Editor’s note: This is a guess post from Kevin Roberts of FantasyFootballOverdose.com. You can follow Fantasy Football Overdose on twitter at @NBAandNFLInfo, and for more information on the NFL visit Fantasy Football Overdose – your online source for anything about fantasy football.
The St. Louis Rams have entered the past two fantasy football seasons as top-level fantasy sleepers – when it comes to defense. Sure, there has been chatter about guys like Sam Bradford and Tavon Austin, but it’s actually been an elite pass-rush that has pushed up a quality defense to being a borderline elite play for fantasy owners.
It hasn’t exactly panned out as hope, though, as inconsistency from their offense hasn’t assisted St. Louis on defense as they’d like, while issues in the secondary also have held them back. Despite some bumps along the way, the Rams finished 10th in fantasy points for defenses in 2012 (standard scoring) and worked their way up one more spot to 9th in 2013.
The driving force has clearly been their dynamite pass-rush (52 team sacks in 2012, 53 in 2013), paved by defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long. Oddly enough, the Rams still topped their 2012 sack total (which was awesome already) with Long only getting 8.5 sacks in 2013. Quinn kept up his elite play, though, registering an insane 19 sacks.
They weren’t just all about the pressure, though, as the Rams still forced 15 fumbles, picked off 14 passes and returned five for touchdowns. Their shaky offense (brought on mostly from Sam Bradford going down near mid-season with a torn ACL) played a helping hand in the Rams giving up an unhealthy 332 points. However, as bad as that sounds, St. Louis just comes out looking even more impressive since they were able to still crack the top-10 among fantasy defenses.
So, after going 10th and 9th the past two seasons, where can we expect the Rams fantasy defense to go in 2014? Nowhere but up.
A quick glance on paper tells us quite a few things. For one, that pass-rush isn’t going anywhere. Long and Quinn has been adequate to flat-out elite for the past three seasons, and the duo seem to only get better working together as time goes by. But beyond the pass-rush, the Rams also have loads of young talent that simply needs to keep coming together.
Let’s take a closer look at a few things that could help push the Rams into the top-five for fantasy defenses if all goes well in 2014:
A Healthy Sam Bradford
The Rams have never had a winning season under Bradford. In fact, after he went down last year, St. Louis was much better on defense than they had been during his entire tenure. But let’s not mistake it. The Rams knew that with Kellen Clemens under center, the offense couldn’t be expected to do a whole lot, and the defense put in 110% instead of giving up.
With that said, the long-term odds of success for the Rams as a whole are a lot better with a healthy and productive Bradford than they are without him. In turn, a healthy Bradford should help the Rams put forth a more consistent and balanced attack on offense, which potentially would assist the Rams defense and help them be more consistent, themselves.
Of course, Bradford is just a piece to the puzzle. The Rams need to shore up their pass protection to help keep Bradford healthy, while simply giving him more time to throw in general. At the same time, the o-line needs to be good enough to consistently clear running lanes for their running backs (they did that last year, for the most part), while the weapons in the passing game need to hold themselves accountable and become more consistent performers (we’re looking at you, Tavon Austin and Jared Cook).
Zac Stacy Pounding the Rock From the Start
Another piece of the larger puzzle is Zac Stacy. A 5th round rookie a year ago, Stacy stepped up when no one else would. Until he came around, no Rams running back had put up a 100+ yard day or had even scored a touchdown. Stacy is probably best known for his 26-carry and 134-yard performance against the Seattle Seahawks. St. Louis was a guaranteed loser in this game on Monday Night Football, but instead road Stacy and controlled the pace in a game; one they lost because they couldn’t convert on a fourth and goal on the game’s final play.
Stacy was ultimately a fantasy football owner’s dream – that waiver wire gem that doesn’t just pay off for a couple of weeks, but cements himself into a major role and works magic for you all year. Despite carrying the ball just one time in the first four games, Stacy ripped off 973 rushing yards on 250 carries, while finding the end-zone seven times as a rusher. He scored once more as a receiver, proving to be a fairly versatile weapon with 26 catches for 141 receiving yards, as well.
Entrenched as the Rams new franchise back following the departure of Steven Jackson, Stacy figures to chase 300 carries in 2014 and will be a major fantasy asset – both to owners and to the Rams improving defense. The more Stacy can pound the rock and soak up the clock, the fresher St. Louis will be on the defensive side of the ball.
Alec Ogletree Getting Even Better
Ogletree was a an athletic marvel coming out of Georgia and was a terrific get by the Rams. He surely didn’t disappoint the Rams or IDP (Individual Defensive Players) fantasy owners, as he racked up 118 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, one interception (for a 98-yard touchdown, mind you) and a whopping six forced fumbles. An athletic, hard-hitter, Ogletree still needs work in coverage and needs to be more disciplined in run support, but he’s just 22 and has an incredibly high ceiling.
More Consistency From the Safeties
Rookie safety T.J. McDonald missed six starts and wasn’t the most consistent safety in the league, while Rodney McLeod performer admirably as a starter for most of the year, but probably should be upgrade upon in free agency or the draft. With two corners with elite talent, improved safety play in the passing game (Rams ranked 19th) and better run support should go a long way in bumping the Rams up your fantasy rankings. Specifically, the safeties can get better in the play-making department.
Ultimately, strides are being made. With the offense more stable in 2014 and the youth on defense getting more comfortable, there’s every reason to think the Rams can once again be a top-10 fantasy team defense. The potential to get inside the top-five finally should have the Rams entering 2014 once again as a sleeper unit in fantasy drafts.