2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: St. Louis Rams

Zac Stacy
Scott Kane USA TODAY Sports

The Rams were a team that suffered a significant amount of injuries a season ago, including losing their quarterback for the final nine games of the season. Throughout all of the injuries, they did what Jeff Fisher led teams routinely do, win seven or eight games while teasing us just enough at moments to lure many in to believing that they’ll be a break out team the following season.

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2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Dallas Cowboys

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Denver Broncos

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Green Bay Packers

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Arizona Cardinals 

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Detroit Lions 

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Washington Redskins

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Cincinnati Bengals

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Buffalo Bills

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Seattle Seahawks

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Chicago Bears

2014 Rams Schedule 

Week   Opp
1 Minnesota Vikings
2 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
3 Dallas Cowboys
4 Bye Week
5 @ Philadelphia Eagles
6 San Francisco 49ers
7 Seattle Seahawks
8 @ Kansas City Chiefs
9 @ San Francisco 49ers
10 @ Arizona Cardinals
11 Denver Broncos
12 @ San Diego Chargers
13 Oakland Raiders
14 @ Washington Redskins
15 Arizona Cardinals
16 New York Giants
17 @ Seattle Seahawks

 

This is where I provide the token prerequisite warning that strength of schedule is a fickle mistress in predicting. The Rams draw an early bye week and it’s quite possible that they won’t be favored in any of the eight games that follow it. The core of their schedule looks absolutely miserable for expectant fantasy production. Not just for them, but with their slate, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a smattering of 17-13 games that tilt in either direction. Things do clear up for the final quarter and fantasy playoffs for those who survive that middle stretch because they only get on NFC West tilt during the fantasy playoffs sandwiched between two NFC East opponents.

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is a perfect fit for what Fisher wants to accomplish, which is a run heavy, ball control offense. Over the past eight seasons attached to Fisher and Rex Ryan, he’s accomplished just that.

[table id=129 /]

Sophomore Stacy

Making his father proud, Schottenheimer has preferred to lean on one back if he can. He also has a type, which coincides with the team philosophy he’s usually associated with, which is a bruising, power runner.  In those eight seasons, he’s run only one true committee, with another due to injuries.

[table id=130 /]

Zac Stacy fits his mold perfectly. He began receiving regular carries in week five, fully taking over for the incumbent, and recently released Daryl Richardson immediately after. Over the final nine weeks, Stacy carried 25 times or more in five games, with only two games under 15 attempts.

Volume was the cologne that covered his inefficiency, which is why there should be a solid amount of brake pumping going on when looking into buying Stacy early in drafts this summer.

 Category Total RB Rank
Pts./Touch 0.57 33
RuPts/Att. 0.55 27
FPPRR 0.21 35

 

The Zero RB savior was far from flashy in peripheral production, ranking outside of the top 25 in fantasy points per touch and rushing points per attempt. He was also in the bottom 12 backs in terms of fantasy points per touch when removing touchdowns, right next to Darren McFadden and Trent Richardson. He’s never going to be an elite pass catcher as his FPRRR score supports, which is a problem in capping his ceiling for weekly performances. Stacy had seven top 24 PPR fantasy weeks, but only three of those were in the top 12.  He also struggled in divisional play, but luckily avoids most of the West late in the season.

If you want to hear the best argument for Stacy being undervalued, you should read this piece by Shawn Seigele. The best counterpoint to that post can be found here by Mathew Freedman. I’m not frightened too far by Stacy because that volume he was dependent on isn’t going to evaporate in this offense, no matter what you’re hearing from camps in June. The Rams have tipped their hand with how they would like to approach things offensively. By selecting Greg Robinson with the second selection overall, re-signing Roger Saffold this offseason and signing Jake Long and Scott Wells a year ago, the Rams rank fifth in the NFL in terms of immediate money tied into their offensive line for the 2014 season. Even if Stacy doesn’t improve on his efficiency, he’s going to see a ton of carries.

Pass catching backs are important, and the Rams selected Tre Mason in the third round as well to be the change of pace back for the short term. Mason is a very similar back to Bishop Sankey, who was taken as the first back this spring.  Just as Stacy was a hot add mid-season, it’s not far-fetched to see Mason in the same ilk this season if the Rams hit a rough patch of off script offense. Stacy’s current ADP is going to have to slide for me to make a play for him. If he costs a late second or early third round selection I would be very cautious making a move for him in PPR leagues, but I would give him a look towards the later third and early fourth round. Looking at his schedule on paper, Stacy looks like an ideal mid season trade candidate whose schedule is tough through the core but then lightens up late in the season.

