Philip Rivers Is a Sharp Late-Round Fantasy Football Investment
38-year-old quarterbacks don't typically make the move to a new franchise after 16 years with just one team, though that exact situation has come to fruition for Philip Rivers. Rivers spent his entire career with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers and just recently joined the Indianapolis Colts in free agency as the unquestioned starter at football's most important position.
In his new situation, is Rivers a no-brainer option as a late-round pick in your fantasy football leagues? Or is the veteran past the days of steady production?
According to Fantasy Pro's draft consensus board, Rivers is currently the 22nd quarterback picked on average, a figure which places him at 154th overall (12th round in standard 12-team re-draft leagues).
Rivers isn't going to cost you much at all in terms of the investment, especially when you look at the names that precede him -- Joe Burrow and Jimmy Garoppolo -- as well as the names that supersede him -- Drew Lock, Sam Darnold, and Teddy Bridgewater. Rivers is far more established than any of the aforementioned players, yet carries nearly as much upside.
Rivers presents a great blend of a long-time veteran with proven production mixed with a potential spark stemming from a late-career renaissance -- in addition to a potentially improved supporting cast. If you're deploying a late-round quarterback strategy, or simply looking to bolster the position on your roster by selecting a backup, you could certainly do worse than Rivers.
Lack of Protection
According to Football Outsiders, the difference in the performance of the Colts' and the Chargers' offensive lines in 2019 was not very dissimilar. The Colts ranked seventh in sacks allowed with 32, which equaled out to an adjusted sack rate of 6.0%. The Chargers ranked ninth in sacks allowed with 34, equaling out to an adjusted sack rate of 6.2%.
However, other units of measurement paint a different picture between the units, such as the NFL's Next Gen Stats (NGS). According to NGS, Rivers had 2.63 seconds to throw on average, a figure which placed him fifth-worst in the league. On the other hand, Jacoby Brissett was afforded 2.93 seconds to throw on average, a figure which placed him second. Some of the discrepancy in these numbers can be attributed to the mobility Brissett possesses and the lack of mobility Rivers has at this stage in his career, but the numbers still present a drastic difference.
Even with the stark difference in mobility, these numbers help illustrate how much of an improvement the offensive line of the Colts is when compared to the Chargers' unit.
Adjusting to New Weaponry
Arguably, the biggest change for Rivers is his new set of weapons. Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is coming off the worst year of his career in which he registered a 45-reception, 501-yard season with 5 touchdowns. Hilton is well-established as one of the league's most dangerous vertical weapons, and that should excite Rivers with his propensity to push the ball down the field (see: Mike Williams).
After Hilton, the receiving corp becomes a bit of an unknown, though both rookie second-round pick Michael Pittman Jr. and second-year player Parris Campbell (also a former second-round pick) present intriguing secondary and tertiary options. Pittman possesses a big frame and operates as a complete receiver with the ability to win vertically. He has even drawn comparisons to former Chargers wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd. Campbell, on the other hand, moonlights more as a slot receiver that possesses the ability to make plays in open space and create yardage after the catch.
The tight end position likely offers a step back for Rivers, as former teammate Hunter Henry is a budding star, but the Colts do roster two veterans with formerly productive seasons in Jack Doyle and Trey Burton.
The last part of the equation is the backfield, which features three main players -- a productive veteran entering the final year of his rookie contract in Marlon Mack, a wildly talented rookie second-round draft pick in Jonathan Taylor, and a versatile pass-catching extraordinaire in Nyheim Hines.
Head coach Frank Reich was recently asked about the backfield situation, and he suggested that all three running backs will play a significant role in 2020, as they should. The situation is likely to become a headache for fantasy football players looking to properly predict which running back to roster or play, but it doesn't matter much when evaluating Rivers.
Comparing Rivers to Brissett to Luck
|Category||Rivers (2019 rank)||Brissett (2019 rank)||Luck (2018 rank)|
|Completed air yards||2,490 (5th)||1,501 (29th)||N/A|
|Pass attempt distance||5,129 (3rd)||3,465 (23rd)||5,034 (6th)|
|Money throws||14 (19th)||10 (25th)||14 (20th)|
|Pressured completion %||37.6% (12th)||29.0% (27th)||45.9% (7th)|
|Clean pocket completion %||72.4% (17th)||70.9% (25th)||N/A|
|Adjusted yards per attempt||6.7 (15th)||6.4 (22nd)||4.4 (9th)|
|Receiver target separation||1.59 (17th)||1.71 (10th)||1.51 (18th)|
|Accuracy rating||7.2 (16th)||6.8 (29th)||3.0 (10th)|
|Fantasy points per drop back||0.37 (26th)||0.41 (14th)||0.46 (11th)|
|Fantasy points per game||14.6 (24th)||14.3 (25th)||20.2 (6th)|
As you can see from the chart above, Rivers thoroughly outplayed Brissett, though the fantasy points per game statistic was neck-and-neck between the two, mostly because of the difference in rushing ability.
