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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
Earl Thomas on bad shoulder: 'I'll still play fearless'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(8:50 pm ET) Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, who dislocated his shoulder in the NFC Championship Game, could remain limited in practice this week ahead of the Super Bowl, reports the Seattle Times. But he said he won't be thinking about the injury against the Patriots.

"When I come alive nothing is limited,’’ he said. “I’ll still play fearless, throw my body around, and let whatever happens, happens.’’

Thomas did allow that he might have to rely more on his teammates.

“My mindset is I have an opportunity to really trust my teammates,’’ he said. “This is the first game I’m going to have to trust them because of my injury. So I really, really, really trust my teammates, and that’s what I’m banking on, my teammates doing what they need to do and I need to come through myself.’’

It's unclear if Thomas will need offseason surgery.

The Seahawks are 1-point underdogs after opening as 2.5-point favorites.


Colts QB Matt Hasselbeck pondering retirement
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(8:17 pm ET) Colts backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck told ESPN.com he's not sure if he'll retire or return for a 17th season. Hasselbeck, 39, appeared in four games this season and played well, posting a 102.6 passer rating.

He's set to hit unrestricted free agency.


Colts expected to part ways with center A.Q. Shipley
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(8:11 pm ET) Colts center A.Q. Shipley is headed for unrestricted free agency, and the team is expected to let him go, reports ESPN.com. 

"Shipley went from starting in Week 1 to losing his starting job, to being inactive, to being the third-string center," the report said. "All without any explanation from coach Chuck Pagano or anybody in the front office."

Shipley, 28, has played in 45 career games, starting 19.


Report: Dolphins aim to re-sign TE Charles Clay
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(6:57 pm ET) The Dolphins have privately indicated they want to re-sign impending free agent tight end Charles Clay and will make him an offer in coming weeks, reports the Miami Herald. Clay caught 58 passes for 605 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games this season.

Miami also is high on Clay's backup, Dion Sims, who's signed through 2016, the paper said.


Browns extremely thin -- and short -- at wide receiver
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(6:19 pm ET) With wideout Josh Gordon facing a one-year suspension, the Browns are dangerously thin at receiver entering 2015. ESPN.com notes the Browns have two returning slot receivers in Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel and "an undersized situational receiver" in 5-10 Travis Benjamin.

Miles Austin is scheduled for unrestricted free agency after catching 47 passes for 568 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games. Tight end Jordan Cameron also is set to be an unrestricted free agent.

Hawkins, a 5-7, 180-pounder, led the team with 63 grabs for 824 yards, with two touchdowns. Cleveland failed to add a wideout in last year's draft but almost certainly must address the position in the 2015 draft.


Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas to practice this week
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:43 pm ET) Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told SiriusXM NFL Radio that cornerback Richard Sherman (elbow) and safety Earl Thomas (shoulder) will practice this week and should be "good to go" for the Super Bowl. Both got hurt in the NFC Championship Game.

Seattle is a 1-point underdog to the Patriots after opening as a 2.5-point favorite.


New optimism regarding Justin Blackmon's potential return
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(4:48 pm ET) A lot of people inside the NFL are optimistic Jaguars receiver Justin Blackmon is "overcoming his issues" and will be back in the league in 2015, reports Fox Sports. Blackmon got suspended in November 2013 following his third violation of the league's substance-abuse policy.

He checked into a treatment facility last September. General manager Dave Caldwell said recently he hopes Blackmon wins reinstatement, but is not counting on it.


Reports: Josh Gordon tests positive again, facing 1-year ban
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(3:55 pm ET) Browns wideout Josh Gordon tested positive for alcohol and "now will be subject to a one-year banishment," sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter. Gordon was suspended for the first 10 games this season for a repeat violation of the league's drug policy.

Pro Football Talk reports that because of Gordon's past DUI, alcohol was one of the substances for which he was being tested. The website said a one-year suspension is likely a "done deal."

The Browns also suspended Gordon for missing a Saturday walkthrough before the regular-season finale, and CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reported then the Browns might be ready to part ways with the ultra-talented 23-year-old.

The Browns released the following statement regarding the news: 

"Clearly we are very disappointed to hear the latest report regarding Josh. At this point, due to the confidential nature of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, we have not been made aware by the league of a failed test. We are in the process of gathering more information and will provide further comment at the appropriate time."


Report: Jordan Cameron expected to leave via free agency
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(3:14 pm ET) Browns tight end Jordan Cameron is set to become an unrestricted free agent, and ESPNCleveland.com does not expect him to re-sign with Cleveland. A concussion and shoulder injury limited Cameron to 10 games this season.

The 26-year-old caught 24 passes for 424 yards and two touchdowns after a breakout 2013 season in which he made 80 grabs for 917 yards and seven scores.


Pats C Bryan Stork showing 'no noticeable signs of injury'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:53 pm ET) Patriots starting center Bryan Stork, who missed the AFC title game with a knee injury, practiced Sunday and "continues to show no noticeable signs of injury," reports ESPN.com. The rookie is on track to play in the Super Bowl.

New England is a 1-point favorite over Seattle after opening as a 2.5-point underdog.


 
 
 
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