Benny Cunningham shouldn’t be forgotten as well. The undrafted rookie played well when given opportunities, notching a 5.6 yards per carry on his 47 rushes. 43 percent of those carries while the Rams were already ahead two or more scores, so his effectiveness a season ago could be deceiving. He’s not a player the organization has a lot of capital tied into, and he’s best suited for the role as pure backup to Stacy if Stacy were to be injured. If that were to occur, there may be an opportunity to grab Cunningham off of waivers rather than Mason.

Bradford on his Ninth Life

Of course, Stacy could benefit from the Rams establishing any type of passing game since he and Sam Bradford shared significant time in only two weeks. The Rams did bring in Shaun Hill to back him up, but his signing and their failure to select an early quarterback in the draft is at least a one year endorsement for Bradford since he could’ve saved them close to $10M in cap space with his release. His release was likely warranted based on his career so far, but maybe there’s still faint light left in the tunnel.  Here’s his Career Graph taken from the handy tool available tool at RotoViz.

bradford

It hasn’t been pretty so far, but he has inched forward in progression. He did finish inside the top 12 last season in fantasy points per aimed attempt (FPAT), right on par with Andy Dalton and Jay Cutler. He also posted the same startable fantasy rate as Aaron Rodgers before losing the rest of his season to a torn ACL, while he notched four top 12 weekly finishes in his six complete games.

Most of that stemmed from crazy offensive inefficiency and the Rams frequently operating in off script offense. In the seven games Bradford started, the Rams passed the ball 64.7 percent of their offensive plays and had zero rushing touchdowns. Part was not having a back to lean on yet, part was being placed in monster deficits. Bradford threw half of his 14 touchdowns down ten or more points in the second half of games and finished the season seventh in NFL in passing attempts in such game situations despite missing nearly nine full games. I like Bradford as an early season and late season streamer option. The Stacy/Bradford marriage should have mutual residuals for both, but they are still dependent on the receiving unit providing some relief for both.

Bradford is on the shelf for the entire season with a second consecutive torn ACL, leaving Hill as the starter.

The Island of Misfit Toys

Something has to give here with the cumulative group of receivers the Rams have collected. Of course we thought the same thing last season when the community was investing in Chris Givens and Tavon Austin a year ago with far too early selections. The Rams receivers were a gaggle of unwanted fantasy producers, as evidenced by nearly equal performances in terms of targets for their quarterbacks.

[table id=131 /]

We have a good tool for measuring the effectiveness for targets in the same offense with our target multiplier. Pretty much everyone here was similar, with only Bailey and Givens being subpar compared to the group. Pettis is the longest tenured Rams receiver. That doesn’t mean anything beyond that; I just wanted to see what that actually looked like in print.

Givens was a preseason darling, rocketing up boards with what appeared to be a clear rapport with Bradford. Out of the 90 receivers with at least 50 targets last season, his 41 percent catch rate ranked 87th.  He squandered the majority of his deep targets and failed to top 60 receiving yards in every game but one. Investing in splash play reliant receivers is always a roller coaster, but the ride isn’t worth it if the park is shut down.

The Brian Quick dream will be entering year three and  the Rams have brought in troubled Kenny Britt to compete at his spot. Quick has found it hard to gain traction on a regular snap basis while the position has been begging for him to run away with it so far. He’s totaled 29 receptions through two seasons as he’s the Rams version of Stephen Hill.  If you’re still holding onto lottery tickets of his, there’s still a glimmer of hope that that they may finally be able to be cashed in, but he’s best left on re-draft waivers until he gets any kind of real role. I wouldn’t leave his body lying on the ground just yet, because the Rams did use a second round selection on him, so pay attention to his use over the summer.

Take it with a grain of salt like most OTA news if you must, but early word is that Britt has been the most impressive receiver in early camps. Britt still possesses the highest ceiling out of this group, and he doesn’t have a cost in drafts right now. He’s a post type, post-hype sleeper that has burned many, but Fisher has been the only coach able to motivate him thus far. If he doesn’t work out, his cost completely allows you cut bait freely at any moment, so he’s worth a look from my end. Between Britt and Quick, that’s the role in this passing game I want to take a shot on if I’m buying any piece because each possesses the highest ceiling combined with potential usage. Ideally, you’d like to see both Quick and Britt start with Austin in the slot, but that may be asking for too much from this coaching staff.

