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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: St. Louis Rams

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The Rams should be a fun team to watch this season. The pieces are in place to contend for a playoff spot, but we hope there are some Fantasy options who can help along the way.

In 2013, the only reliable starters for Fantasy owners were Zac Stacy and the Rams DST. Sam Bradford was playing well before suffering a torn ACL in Week 7, and Tavon Austin was a bust in his rookie year.

The Rams didn't exactly bring in a ton of weapons this offseason -- rookie Tre Mason is intriguing as Stacy's backup, and we're curious if Kenny Britt has anything left in his reunion with coach Jeff Fisher -- so it's kind of wait and see heading into training camp. Stacy remains a standout Fantasy running back, and Fantasy owners should target the Rams DST as a Top 5 unit.

We hope Bradford can rebound and play at 100 percent, and if that happens he's a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback with upside. Austin is expected to be more involved on offense, and he could be a breakout receiver. There's also Jared Cook and Chris Givens, but we're not overly optimistic they can amount to starting options.

We'll all be watching Bradford, Austin, Mason and Britt, and hopefully they can assist Stacy and the Rams DST in making this team more Fantasy relevant. There's a chance for the Rams to be a feel-good story this season, and we hope Fantasy owners will benefit as a result.

Don't fear the competition ... Zac Stacy

The Rams couldn't pass on Mason in the third round, and he's an upgrade on guys like Benny Cunningham and Isaiah Pead. But while Mason is going to get some touches, this is still Stacy's backfield.

Fisher said in an interview with CBSSports.com this offseason that Stacy "is our 70-percent ball carrier." He will remain a workhorse, and he should build off his rookie performance when he had 250 carries for 973 yards and seven touchdowns and 26 catches for 141 yards and one touchdown.

Stacy showed his dominance with seven games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league in just 12 starts, including a touchdown in six of his final eight outings. We're not worried about Mason hurting Stacy, and he should be drafted with confidence in Round 2 in all formats.

His time is now ... Tavon Austin

I asked Fisher if he was pleased with Austin's performance as a rookie in 2013 when he had just 40 catches for 418 yards and four touchdowns and nine carries for 151 yards and a touchdown in 13 games. He said yes. And then he talked about Austin's outlook for this season, which is encouraging.

"He'll see a lot more production," Fisher said. "We'll do a better job of using him now that we know what he's capable of doing. We can put him any place. I'm looking forward to him making the jump from Year 1 to Year 2. We have to do a better job of when we get it to him we create opportunities in space."

Austin isn't the type of receiver who needs a ton of targets because his speed can make him a star on just one play, but he averaged just five targets a game as a rookie. If the Rams want him to produce, he needs more touches.

Now, getting Bradford back will definitely help, and Austin had at least six targets in each of his first five games before Bradford's injury. So we hope, as Fisher said, they get more creative with Austin this offseason and get him more involved.

I'd draft Austin as a No. 4 Fantasy receiver, but he could emerge as a starting option in deeper leagues. If the Rams want to take the next step as a contending team, Austin has to be a significant contributor.

A surprise Fantasy option ... Sam Bradford

2013 Touches Leaders
727 total touches
Zac Stacy 276 (250 car., 26 rec.) 38.0%
Daryl Richardson 83 (69 car., 14 rec.) 11.4%
Benny Cunningham 53 (47 car., 6 rec.) 7.3%
Jared Cook 51 rec. 7.0%
Tavon Austin 49 (9 car., 40 rec.) 6.7%
All Others 295 40.1%

Bradford played six full games in 2013 before tearing his ACL in Week 7 at Carolina. He had at least 20 Fantasy points in four of those outings and was thriving despite one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL.

If you project Bradford's stats over 16 games, he would have passed for 3,856 yards, 32 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and he would have finished as a Top 10 Fantasy quarterback. It's hard to expect him to duplicate that performance, but it's clear the potential is there, especially if his knee rebounds at 100 percent as expected.

