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Los Angeles Rams Fantasy Preview

The NFC West is a division chock-full of fantasy production potential, and no team in the division embodies this image more than the Los Angeles Rams. From quarterback to defense, the Rams are stacked with players who have the potential to be league-winners. Matt Stafford’s move to L.A puts a lot of high hopes on this team both from a performance and fantasy standpoint. Of course, whether or not that will happen is still up in the air, and the tragic Cam Akers season-ending Achilles tear seemed to serve as a sign that off-season hype can be dangerous. This Los Angeles Rams fantasy preview serves a little more in-depth look at the Rams’ roster as a whole to try and predict how exactly these players will perform.

Quarterback: A Match Made in Heaven

The Matt Stafford trade seeks to answer a question that rarely receives closure: what would happen if an elite quarterback stuck on a bad team is suddenly transported to a franchise that’s already built to be a contender? On paper, Stafford has everything he needs to succeed in L.A: an offensive-minded head coach, a group of elite pass-catchers, an iron wall of an offensive line, and a defense that’s capable of bailing him out when he needs it.

Of course, what’s on paper does not always translate to the field. While it’s obvious that Stafford could experience some growing pains his first year in a new system, the first three defenses that Stafford will be facing are the Colts, Bears and Buccaneers: not exactly great matchups for finding a rhythm in a new offense. Also, while the elite Rams defense will ensure that Stafford won’t have to drop back fifty times a game, this might also limit how many shootouts he’ll be involved in, which may ultimately hurt his fantasy production.

Stafford’s past fantasy game logs paint a pretty clear picture: he’s traditionally been a high-end QB2 with the ability to produce at least three or four QB1 weeks with the right matchup. This year, he has all of the pieces he needs to make that jump to be a consistent fantasy starter, but even Tom Brady took some time to find his groove after moving away from his longtime home, so Stafford is probably best viewed as an elite backup quarterback in the draft, and his ADP in the mid-10th round reflects that.

Pass-catchers: A Treasure Chest of Potential

Image via Sports Illustrated

The Stafford-Goff trade was almost poetic in more ways than one. Not only does it serve as a humorous fish-out-of-water premise with the pretty California boy and tough-as-nails Detroit franchise guy having to switch places, but their playstyles contrast each other as well. While Goff was a system QB who played his role well in McVay’s genius offensive schemes, Stafford is a certified gunslinger with almost Mahomes-like improvisational skills and an affinity to throw the ball deep.

This new skillset spells massive upside potential for wideouts Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, who will likely be the biggest benefactors of Stafford’s arm. Although, out of the two, Woods seems to be the favorite for the number 1 option, as he brought in more targets and yards per catch and remained relatively consistent while Kupp took a big step backwards last year. A new quarterback under center can result in a changing of the guard, though, and it ultimately comes down to who Stafford meshes better with. Woods and Kupp have the potential to be a receiving duo both capable of producing week-in and week-out depending on how much he has to air the ball out. If only one could be drafted, Woods would probably be the safest bet, but both of these guys have the ability to outperform their ADP and can safely be viewed as solid value WR2s, both projected to go in the 4th or 5th rounds.

Of course, a gunslinger under center with Sean McVay in charge means that some third options can jump into the mix as well. With Josh Reynolds departing for Tennessee this offseason, there’s a spot open for some hungry targets. The Rams brought in veteran DeSean Jackson on a one-year contract whose deep-threat potential is a much better fit in L.A than on a middling Philly offense. Second-year Van Jefferson and 2021 2nd round draft pick TuTu Atwell will also be looking to prove themselves as worthy consistent starters. Jackson’s age is a concern, and Atwell’s small size was heavily criticized by scouts, but on the other hand, Jefferson has been highly praised by coach McVay during training camp, and seeing how receivers seem to be making jumps after their rookie year earlier and earlier, he’s probably the best option out of the three to take a late-round flyer on.

