often throughout this offseason I’ll focus on a player coming off a down year in 2012 who should rebound in 2013 with a level of production that matches or surpasses what fantasy owners have become accustomed to from said player based upon their previous output. This compilation of articles will come to be known as the “On The Rebound” series.
This week the player we’ll be focusing on is Philip Rivers. Prior to this year Rivers had strung together four straight seasons in which he threw for more than 4000-yards and no less than 27 touchdown passes. In fact, during that four-year span Rivers averaged 4398 yards passing and 29.75 touchdown passes per season. He also had a 64.7% completion percentage over that period of time.
In 2012, however, Rivers’ production dropped off considerably. He finished the year with just 3607 yards passing and 26 touchdowns. As such, it seems many fantasy owners are quickly dismissing him as a viable starting option on a weekly basis. I contend this is a foolish conclusion to arrive at, however – especially when one considers that had Rivers simply matched his averages from his four previous campaigns he would’ve ranked 7th in yards passing and 6th in touchdown passes at the conclusion of the 2012 regular season.
So what went wrong for Rivers in 2012?
Well, to begin with, the loss of Vincent Jackson via free agency didn’t help his situation any. And unlike the 2010 season (when Jackson sat out ten games over a contract dispute) there was no Darren Sproles around to help soften that blow.
It also seems age, as opposed to injury, may have finally got the best of tight end Antonio Gates. Then again, Gates’ production could’ve have taken a significant hit simply because the dangerous downfield threat that is Vincent Jackson was no longer around. Either way, the bottom line is that Gates finished with his worst reception (49) and yardage (538) totals since his rookie season back in 2003.
Furthermore, the offseason acquisition of Robert Meachem (brought in to replace Vincent Jackson) proved to be a total bust. Meachem finished the year with just 14 receptions for 207 yards and 2 touchdowns. All these factors combined led to Malcolm Floyd, a wide out that had never functioned as any better than Rivers third receiving target, becoming San Diego’s primary option in the passing game.
Floyd performed admirably, but ultimately showed that he shouldn’t be relied upon as Rivers’ primary receiver.
This then brings us to the issue that is Ryan Mathews.
Mathews, coming off a 2011 campaign in which he caught 50 passes for 455 yards while rushing for 1091 yards at a rate of 4.9 yards per carry, was expected to handle a significant load heading into the 2012 season. Unfortunately, that hoped for reality never materialized.
Instead Mathews missed the first two games of the year with a broken collar bone suffered during the preseason. He then missed the final two games of the year after breaking his collar bone for a second time. In-between he played in 12 games while averaging just 3.7 yards per carry and totaling 707 yards rushing and 1 touchdown.
When one takes all these factors into consideration it isn’t all that difficult to understand why 2012 proved to be a disappointing year for Philip Rivers and his fantasy owners.
So after all of that, why should fantasy owners expect any better from Rivers in the year ahead?
One factor that I’m sure all of us are aware of is the emergence of Danario Alexander at wide receiver. While some will point to the five surgeries Alexander has had on his left knee since his sophomore year in college as cause for concern, the fact of the matter remains that should he stay healthy it appears he will be able to take over the role once held by Vincent Jackson within San Diego’s offense.
Other reasons for optimism are the hope that perhaps Antonio Gates had a down year for reasons other than the aging process and ten years in the NFL taking a toll on his body. If Ryan Mathews can return to his 2011 form then that that too will certainly help Rivers’ cause.
Perhaps more importantly, however, is the hiring of Mike McCoy as head coach following the dismissal of Norv Turner. McCoy has served in the NFL since the year 2000 when he joined the Carolina Panthers staff as an offensive assistant under head coach George Seifert.
Seifert would be fired following a 1-15 finish in 2001, but his replacement, John Fox, chose to keep McCoy around as part of his staff. In 2004 McCoy was promoted to the position of quarterbacks coach in Carolina. It was a title he maintained with the Panthers for the next five years before becoming the Denver Broncos offensive coordinator in 2009 under head coach Josh McDaniels.
McDaniels’ tenure in Denver lasted only two seasons. His departure, however, led to McCoy being reunited with John Fox when the Denver Broncos hired him as their new head coach prior to the 2011 season. Fox, familiar with McCoy from their time together in Carolina, chose to keep McCoy in place as his offensive coordinator.
Since working as a quarterbacks coach, and later as an offensive coordinator, McCoy has been credited with the brief moments (1-2 year spans) of success quarterbacks such as Jake Delhomme, Kyle Orton, and Tim Tebow enjoyed in the league. He also worked with Peyton Manning this past year, but we know better than to credit Manning’s success to McCoy.
The reason I mention Delhomme, Orton, and Tebow however is not to suggest they were great NFL quarterbacks. I mention them instead to propose the belief that if McCoy was able to get high levels of production from quarterbacks of their caliber then he should certainly be able to get even better results from the likes of the far more talented Philip Rivers.
It’s too early to begin throwing around precise predictions for any player’s 2013 output. But with that said I do feel its well within reason to believe Rivers will bounce back from his subpar 2012 campaign with production that nears or surpasses the four-year passing yardage (4398) and touchdown (29.75) totals he averaged from 2008-2011 in the year ahead.
Read more DFW articles by Joe Kilroy
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