We are halfway through the preseason, which means we are within arms-length of meaningful, regular season football. However, the end of preseason not only signals the start of “live action,” but also strikes the bell to start another, very important aspect of the NFL; fantasy football. For the last half decade, the St. Louis Rams have leaned on Steven Jackson as a crutch to hold up the team’s reputation in fantasy drafts. With his departure, there does not appear to be anyone on the roster worth using a “high pick” on… until now!
At the start of training camp, there were a handful of notable positions battles: Chris Williams vs. Shelley Smith for left guard, Isaiah Pead vs. Daryl Richardson vs. Zac Stacy at running back, and a revolving door for both the safety and wide receiver positions. With essentially a month’s worth of camp under the Rams’ belt, the “cream has risen” to the top of depth chart at most positions.
If you have watched any of the preseason matchups for the Rams this preseason, you have undoubtedly seen one of Chris Givens’ long-ball, “blow the ceiling off the defense” catches. In fact, Givens has a 55+ yard reception in both games so far, leading to a 34.8 yards per catch average on four receptions. Despite playing only 36 offensive snaps, which would be considered approximately half of a regular season football game, Givens is third among all receivers in receiving yards, easily leading the Rams’ corps. Moreover, he appears to be Bradford’s “go-to” receiver, looking at Givens heavily on 3rd downs, and certainly looking for him whenever he is streaking down the field. For once, the St. Louis’ signal caller has his head up, and is reading past the linebackers. If Bradford maintains this level of confidence in his offensive line to keep their blocks, Bradford will undoubtedly take some risks down the football field. More importantly, by having his eyes on the safeties instead of on the charging defensive lineman, he will get Givens a chance at catching the football whenever he does beats his man in coverage… which he can do whenever he wants.
As the obvious top receiver in the Rams’ receiving corps, Chris Givens may have elevated himself to “starter” status in the world of fantasy football. The “key” to drafting a starter is looking for a player who is going to regularly get an opportunity to put up big performances on the football field. With Givens’ speed, Bradford’s favoritism, and players like Tavon Austin and Jared Cook demanding attention from the defense, the St. Louis’ sophomore wide out is primed to be a breakout stud in leagues across the internet. Depending on the depth of your draft, Givens could justifiably fill anywhere from the No. 1 receiver slot down to the flex starter.
While nothing has “changed” in the running back battle in St. Louis, some things have certainly been solidified this past week, with Jeff Fisher naming Daryl Richardson the Week 1 starter against the Arizona Cardinals. Isaiah Pead appeared to have been given a final interview for the starting job on Saturday night against the Green Bay Packers. Unlucky for him, the Packers were content to stack the line and letting Sam Bradford air out the ball, leading to a less-than-average performance from the former 2nd-rounder out of the University of Cincinnati.
With Pead out of the picture, Daryl Richardson is now the “safe pick” for those in a deep fantasy league. There are only 32 “starting” running backs in the NFL, and only about half of those are worth their salt on a draft board. On a positive note for Richardson, the St. Louis Rams appear to be converted into a pass-friendly, spread offense, which should allow for larger running lanes on the interior and significantly less opportunity for the opposing defense to “stack the box.” Moreover, Bradford has a well-documented tendency of checking down to running backs in the passing game, highlighted by the fact that Richardson has been targeted four times already this preseason, despite playing only 14 total offensive snaps. Tack on the four rushing attempts, and Richardson has been getting a “touch” on 67% of his on-field snaps. Naturally, the St. Louis Rams are not going to run their young running back into the ground, but that high percentage is an indication of how much they trust Richardson with the ball in his hands.
If an Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, or Doug Martin are available, it would not be wise to pass on them in favor of any running back on the Rams’ roster. However, Daryl Richardson does fit the mold of a fringe, No. 2 starting running back, and is unarguably a quality “flex” starter on a weekly basis. The battle for running back in St. Louis is over. Time for fantasy owners to reap the spoils of Richardson’s victory!
Sam Bradford has been nearly perfect this offseason in the pass game, posting a 125.0 passer rating through two games; 4th highest among starting quarterbacks, behind Andrew Luck, Tom Brady, and Brandon Weeden. Our “new” quarterback looks nothing like the player we have seen over the last couple of season, standing confident in the pocket, stepping up into defenders to complete throws, and finally possessing the comfort level to maintain vision down the football field. As a result, Bradford has completed 65% of his pass attempts, with two “official” drops and two “catchable” throws counting as incompletions. More impressively, the Rams’ signal caller ranks 7th overall in passing yards, despite playing only 39 total offensive snaps; to put that into perspective, only four other players in the Top 30 for passing yards has played fewer than 40 snaps.
After the loss to the Green Bay Packers, Bradford was noticeably up-beat in his post-game interview. The young, soon-to-be star quarterback expressed his excitement in having so many viable, playmaking receivers on the team. He was adamant that players like Tavon Austin and Jared Cook would get plenty of use in the regular season, and has regularly offered that him and the lone returning starter, Chris Givens, have picked up right where they left off last season. New weapons, new confidence in the offense line, and a new offensive system tailored to his strengths as a quarterback; you cannot ask for much more than that.
Currently, Sam Bradford is projected 17th among quarterbacks for 2013, sandwiched between Michael Vick and Andy Dalton. By merely eliminating quarterbacks with injury history, quarterbacks that lost significant offensive talent, and quarterbacks that might not even start this season, you can move Bradford into the Top 15, potentially even onto the fringe of the Top 10. Aside from the “golden” quarterbacks (i.e. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan), those “of faith” in St. Louis, or elsewhere, could certainly justify making Bradford anywhere from the 6th to 15th quarterback taken off the board in the draft. Luckily, unless you are in a league filled with St. Louis Rams fans, you could likely steal Bradford sometime after the 4th or 5th round in your fantasy draft.