We're hoping the growth from Austin, the addition of Britt and some improvements from Givens and Cook can get Bradford over the top. He's worth investing in with a late-round pick as a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback with upside.

Schedule analysis

Playing in a division with the Seahawks, 49ers and Cardinals -- who were three of the top teams in the NFL last year -- isn't easy. But don't be surprised when the Rams hold their own and actually thrive. This stellar defense will be tested with matchups against the Eagles, Cowboys and Broncos, but the offense should benefit in that game against Dallas as well. The Rams get two games on the East Coast with early starts at Philadelphia in Week 5 and at Washington in Week 14, and those games are never easy for teams west of the Mississippi.

Training camp battles

Who's the No. 2 running back? The Rams didn't draft Mason to sit on the bench as the No. 3 running back, but he might open training camp in that role. Stacy is the starter, and Cunningham will be No. 2 based on his play last season. Still, Mason has to prove he deserves a role, and he could play in passing situations early on. If Stacy goes down with an injury during the season, look for Cunningham and Mason to split carries. But Mason is the one Fantasy owners should target since he has much more upside as the backup behind Stacy.

What's the pecking order at receiver? Austin is the only Rams receiver who will get drafted in the majority of leagues, but I'll be watching Givens and Britt in the preseason to see if there's any potential there. Givens showed some promise as a rookie in 2012 before disappointing last year, and we hope his third season is a breakout. And Britt, once upon a time, was an emerging star in Tennessee before injuries and offseason problems ruined his career. He's a reclamation project, but one worth keeping an eye on since this receiving corps needs help. Outside of that trio, I wouldn't pay much attention to Austin Pettis, Brian Quick and Stedman Bailey, who is suspended for the first four games of the year for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

Bold prediction

The Rams DST was No. 7 in Fantasy points last season, but don't be surprised if they finish No. 1. It's not a stretch for them to pass the Seahawks, and this is a DST to target on Draft Day.

The Rams are one of the best teams at rushing the passer with Robert Quinn and Chris Long, and they finished No. 3 in sacks with 53 behind Carolina (60) and Buffalo (56). St. Louis added a standout lineman in the middle in rookie Aaron Donald, and middle linebacker James Laurinitis and cornerback Janoris Jenkins are two of the better players at their respective positions.

I like this defense a lot, and the DST will benefit with Austin in the return game. If you're smart, let the other owners in your league reach for the Seahawks, 49ers, Panthers, Chiefs or some other flavor of the month. You can wait a round or two later -- hopefully to your second-to-last pick -- and take the Rams as your starter.

They might reward you as the No. 1 DST this season.

Injury report

Sam Bradford (knee), probable for start of training camp. ... Jake Long (knee), questionable for start of training camp. ... Tre Mason (wrist), probable for start of training camp. ... Stedman Bailey (suspension), out for the first four games of the season.

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Player News
No point in hoping for a Kirk Cousins bounce back in Week 5
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(4:39 pm ET) If Kirk Cousins was hoping for a soft landing after his disastrous performance last Thursday, he won't find one in Week 5, with the Seahawks on the schedule for the Redskins.

Cousins' Fantasy outlook took a big hit last week, and things likely won't get much better against the Seahawks defense. The Seahawks have struggled against the pass in recent weeks, allowing 54 combined points in Weeks 2 and 3, however those games came against Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning. We are still trying to figure out just how good Cousins might be, but it seems fair to say there is a pretty massive step down from that duo to him.

Cousins is going to face a Seahawks defense fresh off a bye and looking to make up for their recent struggles. The Seahawks have five sacks through three games, and should add to that total Monday, with Redskins left tackle Trent Williams dealing with a knee injury. Tight ends Jordan Reed and Niles Paul also enter the game with injury questions, which could make Cousins' life even more difficult.

Cousins could go a long way toward silencing some doubters if he can hold his own against Seattle, but we aren't betting on that happening. Look for better options in Week 5; with only Derek Carr and Ryan Tannehill on bye, it shouldn't be hard to find them. 


