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
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
|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%|
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.
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.
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.
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.