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Fantasy Forecast: 2021 Los Angeles Rams

Zareh Kantzabedian breaks down one of the most fun teams for fantasy, the Los Angeles Rams. Who should you be buying? Who is the running back now?

The Los Angeles Rams are out for blood in 2021. After four years, Jared Goff finally bottomed out as the Rams’ quarterback, proving himself to be more of a system quarterback that became flustered under pressure. Current Rams’ Head Coach Sean McVay had seen enough and decided it was time to get his own gunslinger. In March, the Rams traded Goff, two first-round picks, and a third-round pick to the Detroit Lions in exchange for Matthew Stafford.

The New Quarterback

While the blockbuster deal to acquire Stafford hogged the spotlight, the bigger story was the Rams’ inability to push the ball down the field in 2020. Per Sharp Stats, Goff threw the ball 0-to-14 yards 84 percent of the time last year. For perspective, here is the 0-to-14 yard pass frequency for other quarterbacks in 2020:

  • Tom Brady: 72 percent
  • Sam Darnold: 76 percent
  • Phillip Rivers: 76 percent
  • Lamar Jackson: 77 percent
  • Mitchell Trubisky: 79 percent

After ranking eighth in deep targets in 2018 and fifteenth in 2019, the Rams finally plummeted to 25th in 2020. As you can see in the graph below, the Rams are on an abysmal trend in their deep game, only targeting their wide receivers deep 82 times last year. In addition, they ranked 22nd in team points scored per game last year.

Fortunately for Stafford, the Rams brought in a bevy of explosive talent through free agency and the NFL Draft. Trust me; they needed it. McVay always made sure to have a deep-ball specialist. During previous seasons, that came in the form of Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks. Without a proper deep-ball specialist, the Rams weren’t a threat to opposing secondaries in 2020. No. Josh Reynolds wasn’t that guy. This year, McVay covered his bases and brought in three serious deep threats.

The New Weapons

In free agency, the Rams signed 34-year-old DeSean Jackson to a one-year contract. The demand for his skill set in L.A. is evident in Jackson’s contract details ($4.5 million and up to $6.25 million in incentives), his age, and the fact that he’s only played in eight games in the past two years. Still, it does help that he’s played under McVay during his time with the Washington Football Team. The Rams further bolstered their explosive talent by drafting speed demon wide receiver Tutu Atwell and athletic freak tight end Jacob Harris. Atwell was drafted in the second round, and Harris was drafted in the fourth.

The Rams have made all the right moves this offseason. They brought in Stafford, who’s chomping at the bit for a chance to play with a functional organization. The front office has signed a familiar face that knows the system and drafted high upside players with heaps of promise. Expect a big bounce back in fantasy production.

QUARTERBACK

Courtesy of USA News Express

MATTHEW STAFFORD

AVERAGE DRAFT POSITION: 10.7

Jared Goff’s career-high with the Rams was in 2018 when he threw for 4,688 yards and 32 touchdowns on 561 attempts. He finished as QB7 that year. Matthew Stafford’s career-high after Calvin Johnson left the Lions was in 2017, when he threw for 4,446 yards and 29 touchdowns on 565 attempts. He also finished as QB7 in fantasy that year. Those are similar stat lines considering Stafford was no longer playing with a future Hall of Fame receiver in Calvin Johnson and in an offense coached by Matt Patricia.

Going back to 2012, Stafford has finished as a QB1 five times. He now joins a team with the most competent coaching staff he has ever had, specializing in getting its offensive weapons open. Stafford can easily top Goff’s high of 4688 years and 32 TDs this year. Goff was on a tear in 2018 before the league figured him out. Up to that point, he was averaging 22.7 fantasy points per game. Expect that type of production to be the floor for Stafford.

Stafford’s schedule is yet another vote of confidence towards his expected success this year. His regular-season schedule is a cakewalk. Per PFF scores, Stafford only plays four teams in the regular season with PFF coverage scores above 70.0 in 2020 (league average defensive score in 2020 was 60.2):

  • INDIANAPPOLIS COLTS: 73.4
  • TAMPA BAY BUCANEERS: 82.4
  • SAN FRANSICO 49ERS: 81.4
  • GREEN BAY PACKERS: 78.6

Per Underdog average draft position, Stafford is being drafted as the twelfth quarterback in the tenth round. For perspective, that is directly behind Ryan Tannehill and in front of all the rookie quarterbacks. Stafford will finish inside the top-10 this year. That is a guarantee.

If it just so happens that you’re waiting on the quarterback position in drafts this year, target Stafford with confidence to help carry you to the playoffs. I’m confidently expecting his ADP to hold through the offseason. Happily grab him at his current ADP or take him a round or two earlier if you’re feeling frisky.

RUNNING BACK

Courtesy of Getty Images

DARRELL HENDERSON

AVERAGE DRAFT POSITION: 92.6

Before we begin this segment, I’d like to take a second to mourn the fantasy loss of Cam Akers for the 2021 season……………………………………… Thank you. If you haven’t heard by now, Akers tore his Achilles during training camp. A devastating injury to return from for the running back position. Many medical practitioners in the fantasy community have been claiming that Akers returns to 80 percent, at best, by next season. In contrast, others are more optimistic, pointing to his age and today’s medical advancements.