Allen Robinson becoming heavily involved
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(4:36 pm ET) Jaguars rookie receiver Allen Robinson has been targeted 23 times over his past three games, notes ESPN.com. He has 17 catches for 192 yards but has yet to score. Robinson figures to play a big role Sunday against Pittsburgh with Cecil Shorts (hamstring) likely to miss the game and Marqise Lee (hamstring) not guaranteed to play.

Robinson has drawn the fourth-most targets among rookie wideouts.


Jadeveon Clowney has resumed jogging
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(4:30 pm ET) Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, who hasn't played since hurting his knee in the opener, has begun jogging as part of his rehab and expects to return "in a few weeks," reports the Houston Chronicle. Clowney would not provide a more exact timetable.

Bears elevate Chris Williams, waive Rashad Ross
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(4:24 pm ET) The Bears promoted wideout Chris Williams from the practice squad and waived receiver Rashad Ross.

Mario Manningham released by Giants
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(4:11 pm ET) The Giants released wideout Mario Manningham, who was on injured reserve with a calf injury, reports Yahoo Sports.

Steer clear of Vikings WR's Thursday
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(4:09 pm ET) The Vikings' receiving corps has had to deal with two different quarterbacks over the last two weeks, and they may see a third if Teddy Bridgewater's ankle injury forces him to sit out Thursday's game against the Packers in Week 5.

Though Bridgewater threw the ball well in his first start, it was little-used third receiver Jarius Wright who saw the bulk of the bump. Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson, the team's more well established duo, combined for just five receptions. Even if Bridgewater does play Thursday, we just don't have enough information on how he likes to use his receivers to know whether Sunday's game is the start of a pattern or not.

We really need to see more from Bridgewater before we can determine how he and the coaching staff wants to use his receivers. With nothing in the way of must-start players among this trio, you probably want to avoid using them in Week 5. 


Eric Fisher showing marked improvement
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(4:03 pm ET) Chiefs coach Andy Reid singled out left tackle Eric Fisher following Monday's whipping of the Patriots. Reid said Fisher, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft, has gotten better each week this season.

"We feel very good about him and how he handles things," Reid told the team's website. "He's a good football player and he's young. You get picked number one and it comes with a little scrutiny. You're going to have a few eyes on you, but he's done a nice job this year."


Eddie Lacy still worth your trust in Week 5
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(3:51 pm ET) Disappointed in Packers running back Eddie Lacy? Good, you should be. Even in his best Fantasy outing of the season, Lacy rushed for just 48 yards on 17 carries in Week 4, in a performance that was salvaged only by a touchdown.

Lacy has given little reason for Fantasy owners to feel good about his performance this season, as he carries a pitiful 3.0 yards per carry average into Week 5 against the Vikings. However, he may start to turn things around this week, against a beat up Vikings defense that just surrendered 6.0 yards per carry to Falcons running backs.

The Vikings have surrendered 70 Fantasy points to opposing running backs over the last three weeks, and now have to face a short turnaround as they try to slow Lacy down. Even with how disappointing he has been, this could be a good chance for Lacy to build on his first score a week ago, against a team that could be trailing early.

Lacy ranks just 23rd among running backs in Fantasy scoring this season, but both Dave Richard and Jamey Eisenberg have him ranked right inside the top-10 for Week 5. Despite his struggles, keep Lacy active. 


Dolphins activate Reshad Jones
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(3:49 pm ET) The Dolphins activated starting safety Reshad Jones from the suspended list, and he practiced Tuesday, reports the Palm Beach Post. He served a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

With Miami on a bye, Jones should be back on the field Week 6 against Green Bay.


Jordan Reed not going all out yet
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(3:40 pm ET) Redskins tight end Jordan Reed returned to individual drills Tuesday but said he didn't fully test his injured hamstring. "It felt all right," he said, via ESPN.com. "I didn't do too much to try and test it so I can't say if I'm 100 percent yet or not. The closer we get to the game, they'll test it more."

Washington hosts the Seahawks on Monday night.


 
 
 
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