Fantasy football team preview: Los Angeles Rams
The Rams seemed determined to move out of the Stone Age (re: Jeff Fisher) and are using a millennial to do it. New coach Sean McVay, all 31 years of him, is bringing a more progressive mindset that should lead to a more creative offense. In two years as the Washington Redskins offensive coordinator, the team finished in the top 12 for offense both times including the third ranked pass offense in 2016. Hopefully, like most millennials, McVay is open to disrupting the status quo and promoting positive change in what has been a hopeless offense. The Rams need it after registering the second-fewest offensive snaps per game, limiting opportunities for the skill players to accumulate fantasy stats.
Team Offensive Stats
It is hard to find much good in Jared Goff’s first season in Los Angeles. That said, his offensive line sure didn’t help. Goff was pressured on 44 percent of his dropbacks, third-highest in the NFL, and he completed just 51 percent of those passes (second-lowest). When kept clean, Goff completed 76 percent of his passes, and this could be a more common occurrence if new left tackle Andrew Whitworth has anything to say about it. At 98 percent, Whitworth led all tackles last year in pass-blocking efficiency, a vast improvement over the 44th-place finisher, the 2016 Rams left tackle Greg Robinson. That addition, along with those at wide receiver, will give Goff a sneaky chance to be a streaming option in key weeks and potentially a top-20 quarterback.
Backup Sean Mannion showed enough this preseason to hold off Dan Orlovsky for the No. 2 job. The third-year signal-caller finished sixth in preseason passing yardage and ninth in PFF’s quarterback rating. Even if Goff struggles or gets hurt, Mannion shouldn’t be seen as more than a very deep flier for the quarterback desperate owner.
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It’s as if Todd Gurley signed up for the sequel and didn’t bother to read the script. Unable to break the big play, Gurley ranked 43rd in breakaway percentage among 53 qualified runners. Only Frank Gore managed a lower percentage among runners with at least 200 carries in 2016. There are reasons for optimism in 2017. The team should center around Gurley once again, leading to another 300-plus total touches including another 40-plus receptions. Add in the aforementioned offensive line improvements and the team should raise that 31st rank in yards before contact per attempt, making the big run more likely.
The backups in Los Angeles are a little thin. The injury to Lance Dunbar put him on the PUP list, keeping him out for at least the first six weeks of the season. That certainly helps Gurley as neither Malcolm Brown nor Justin Davis presents a threat to passing-down work. Brown is the key reserve, a bruising runner capable of breaking tackles (13th among runners this preseason) and handling heavy workloads if Gurley gets hurt. Davis was a mild surprise this preseason, finishing eighth in rushing yards after going undrafted out of USC. Brown is the better insurance policy but no reason to sign up in redraft unless you have rosters of 30 players or more.
Usually when turnovers are talked about with the Rams, it refers to interceptions, not personnel changes. In this case, it’s the latter and it starts with the surprising trade for Sammy Watkins. Losing Kenny Britt, their first 1,000-yard wide receiver in 10 years, was a loss that looked to sink any chance for Jared Goff. But with Watkins aboard, the team upgraded the situation and could be looking at their long-term No. 1 receiving option. The former top-five pick has only played 16 games once in three seasons, but has two seasons of top-32 wide receiver fantasy finishes. Watkins is used to playing in low-volume offenses with limited passers so there is little reason to doubt his ability to finish as a top-30 fantasy option.
The man who lost the most after the Watkins trade is new No. 2 man Robert Woods. He knows Watkins well after playing with him in Buffalo and should be a solid complement. Woods is more of an intermediate threat while Watkins can be a big play receiver. The problem here is volume. Last year, Tavon Austin operated as the second receiver and managed 58 catches. However, Austin is still here, meaning 50 catches is likely a best-case scenario for Woods. At best, he is an end-of-the-roster option for bye weeks or injuries.
Austin should be used with a little more imagination this year. The short passes will remain but expect more work out of the backfield as a runner and a receiver on passing downs. He could crack the top 48 at the position for fantasy with upside for even more. Youngsters Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds, and Pharoh Cooper all have intriguing attributes with Kupp the most ready to contribute early. Only pounce if Watkins struggles with injuries again.
Wide Receiver Sets
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Lance Kendricks is gone, leaving the position to a pair of young players who could break out if everything lines up. Tyler Higbee was the second tight end in 2016 but appears to be the favorite to start in Week 1. He showed growth as a blocker but the former wide receiver is best known to stretch the seam and is a fluid pass-catcher. While most of those skills laid dormant in 2016, Higbee could come alive if McVay leverages him anywhere near how he used Jordan Reed in Washington.
If Higbee wants any of that to happen, he will need to hold off rookie Gerald Everett. The former basketball player is an unusual athlete for the position; he has the fluidity of a wide receiver but the run after catch ability of a running back. Everett led college tight ends in missed tackles on receptions, registering nine more (24) than the next best player. There should be more two-TE sets than last year and Everett (or Higbee) could see time in the slot or even outside. A good dynasty stash, Everett is best left as a waiver watch in redraft.