Bailey was a favorite of many entering last season, but is now suspended for the opening four weeks for use of PEDs. He was slowly coming on to finish the season, catching at least three passes in four of the final six weeks of the season. That suspension could put him at the end of the line once again if the guys ahead of him play well early. His biggest threat is Givens, who could be defaulted into a field stretching role, so monitor his play during the first month while Bailey sits on waivers.

Austin is interesting because he was disappointing as a rookie on a number of fronts. Some thought he had the chance to become a PPR monster, and used as much fantasy capital in acquiring him as the Rams did in the NFL Draft by trading up into the top ten to select him. He wasn’t so much of a bust player as a bust pick, because he performed on par with what many expected, his value was just inflated to a degree of no return last offseason.

He began the season with three consecutive games with six receptions before tapering off into sporadic use and big gains. He was actually 26th  out of all receivers in targets per route run at once every 4.4 routes. That total was better than Demaryius Thomas, Jordy Nelson and Torrey Smith. That just shows how wishy-washy his usage was and the low volume this offense has as a passing unit.

He’s being suppressed into double digits rounds while Cordarrelle Patterson is ascending into the top five rounds despite having nearly identical rookie campaigns and how they are were used.

[table id=132 /]

Outside of kick returns, there’s not much difference here overall. It’s important when looking at the results above to remember that while they’re similar, they finished the season on much different notes. Patterson is bigger and better suited for the types of touches both players receive, so his touchdown potential and ceiling are definitely higher, but he’s also being priced accordingly so far this summer. I don’t really believe they are comparable players outside of how they were used a year ago, but for fantasy purposes, if you want to make an arbitrage play on Patterson’s fantasy output, you can do so as your WR4 or WR5 by selecting Austin.

 

 

The forbidden fruit that we’ve all tasted, better known as Jared Cook is still around this offense as well. The athleticism shows up every few weeks, but it’s hard to bank on consistency ever catching up as he posted only four top 12 tight end weeks, the same number as Brent Celek.

Cook was slightly better when Bradford was under center, but it wasn’t a large enough gap to point to his fifth expected breakout. No tight end associated with Schottenheimer has ever topped five touchdowns in a season, but if no one really emerges from the receiver competition, Cook can find extra targets just as Dustin Keller did in 2010-2011 in the same offensive structure.  C.D. Carter paints a much more positive picture here in regards to Cook, which I can endorse from a streaming perspective and in relation to the cost of drafting Cook, but the aspirations of him being the next hybrid a the position have been all but drained.

2014 Fantasy Relevant Projections

Passing

Player Att Comp % Yards TD INT FF PTs
Shaun Hill 498.8 303.1 60.8% 3568.6 22.9 11.0 212.4

 

Rushing

Player Att Yds YPC TD FF PTs
Zac Stacy 274.5 1125.5 4.1 8.2 159.2
Tre Mason 54.0 232.2 4.3 1.1 29.2
Tavon Austin 18.0 154.8 8.6 0.5 18.4
Benny Cunningham 67.5 303.8 4.5 1.4 37.8
Shaun Hill 27.0 126.9 4.7 0.5 8.4

 

Receiving

Player TGT Rec Yards TD PTS PPR PTS
Tavon Austin 84.9 51.8 574.5 4.7 85.4 137.2
Chris Givens 30.9 17.3 269.5 1.0 33.2 50.5
Kenny Britt 90.0 51.3 687.4 6.2 105.7 157.0
Stedman Bailey 36.0 20.9 267.2 1.5 35.5 56.4
Brian Quick 77.1 44.0 663.9 4.4 92.8 136.7
Jared Cook 87.4 53.3 714.6 4.3 97.1 150.4
Zac Stacy 36.0 25.9 178.8 0.8 22.5 48.5
Tre Mason 30.9 21.6 162.0 0.6 20.1 41.7

 

Best Option to Crash through their projection without injury: Britt – Maybe this is a fool’s errand, but his ceiling and his cost are the types of marriages I can’t help but take a shot on.

Biggest Risk to fall through their projection: Stacy – Not only because of the red flags surrounding his 2013 performance, but he’s also the only player on the offense that will be selected with any significant fantasy draft capital.

Best Waiver Wire Option: Bailey – He was playing well down the stretch last year. If Britt or Givens doesn’t run away with the job, the elite college receiver that many of us saw will finally get a real shot to flourish.

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