Los Angeles Chargers Hire Jim Harbaugh: Fantasy Football Impact on Justin Herbert, Keenan Allen, and Others

The Los Angeles Chargers have hired Jim Harbaugh. What do you need to know about the fantasy football stock of Justin Herbert and Keenan Allen?

It’s now official, the Los Angeles Chargers hired Jim Harbaugh to fill their head coaching vacancy this week. It’s been five seasons since Los Angeles last won a playoff game and 14 since their last division title, giving the reigning college football champion a sizable challenge in his return to the professional game.

Can he maximize this talented roster? Only time will tell, but any coaching change comes with moving pieces from a fantasy football perspective. Let’s see if Harbaugh’s previous NFL experience (2011-14 with the San Francisco 49ers) can help us project the 2024 Chargers.

Jim Harbaugh’s Fantasy Impact on Justin Herbert

During his time in San Francisco, Harbaugh drafted QB Colin Kaepernick. His first two professional seasons were the last two of QB Alex Smith’s in town, serving as a buffer until Kaepernick was ready to take over the reins.

Both of those quarterbacks are very different from what Harbaugh has been given this time around in Justin Herbert. There were hopes that Kaepernick would be a franchise QB much the way Herbert is viewed, but for our purposes, Kaepernick’s skill set makes for a unique offensive construction.

That makes it hard to transfer any offensive trends from those 49ers to the Chargers.

MORE: Why the Chargers Hired Jim Harbaugh

If you’re looking for a minor silver lining, it’s that Harbaugh was willing to play to Kaepernick’s strengths. In an era where quarterback runs weren’t nearly as in vogue as they are now, Kaepernick averaged a rush for every 2.7 completions during his final two seasons under his tutelage.

That’s not to say that Herbert is going to be running all over the place in 2024, but it’s an encouraging sign that Harbaugh’s past offense was willing to mold around the talent of his signal-caller, as opposed to forcing his QB into his system.

Fantasy Impact on Keenan Allen

This is where things could get interesting, depending on how much you’re willing to weigh Harbaugh’s offense from a decade ago.

While the athleticism of the QB is a major difference, the overall profile of Harbaugh’s 49ers from 2013-14 isn’t all that different than what he’s taking over in Los Angeles.

  • Kaepernick turned 26 during the 2013 season
    • His WR1 (Anquan Boldin) was in his age-32 season
    • His WR2 (Michael Crabtree) was a former top-10 pick
  • Herbert turns 26 in March
    • His WR1 (Keenan Allen) is entering his age-32 season
    • His WR2 (Mike Williams) is a former top-10 pick

The comparison between Boldin and Allen goes further than age. Here’s a look at their six seasons before leading a Harbaugh offense equipped with a star quarterback:

  • Allen: 70.2% catch rate, 8.8 aDOT, 37 TDs
  • Boldin: 70% catch rate, 9.5 aDOT, 38 TDs

Interesting. In both of these seasons (2013-14) with the perceived franchise quarterback under center and Harbaugh on the sidelines, Boldin cleared 80 catches, 1,050 yards, and scored 5+ touchdowns. That may not seem like a massive season by today’s standards, but football was in a different spot back then.

Boldin was one of seven receivers to hit those thresholds in both seasons, and the company he kept was viewed as elite assets in fantasy circles (Jordy Nelson, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Antonio Brown, Alshon Jeffery, and T.Y. Hilton).

To put his name on that list while past his physical peak is impressive, especially when you consider his specific situation.

Boldin was playing in a low-volume offense due to Kaepernick’s rushing ability (San Francisco ranked 31st in pass attempts per game at 28.3) and had come off of seven straight seasons without once hitting all of these thresholds.

  • 2013: Boldin had a 31.4% target share (second-best) and 36.7% yardage share
  • 2014: Boldin had a 27.1% target share (seventh-best) and 31.2% yardage share

It’s up to you to determine how sticky this information is considered, but the overall trajectory is interesting.

Maybe Allen, coming off an injury, isn’t as featured as Boldin was back then. But with much more projected volume, I’m not sure we need it to consider Allen as a top-15 receiver if medically cleared with confidence.

Harbaugh’s Impact on the Run Game

Frank Gore was San Francisco’s lead RB in the two Harbaugh seasons mentioned above (2013-14), and while those were his age-31 and 32 seasons, he remained the feature back.

Gore was one of seven running backs to account for over 50% of his team’s carries and rushing yards in both seasons. His role as the feature back was even more pronounced if you only consider handoffs — he handled 70.4% of RB carries over that stretch, a level of volume that is enticing for fantasy managers.

MORE: Grading the Hire — Jim Harbaugh

Many mock drafts have the Chargers looking at Georgia TE Brock Bowers with the No. 5 overall pick. Adding a weapon can only make this offense more potent. With Austin Ekeler set to be an unrestricted free agent, this bell-cow role is temporarily vacated.

However, it’s certainly a situation to keep an eye on given the trajectory of this offense and Harbaugh’s commitment to a single option out of the backfield (Blake Corum handled 57% of Michigan RB carries last season, a sizable role for the collegiate game).

With the fantasy football season behind us, why not start preparing for your rookie drafts with our dynasty rookie rankings? Additionally, as you look to improve your team heading into 2024, our dynasty trade calculator can help you find the perfect deal to boost your championship chances.

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