Note: From this point forward, I’ll be using the median method of measurement instead of the average. The median is optimal for what we’re doing because it disregards any outliers that might skew the data. Skewed data paints a false picture. Trust me. This is the way.

In Akers’ stead is Darrell Henderson. A talented running back in his own right. While Akers was dealing with an injury in the 2020 season, Henderson filled in for Akers weeks 2-7. Henderson amassed 84 carries for 405 yards and three rushing touchdowns through those weeks while catching 9-of-13 targets for 109 yards and one touchdown.

When we integrate the median statistic into Henderson’s performance weeks 2-7, this is what we find:

  • Rushing attempts per game: 15
  • Rushing yards per game: 72
  • Rushing yards per attempt: 4.95
  • Targets per gme: 2.5
  • Receptions per game: 1.5
  • Reveiving yards: 15
  • Yards per reception: 10
  • Offensive snaps per game: 46 percent

If we again look at his median fantasy points during that stretch, he had 13.85 fantasy points per game in half-point per reception leagues. From his carries and receptions to his snap percentages and fantasy points per game, everything that we just looked at squarely pegs him as high-end RB2/low-end RB1. Henderson is being drafted directly behind Raheem Mostert, Damien Harris, Chase Edmonds, and Trey Sermon.

Henderson’s production in 2021 is contingent on a couple of variables; Do the Rams feel the need to bring in another running back? If Henderson remains the starter, does his snap percentage rise or stay put? If the Rams do sign another running back, they could take anywhere from 150-to-200 touches out of that backfield. I think we will all be monitoring this situation closely this offseason. For now, I like where Henderson is being drafted. If no other running backs get signed, he’s a back-end RB2 for me, meaning I would be drafting him between rounds 4-5.

THE REST OF THE RUNNING BACKS

Xavier Jones, ADP 198.8: Jones played all five of his collegiate seasons at SMU. He broke out during his junior year, rushing 182 times for 1,075 yards, nine touchdowns. He also had 14 receptions for 84 yards. Standing at 5’11” and 208 pounds, he is not the biggest running back, and there isn’t much disparity between his and Henderson’s size. He saw absolutely no work on the Rams last year, so we don’t know how much Sean McVay trusts him yet. I do like Jones as the preemptive favorite for second-string duties. Preseason games and training camp reports will need to be monitored for a better feel of Jones’standing.

Jake Funk, ADP 214.6: Jake Funk is a fun player to watch. He also played football for five years at one school, that school being Maryland. Funk never got going, however, as he dealt with two ACL tears and a wrist injury. His final year at Maryland was his most productive. I’m pulling for the guy. He had 60 attempts for 516 yards and three touchdowns over a five-game span. Funk has notable measurables:

  • 40 yard dash: 4.49 (Pro Day)
  • Burst Score: 125.6 (82 percentile)
  • Agility Score: 10.83 (97th percentile

Both of these running backs are going round 20 or later. Camp reports and preseason will determine how this backfield shakes out. Feel free to take either at the end of drafts as a lottery ticket pick.

WIDE RECEIVER

Courtesy of FanDuel

ROBERT WOODS

Both Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp are considered to be the co WR1s on the Rams. In the four years Woods has spent with the Rams, he has finished as a WR1 just once, in 2018. During 2017 he injured himself; in 2019, he scored two TDs, and in 2020 he suffered from a low average depth of target (ADOT).

AVERAGE DRAFT POSITION: 36.2

As stated earlier in the article, the Rams had their worst year of attempted deep targets under McVay. Of the 35 wide receivers who finished with at least 100 targets in 2020, Woods finished 33rd in ADOT at 6.7 yards. In the only two seasons he finished with 1000 yards, Woods’ ADOT was as follows:

  • 2019: 8.4
  • 2018: 11.4

His median ADOT those two years was 9.9 yards. That is a full 3.2 yards more than he saw in 2020. Expect that ADOT to revert to the norm with Matthew Stafford under center and the other receiving weapons the Rams added in the offseason. Woods hypothetically should have finished as a WR1 dating back to 2017 but fell victim to fluky circumstances out of his control. He has received at least 129 targets in the past three years. That is high-end WR1 volume. Have full confidence in Woods to finish the year as a WR1 in 2020. Take him at ADP in drafts.

COOPER KUPP

AVERAGE DRAFT POSITION: 42.0

Kupp has the upside to finish the season as a top-5 wide receiver. In 2019, he only played 14 games and finished at WR4. That year was his first 1,000-yard season as he caught 94-of-134 targets and had 10 TDs.

