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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
Gavin Escobar a threat to Jason Witten?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:13 am ET) Cowboys rookie tight end Gavin Escobar, who entered the day with just four catches all season, wasn't highly targeted Week 7 against the Giants, but he made the three targets he did get count, scoring two touchdowns, including one on an impressive 26-yard grab between two defenders in the third quarter.

In all, he had three catches for 65 yards -- numbers that would be easier to overlook if not for the two touchdowns and the fact that fellow tight end Jason Witten, to this point a mainstay in Fantasy, had only two catches for 27 yards. And it's not like he and quarterback Tony Romo were just failing to connect. Witten was targeted only twice the whole game.

Witten's production hasn't been up to his usual standards this season -- in seven games, he's averaging 3.3 catches for 38.0 yards -- but just based on their history together, you figured Romo would have a need for him sooner or later. Now with the emergence of Escobar, it's no longer so clear.

Escobar himself isn't worth adding except in deep leagues of 16 teams or more that don't have enough tight ends to go around. In those formats, he's the new Timothy Wright. But in leagues of 12 teams or fewer, Witten may be on the outs. He deserves a couple more weeks given his history, but keep an eye out for the next big thing at the position.


Larry Donnell here to stay?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:55 am ET) After catching just one pass in his previous two games combined, Giants tight end Larry Donnell got back on track Week 7 at Dallas, catching seven passes for a season-high 90 yards.

Considering it was the Giants' first game without star wide receiver Victor Cruz, Donnell was expected to play a bigger role in the passing game, but a resurgence of this magnitude should remind us all how he came to be owned in 83 percent of Fantasy leagues in the first place. Over the first four weeks, he averaged 6.3 catches for 59 yards, scoring four touchdowns.

One potential pitfall for Donnell is that he lost two fumbles in Week 7, giving him three fumbles lost for the season, but with so few tight ends capable of his kind of production in a given week, the Giants would have to suggest his playing time is in jeopardy for me to pass on Donnell in Fantasy.

His production fell when rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham entered the mix in Week 4. Now that Cruz is out of the mix, Donnell's production figures to rise again.


Odell Beckham shows he's worth adding
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(12:42 am ET) Only three games into his career, Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham has emerged as one of quarterback Eli Manning's favorite red-zone targets, which is especially good news with another one of his favorite red-zone targets, Victor Cruz, lost for the season with a knee injury.

Beckham didn't have a lot of chances Week 7 at Dallas, but he made the most of the ones he got, scoring on catches of 9 and 5 yards. In all, he had four catches for 34 yards. His six targets were third-most on the team, behind wide receiver Rueben Randle's nine and tight end Larry Donnell's seven.

The six targets were a season high for Beckham. He has yet to catch more than four passes for more than 44 yards, but because he keeps getting looks in the end zone, he's worth adding in Fantasy even if it's just to stash him on your bench until you're ready to put your trust in him.


An encouraging performance for Eli Manning
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(12:34 am ET) Playing his first game without star wide receiver Victor Cruz, who's out for the season with a torn patella tendon, Giants quarterback Eli Manning still managed to bounce back from arguably his worst game of the season with one of his best Week 7 at Dallas, completing 21 of 33 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns.

It was his fifth game in six with multiple touchdown passes and his second with at least three. And he did it against a defense that had generally kept quarterbacks out of the end zone, recording nearly as many interceptions (seven) as it had allowed touchdown passes (eight) prior to Week 7.

Though two of his touchdown passes went to rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham, who wasn't even available to him the first four weeks, Manning did a nice job of spreading the ball around. None of the touchdowns went to his two leading receivers, Larry Donnell and Rueben Randle.

Judging by this performance, Manning knows how to make use of the weapons the Giants have and doesn't need Cruz to remain successful in Fantasy. His bad games can be really bad, but his good games have been frequent enough for you to give him another shot when he returns from a bye Week 9 against Indianapolis.


Andre Holmes comes back down to earth
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:26 am ET) Raiders wide receiver Andre Holmes, who blew up for 121 yards and two touchdowns Week 6 against San Diego, took a long time to get going Week 7 against Arizona, catching his first pass about midway through the fourth quarter. Not surprisingly, he finished with just three catches for 34 yards. 

It's not like he was invisible before then. He nearly had a great catch on a long pass along the sidelines in the second quarter, but it was ruled incomplete. He did have only two targets apart from his three receptions, though.

Clearly, it was a disappointing showing, but it's not like quarterback Derek Carr forgot about him. Only James Jones and Darren McFadden had more targets, tying for the team lead with eight. Holmes spent much of the game covered by Patrick Peterson, who remains one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. Holmes still has incredible play-making ability and will have better days.

But this performance shows why you can't trust him on an every-week basis yet. His matchup Week 8 against Cleveland is another tricky one because of cornerback Joe Haden, who has struggled at times this season but limited the Jaguars' Cecil Shorts to three catches for 12 yards in Week 7. You might want to leave Holmes on your bench for this one.


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(12:22 am ET) 49ers knicker Phil Dawson made only one of his two field-goal attempts in Week 7, adding two extra points in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos.

Dawson couldn't deliver from 51 yards out in the first quarter, pushing the attempt wide left, but was true from 22 yards out in the second quarter. He's 13 of 16 on field-goal attempts this season but had been 10-for-10 in his previous three games coming into Week 7. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


49ers TE Vernon Davis catches two passes in Week 7 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:20 am ET) 49ers tight end Vernon Davis caught just two of his five targets for 21 yards in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

Davis was coming off an ugly Week 6 performance in which he dropped two passes, and he didn't fare much better in the team's blowout loss against the Broncos. He has 14 receptions for 142 yards and two touchdowns heading into the team's Week 8 bye. The 49ers will face the Rams after the week off.


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(12:16 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree caught four of his seven targets for just 27 yards in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

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(12:13 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin caught seven of his 10 targets for 50 yards in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

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(12:10 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Steve Johnson caught five passes for a team-high 79 yards and one touchdown in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

Johnson hauled in a four-yard score in the back of the end zone with only 11 seconds left in the first half to send the 49ers into halftime with a 21-10 deficit. The Broncos took over from there, scoring three touchdowns in the third quarter. Johnson has reached the end zone in three of his last four games, and he's up to 25 receptions, 315 yards and three scores on the season. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


 
 
 
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