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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
Bears sign DE Austen Lane
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:28 pm ET) The Bears have signed defensive end Austen Lane, Pro Football Talk reports.

Lane will fill the roster spot of defensive end Willie Young, who was placed on injured reserve Tuesday. Lane was with the Bears during the preseason but didn't survive the final cuts. He's managed three sacks in 30 career games.


Cardinals' Thomas starts practice 'shaky,' finishes 'pretty strong'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:29 pm ET) Cardinals coach Bruce Arians indicated that Week 17 starting quarterback Logan Thomas was "shaky" at the beginning of Wednesday's practice but finished "pretty strong" as he developed an understanding of where to throw his passes, ESPN.com reports.

"He's worked, fundamentally, extremely hard and gotten much better," Arians said. "But putting those fundamentals to use in the offense, that's two totally different things."

Thomas has just three days of practice before facing the 49ers in a game that has the possibility of landing his team with a first-round bye with a win and help from other results.

"It wasn't the greatest, but as it went on, it got better and better," Thomas added. "It just comes with reps and comes with time."

The Cardinals are a 6-point underdog in San Francisco Sunday.


Seahawks' Russell Okung, Max Unger practice Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:07 pm ET) Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung (lung) practiced in full Wednesday, while center Max Unger (ankle) was able to return to practice in a limited fashion.

Okung is on track to return in Week 17 after missing last week's game with a bruised lung. Unger hasn't played in any of the team's last five game due to a high ankle sprain. The Seahawks will earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a win Sunday, and it's possible Unger suits up for the crucial game.

The Seahawks are a 12 1/2-point favorite at home against the Rams in Week 17.


Raiders QB Derek Carr practices Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:39 pm ET) Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was able to practice Wednesday despite dealing with an illness.

"I got here early to work out and see how I would feel during that and after that and I felt pretty good," Carr said at a press conference Wednesday. "So, felt good at practice today, obviously not 100 percent but it felt good to practice and be out here."

Carr has been able to start every game for the Raiders this season, completing 58.6 percent of his passes while racking up 3,112 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The Raiders are a 14-point underdog in Denver in Week 17.


Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman practices in full Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:32 pm ET) Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman was able to practice in full Wednesday for the first time since suffering a left foot injury on Nov. 9, ESPN.com reports.

"We've had a chance to watch him all week, participate and he's obviously further ahead than he was this time a week ago," head coach John Fox said after Wednesday's practice. "And the fact we're on grass, not on Astroturf, lot of variables, but I like what I see."

Hillman has been able to practice in a limited fashion during the last two weeks but hasn't been active on gameday since the injury occured. The Broncos are a 14-point favorite at home against the Raiders in Week 17.


Falcons RB Steven Jackson (quad) expected to miss Week 17
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:28 pm ET) Falcons running back Steven Jackson (quad) is not expected to play in Sunday's Week 17 matchup with the Panthers, ESPN.com reports.

Jackson missed practice Wednesday and the team promoted running back Jerome Smith from the practice squad. Jacquizz Rodgers and Devonta Freeman are expected to share the workload in the critical regular-season finale if Jackson is indeed sidelined.

The Falcons are a 4-point favorite at home against the Panthers.


49ers RB Carlos Hyde still sidelined
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:45 pm ET) 49ers rookie running back Carlos Hyde missed practice again Wednesday with an ankle injury. He sat out Week 16 and appears likely to miss Sunday's game against Arizona, too.

With Hyde out, veteran Frank Gore went off for 158 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries against San Diego. Gore should see another big workload against the Cardinals.


Michael Crabtree doesn't sound eager to return to 49ers
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:35 pm ET) Impending free-agent receiver Michael Crabtree was asked Wednesday if he wants to return to the 49ers next season. "It depends," Crabtree said, per the San Francisco Chronicle. "I don't even want to talk about it."

Crabtree is finishing up a disappointing season. He's played every game but has only 64 catches for 657 yards and four touchdowns, a far cry from the 85 grabs, 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns he put up in his last full season, 2012.


Ravens LT Eugene Monroe bothered by ankle injury
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:27 pm ET) Ravens starting left tackle Eugene Monroe, who hurt his ankle Week 16 against Houston, missed practice Wednesday, reports ESPN.com. His status is uncertain for the regular-season finale at Tennessee.

If Monroe can't play, undrafted rookie James Hurst likely would start, the website said.


Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe (shoulder) unable to practice
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:18 pm ET) Chiefs wideout Dwayne Bowe, who sprained his shoulder in last week's loss at Pittsburgh, was unable to practice Wednesday, reports ESPN.com. Bowe leads Chiefs wideouts with 57 catches for 724 yards.

Kansas City hosts San Diego on Sunday as a 3-point favorite.


 
 
 
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