Unfortunately for Kupp, he suffered the same fate as his fellow WR1, Woods. As stated before, Woods finished 33rd in ADOT among wide receivers with at least 100 targets. Kupp finished 34th. Before 2020, Kupp was used to seeing a median ADOT of 7.7 yards (1.7 yards more than 2020). ADOT was as follows:

  • 2019: 7.2
  • 2018: 8.2

Both wide receivers followed the same downward trend as Goff’s performance began to slip. Kupp also receives high-end WR1 target volume. When playing 12 or more games the past two years, he has been targeted at least 124 times. Both Woods and Kupp will be allowed the freedom to gain higher leverage targets downfield this year. Take Kupp at his ADP in round four this year. The floor and upside are guaranteed.

THE REST OF THE WIDE RECEIVERS

Van Jefferson, ADP 188.4: It is Jefferson’s second year in the NFL after sitting behind Josh Reynolds in 2020. During Jefferson’s rookie year, he hauled in 19-of-31 targets for 220 yards and one TD. The Rams let Reynolds walk in free agency this offseason, implying some confidence in Jefferson as the new WR3. Jefferson was selected in the second round of the draft. A high pick for a team already stacked at the wide receiver position. As the WR3, Josh Reynolds finished with a career-high in stats in 2020. With Jared Goff, he managed to catch 52-of-81 targets for 618 yards. If Jefferson can see a median of 75 percent of snaps per game, he should be able to reach Reynold’s career-high stat line in 2021. It might be hard to do this year, though, with DeSean Jackson joining the team. Keep an eye on Jefferson during preseason football.

DeSean Jackson, ADP 19.7: Before coaching the Rams, McVay got his first offensive coordinator gig with the Washington Football Team from 2014-to-2106. Jackson spent all three years there with McVay. He eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards twice with McVay while having a median of 97.5 targets, 56 receptions, and 4 TDs per season. Jackson is now 34 years old, and his age has begun to wear on him as he’s only played in eight games over the course of the past two seasons. Should Jackson remain healthy, he’s an upside WR2 going at the end of drafts.

Tutu Atwell, ADP 215.1: Tutu Atwell was selected in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft. He’s of slight build standing at 5-9 and 165 lbs pounds. It’s hard to see him producing any real fantasy relevance outside of GPP DFS lineups as an upside cheap dart throw. He’s a stash in deep dynasty but should be considered a gimmick player to be used out of the backfield until proven otherwise.

TIGHT END

Courtesy of Yahoo

TYLER HIGBEE

AVERAGE DRAFT POSITION: 97

While he’s steady as a tight end comes in real life, Tyler Higbee is a low-floor/low-ceiling TE1 in fantasy football. In 2020 his median fantasy points per game were four points. He had a median snap share of 82 percent, so it’s not like he wasn’t on the field often.

Currently being drafted in front of Noah Fant and Logan Thomas, Higbee is being priced too high. Logan Thomas finished 2020 with 100 percent of his snaps, and Noah Fant had 90 percent exposure. Even in a year where Fant played injured, he still finished above Higbee in fantasy

Every year Higbee has been on the Rams, he has seen 80% of his snaps inline. I’m not expecting a change of philosophy for Higbee on the Rams this year. He plays the traditional tight-end role and is dependant on McVay to create rare big-play opportunities for him. Take him in round 16 or later in fantasy drafts this year.

JACOB HARRIS

AVERAGE DRAFT POSITION: UNDRAFTED

I’m smiling so big right now that you can probably hear it as you read this sentence. There isn’t enough that I can say about Harris. I can do a separate article solely on why I think he is the key to unlocking this offense. He is what Gerald Everett couldn’t be.

Harris is one of those freak specimens. A wide receiver turned tight end; he possesses those unteachable traits such as size and athleticism. During college, he had 49 catches for 539 yards and nine TDs. He averaged 20.1 yards per catch and had an ADOT of 16.6 yards which would’ve ranked third in the NFL in 2020. At 6-5, 246 pounds, he ran a 4.39 40 yard dash. That was faster than Kyle Pitts, Travis Etienne, Terrace Marshall, and Tutu Atwell.

At this point in his career, he’s just a straight-line receiver who needs to develop his route tree and blocking. The tight end position always takes the most time to develop, but we are beginning to see a shift towards this style of player.

My hot take for the year is that Harris finishes third on the Rams in receiving yards. Given the nature of his production at UCF, it’s certainly an avenue. In college, Harris played out wide and in the slot plenty of times. This may be his path to seeing some snaps. He’s a mismatch for defenders. I am expecting to see plenty of him during the preseason. Keep your eye on this kid and stash him in all dynasty formats.

CONCLUSION

The Los Angeles Rams are a team we should all watch closely during August. With the ordeal at running back and the reformation of the deep game, training camp reports and preseason games will be vital.

In 2018, they were second to the Kansas City Chiefs in points scored. I’ll never forget the primetime 104-point total shootout between the Chiefs and the Rams. You can be sure that McVay hasn’t forgotten either. That was the pinnacle of the Rams’ offense. Going toe to toe with the league’s best quarterback and coming out on top at home. We’re about to see it again in 2021. “Whose house? Rams’ house!!!!”

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