Lastly, Tyler Higbee seems to have the tight end position all to himself now that Gerald Everett left for Seattle in free agency. With the Rams’ stellar offensive line relieving Higbee of some blocking duties and the previously mentioned quarterback upgrade, his fantasy stock has been steadily rising over the summer especially in a position void of reliable fantasy talent. While he likely won’t perform at a Kelce, Waller or Kittle level, he likely will be a nice addition for those choosing to forego picking a tight end early for more depth at other positions.

The Backfield: It’s Anyone’s Game

In stark contrast to the excitement and optimism of the Rams’ passing game, the once sure-fire backfield now looks to be muddled with confusion and a lack of confidence after Cam Akers tore his Achilles during practice and is now out for the season. With the clear lead back out of the picture, Darrell Henderson looks to be the number one option. Henderson was a solid RB2 while he lead the backfield through the first 11 weeks last year, but Akers managed to edge him out for the leading rusher on the team for 2020 with his insane late and postseason campaign. While Henderson is a talented back, McVay’s comments about desiring a San Francisco-style committee makes it difficult to draft Henderson as a reliable RB1 if he’s not guaranteed 15-20 touches a game along with the constant threat of someone moving up the depth chart at a moment’s notice. View Henderson as a slightly risky RB2 option who will most likely be gone by the end of the third round.

Pending a free agent acquisition, the next man up behind Henderson would be Xavier Jones, the 2020 undrafted free agent who posted back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons at SMU during his final two years there. The reason Henderson’s position security seems threatened despite the lack of experience in the backfield is because Jones seems to be a lot closer to Henderson’s role despite what the UDA label may suggest. Akers’ injury will require Jones to take on a larger workload than anticipated, and there has been a lot of buzz surrounding what he’s shown off in practice. While Henderson is also still young, he’s already had the job taken from him once, who’s to say it can’t happen again? After the Akers injury, Jones likely won’t make it through the fantasy draft unpicked now that the spotlight’s been turned onto him, so given the lack of reliable running backs, expect Jones to be gone by the 10th round.

At the back of the depth chart are the 2021 seventh round draft pick Jake Funk and the second-year practice squad graduate Raymond Calais. While neither of these backgrounds scream “starter”, a sudden injury combined with the oldest committee member being 23 does scream “unlikely success story” so these guys will both make either super late round sleeper picks or post-draft waiver wire pickups. At the very least, they’ll make nice backup insurance in case another member of the committee goes down during the season.

The Defense: Set it, But Don’t forget it

Image via Clutch Points

The Rams defense is one of the best in the NFL, leading the league in both sacks and defensive scoring, and second in the league in points against. This defense is one of the few that is even worth drafting and not just defaulting to streaming defenses every week based on matchups. The only problem is they play in arguably the best offensive division in the NFL, and their rivals have all made improvements in the offseason, and are looking to win not just the division, but the conference. Facing the Seahawks, 49ers and Cardinals twice a year is a scary thought no matter how good a defense is, so while they can be put into a lineup without a worry for a good chunk of the season, take a second look at the matchup and make sure there’s nothing more enticing on waivers.

The Kicker: He’ll Get the Job Done

Image via The Los Angeles Times

After taking over place kicking duties post-bye-week last year, Matt Gay was one of the most reliable fantasy kickers in the league, putting up 10 or more fantasy points in five of his seven starts, and still managed to put up six and eight points in the other two. While he isn’t at Younghoe Koo status yet, the anticipated increase in passing could lead to more scoring, which means more extra point kicks.  While predicting kicker performance is about as accurate and useful as finding a needle in a haystack, Matt Gay should be a name to remember when the time finally comes to pick one.

Conclusion: An Identity Change

It feels odd to herald and praise the Rams passing game while expressing extreme concern over the backfield, but if the Rams want to compete this year, this change is all but inevitable. They’re looking good on both sides of the ball, and McVay is definitely a coach that can be trusted to alter a team’s offensive identity on a short notice. It would not be suprising if this team takes a couple of weeks to get all of the kinks out, but if they perform as well as they look on paper, there’s not a player on this team that isn’t worth a fantasy roster spot.

 

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