If you take a look at Luck's last season in the NFL, you see just how well he played in nearly the same situation and supporting cast Brissett had last year. Obviously, the talent difference between the two players is stark, and even though Rivers represents a sizable upgrade over Brissett heading into this year, he likely won't be able to recreate what Luck was capable of in his prime. Yet still, the numbers are a major positive for Rivers, proving he can still put together a quality season at his ripened age.
According to our metrics at numberFire, the Colts' offense ranked 17th in Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) per play this past season and 7th in 2018, proving that this has been a fairly efficient and effective the offense under Reich.
With subpar play from the quarterback position, though, the team still ranked nearly dead-on in the middle of the league in Adjusted NEP per play last season. What they'll be able to accomplish with Rivers under center is not yet known, though it's probably fair to expect at least some improvement, with an offense that resembled more of the one in 2018 as opposed to the one in 2019.
|Category||Rivers (2019 rank)||Brissett (2019 rank)|
|Passing NEP per drop back||0.16 (12th)||0.10 (t-16th)|
|Passing Success Rate||50.72% (8th)||45.67% (20th)|
When comparing Rivers and Brissett, you'll notice Rivers ranked slightly ahead of Brissett in Passing NEP per drop back, and significantly better in Passing Success Rate among quarterbacks with 250 or more passing attempts.
If we take a look at the Chargers' and Colts' offenses from last season and compare them, we begin to see a distinct difference in offensive philosophies, too:
|Category||Chargers (rank)||Colts (rank)|
|Pass-to-run ratio||1.72 (t-5th)||1.15 (28th)|
|Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back||0.15 (12th)||0.00 (24th)|
|Adjusted Rushing NEP per rush||-0.06 (28th)||0.09 (5th)|
The Colts and the Chargers were legitimately on opposite ends of the spectrum. The Chargers deployed a pass-happy offense that was productive throwing the ball on a per play basis (Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back) while generally struggling to run the ball effectively (Adjusted Rushing NEP per rush).
The Colts on the other hand, were the exact opposite. They were one of the best rushing offenses in the league while maintaining one of the worst and least efficient passing offenses.
The statistics were incredibly similar when comparing the teams in 2018 while quarterbacked by Rivers and Luck:
|Category||Chargers (rank)||Colts (rank)|
|Pass-to-run ratio||1.37 (19th)||1.62 (t-7th)|
|Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back||0.27 (3rd)||0.21 (6th)|
|Adjusted Rushing NEP per rush||0.06 (t-12th)||0.06 (t-12th)|
The similarities and effectiveness between the 2018 offenses helps us understand why Reich's offense suddenly went from a pass-happy and efficient passing offense in 2018, to a powerful and effective ground game coupled with a weak pass offense in 2019 -- the play/talent level of his quarterbacks.
Reich has shown the ability to adjust his offense and tailor it around the strengths of his quarterback. The reason that is relevant to this discussion is because Rivers is clearly a superior quarterback when compared to Brissett, and not only that, but Rivers has proven his effectiveness in a pass-heavy scheme where he is allowed the freedom to relentlessly chuck the ball downfield freely.
Reich's ability to adjust and play a completely different brand of football in both 2018 and 2019 should give you comfort in knowing he can once again adjust back to a scheme which will suit Rivers the best -- one which allows a lot of vertical shots and the opportunity to sling the ball across the middle of the field.
Rivers has landed inside the top-15 in quarterback scoring in every season dating back to 2013. As a perennially underrated player, he has a shot to continue his seven-year streak with another top-15 finish in 2020.
Our projections at numberFire currently have Rivers ranked as QB28, with a year-long scoring projection of 239 fantasy points. It's evident my opinion differs, mostly due to the ability Reich possesses with his scheme and adjustable offense.
The identity of the offense for the Colts will be a surprise to everyone come game time, though one thing is for certain -- Philip Rivers is likely to be a productive player once again and should pay off as a late-round investment at the highest-scoring position in fantasy football.