While the bulk of fans of the NFL will wait until August for the start of the season, some will start a little early, with the beginning of Fantasy Football season. In the past, it has been difficult as a loyal Rams’ follower to go through the draft, watching as the entire St. Louis’ roster remained in the “available” column. Aside from Steven Jackson, there hasn’t been a player on the team that would deserve serious consideration for a first or second pick in the draft. Has that changed?
Maybe not, but, for the first time in a half a decade, it wouldn’t be unfathomable to see a couple of Rams find a home in the starting lineup. While it is still a bit early for projections about the 2013 season, it is not too early to see where some of the top Fantasy “rankers” have St. Louis’ players listed…
According to FantasySharks.com, Sam Bradford is ranked as the 24th projected fantasy quarterback next season, good for last place in the NFC West. They predict a 3,800 yard season, with 24 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions. That might be good news for those looking for a backup quarterback in some of the latter rounds; one that might prove to be valuable trade bait by the midpoint of the season if the offense gets the jumpstart expected with the new acquisitions.
Switching over to running backs, the Rams’ three-headed-monster has been broken down into its individual pieces. Zac Stacy is the top ranked St. Louis Ram on the list, which hints at the role that some believe he will have in the offense; short-yardage and goal-line. Anyone that had Matt Forte on their roster last season (myself included) regularly cursed the existence of Michael Bush on the Bear’ depth chart, stealing touchdown after touchdown in the red zone. However, these rankers are projecting Stacy to not only lead the ground game with six touchdowns, but in rushing yards as well. If I were consulting, I would put Stacy at the top of my fantasy board too, at least in terms of Rams’ players. However, unless you have a deep, DEEP roster in your league, the smart move would be to shy away from Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, and Stacy.
Now comes the interesting group… the wide receivers. According to Fantasy Sharks, the top ranking Ram in this draft is Tavon Austin, ranked 26th overall among wide receivers. Their massive projection for him in 2013 includes 1,150 yards receiving on 80 receptions, with 7 touchdowns… not a bad year. You have to drop all the way down to the late-50s before the next Ram pops up, which is Chris Givens. Both players might be solid selections in the mid-rounds of a draft, but none deserve to be picked in the opening three rounds. Austin would be an enticing selection if individual players were allotted points for return yards, on either kickoff or punt. However, most leagues bundle a teams’ defense and special teams into a singular unit, meaning that Tavon Austin returning a kickoff for a touchdown won’t get you any points. Much like with the running backs, if you have a deep roster, it might not be a bad idea to snag a player like Chris Givens or Tavon Austin in the later rounds, if they are available. If you are a gambler, you might even take a flyer on Brian Quick, who was recently projected as a potential “break out” fantasy player by Pro Football Focus. At some point in the season, someone will emerge as Sam Bradford’s favorite target, with Danny Amendola now catching passes from Tom Brady in New England. However, it’s anyone’s guess who that player will be…
In terms of tight ends, the Rams now have two viable fantasy picks on the team; Lance Kendricks and Jared Cook. Naturally, the pass-catching, off-line tight end is going to be ranked higher on the list, with Cook being projected as the 18th best fantasy tight end. However, these ranking seem a bit skewed, with players like Zach Miller ranking in the Top 10 and utility tight ends, like Delanie Walker, getting slotted well above tight ends that have regularly outperformed him on the field, at least in terms of fantasy production. Lance Kendricks is ranked 51st on the list, right below Dallas’ rookie, Gavin Escobar. They project him at 25 receptions for 235 yards, with only one touchdown. That number appears to be extremely low, especially considering he is one of Bradford’s only returning targets and the fact that he is coming off of a 41 reception, 500 yards, 4 touchdown season. To outsiders looking in, the argument would likely be made that the presence of Jared Cook on the roster will inevitably take snaps and, consequentially, targets away from Kendricks. However, with 1) Cook’s inability to line up as an in-line tight end and 2) Fisher’s publicized dedication to establishing the ground game, it would hard to imagine Kendricks not seeing as many, if not more, snaps than he saw last season. For the diehards that absolutely must have a St. Louis Rams’ player on their fantasy roster, either of these tight ends would be a solid choice. Both should be available at the tail end of the draft, with Kendricks potentially going undrafted, even in big-roster leagues.
Selecting a kicker is always a tough call, simply because you need to pin-point an offense that can drive the ball down the field far enough to get into field goal range, but be stagnant enough to stall out before putting the ball into the endzone. Last season, the Rams’ were the epitome of the example… that is, until about halfway through the season. There is a reason the Greg “the Leg” Zuerlein tallied only 10 total field goal attempts from 20 to 39 yards; Jeff Fisher. Fisher is a ballsy coach, one that has no problem going for it on 4th down if the situation is favorable and the reward is substantial enough. Last year, that meant little to no “chip shot” field goal attempts for Zuerlein. Fisher also has no problem “unleashing the leg,” allowing the rookie to attempt kicks that no other placekicker in the league would even dream of taking. Case and point, against the Miami Dolphins in Week 6 of the 2012 regular season, Zuerlein ended the game attempting a 66-yard field goal, in an outdoor stadium where strong winds had been pushing the ball around all day. Greg the Leg is ranked as the 25th kicker on the board, although they projected him making 14 field goals from 40 yards or longer. Depending on how many points are allotted for a made attempt at each distance increment in your league, Zuerlein might not be a bad choice as the first kicker off the board. Do not be afraid to overdraft on a placekicker before getting a solid, backup flex player or quarterback… you have to start someone as the kicker every week!
Last, but not least, we shift over to the defense. In some leagues, you might select individual players at each level (i.e. defensive line, linebacker, and secondary). However, for the bulk of fantasy owners, you will be selecting an entire defensive unit… and this is where the St. Louis Rams can shine. According to Fantasy Shark, the Rams’ D is ranked 5th overall, raised to the top with high expectations in sacks, interceptions, and defensive touchdowns. With the entire defensive line rotation returning, Alec Ogletree slotted as the new strongside outside linebacker, and a secondary with experience under their belt, the Rams’ should be able to meet most, if not all, of these expectations. Last season, the St. Louis tallied 52.0 sacks, 17 interceptions, and 5 defensive touchdowns. In 2013, the projection is 50.0 sacks, 20 interceptions, and 5 defensive touchdowns. For once, in a long while, you may actually hear groans in the room when you select the St. Louis Rams’ defense. There are sure to be plenty of others that would love to have them…
So, to recap this breakdown of the potential fantasty draftees, here is Ramblin’ Fans’ list of the players, in order, based on their value at their given position:
1) St. Louis Rams’ Defense (starter)
2) Greg Zuerlein (starter)
3) Tavon Austin (potential starter/flex)
4) Jared Cook (potential starter)
5) Sam Bradford (reserve)
6) Chris Givens (reserve)
7) Lance Kendricks (reserve)
8) Zac Stacy (reserve)
If you are feeling lucky, and you have a free slot on your roster, taking a player like Brian Quick, Stedman Bailey, or either Daryl Richardson or Isaiah Pead might make sense. However, until we have a better idea of the starting roster and the overall offensive scheme, I cannot, in good faith, endorse any of the Rams’ lesser known skill men.