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Fantasy Opportunity Spotlight: Los Angeles Rams

A team-by-team analysis of coaches’ tendencies and using them to help create realistic fantasy football projections. @TubaDeus takes a look at the Los Angeles Rams.

Welcome to the new home of my yearly Fantasy Opportunity series! For those who didn’t see this series on Reddit last year, I try to take a different approach to fantasy projections than your run-of-the-mill analyst. The basis of my process is that the number one indicator of fantasy success is opportunities to touch the ball. Obviously individual player skill can (and will) affect that, but at the end of the day players are at the mercy of playcalling and play design. Therefore, if we want to make accurate projections, we need to look at each coach’s scheme and how they like to spread the ball around.

As a result, this series is very coach-centric. I’ll touch on individual players, but only as they relate to their coaches’ schemes. On a related note, this series will only aim to establish projections on how touches will be split up, not what individual players will be able to accomplish with those touches. That will come later once depth charts settle through training camp. Think of this series more as a basis for realistic expectations.

Make sense? Good. Let’s dive in.

Most of my stats are pulled from Pro Football Reference. Please support them. They are awesome and are my primary source of statistical information.

Los Angeles Rams

Last Year’s Accuracy

Total PlaysRush Attempts (Rush %)Passing Plays (Pass %) – Includes SacksSacks Allowed (Sack %)WR Targets (WR Target %)RB Targets (RB Target %)TE Targets (TE Target %)
2020 Projections1060445 (42.0%)615 (58.0%)30 (4.9%)340 (58.1%)90 (15.4%)130 (22.2%)
2020 Stats1088473 (43.5%)615 (56.5%)25 (4.1%)365 (61.9%)71 (12.0%)126 (21.4%)
For league wide stats, see this spreadsheet.

Coaching Changes

Maybe 2020 didn’t end quite the way Rams fans hoped it would, but it’s hard to say the year ended on a bad note. The defense, which had been a middling unit for several years, suddenly jumped up to being the top defense in the league under new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley. Unfortunately for head coach Sean McVay, immediate success like that tends to make coordinators ripe for poaching. That’s exactly what happened as Staley was hired as the new head coach of the Rams’ AFC counterparts, the Los Angeles Chargers. Former Falcons defensive coordinator Raheem Morris will take his place. Offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell will remain on board under McVay’s wing.

Report: ESPN talked to Rams HC Sean McVay about Monday Night Football gig
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

Coaching History

What a difference having functional running back play makes. One year after the ghost of Todd Gurley led McVay to largely eliminate the running back position from his offense (38% run rate, 9.8% running back target share), the backfield made a resurgence thanks to explosive rookie Cam Akers and rejuvenated sophomore Darrell Henderson. Granted, the positional target share was still on the low side at just 12% (lowest in the league), but at least it improved over 2019. More importantly, the Rams offense returned to posting a 43%+ run rate.

The offense also maintained its high play total despite slowing down from previous years. This is largely thanks to the defense that did a much better job of getting off the field and giving the Rams’ offense more chances. Of course, a return to McVay’s preferred run-pass balance helped produce the most plays per drive of his tenure as head coach of the Rams (albeit barely).

Beyond all that, there isn’t much to report. McVay’s positional usage has been remarkably consistent through four years of calling the shots. In fact, there’s only been one major shakeup in positional target shares, mostly owing to Todd Gurley’s arthritic knee. McVay’s first two years in charge saw the running backs and tight ends nearly matching target shares in the high-10’s. The last two years, however, witnessed the ascension of the tight ends to a low-20’s target share while the running backs sank to a low-10’s share. The wide receivers have commanded almost exactly a 62% target share all four years.

Looking Ahead

I think it’s safe to say that the biggest thing to happen for the Rams going into 2021 was the trade for quarterback Matthew Stafford. This likely won’t mean much for positional target shares – Stafford has played in several schemes during his 12 year career with several different target distributions – but it will likely impact the offense’s plays per drive. The 2020 Rams may have produced the most plays per drive of McVay’s tenure, but they did so in a year where everyone was putting up above average drive stats. Relative to the rest of the league, they were just average. With improved quarterback play, the Rams should return to the top of the league in that aspect, which should help total play volume.

Matthew Stafford became the best QB in Lions history. Even that wasn't  enough. - mlive.com
Mike Mulholland/MLive.com

On the flip side, the defense had an awful lot of cap casualties this year. They did attempt to find replacements in the draft, but, given the Rams’ tendency to trade away all their 1sts, it’s difficult to believe that many of those rookies will be day one contributors. Factor in the loss of defensive coordinator Staley, who raised the unit from mediocrity to being the best in the league, and it’s hard to believe the defense will have such an easy time getting off the field again in 2021. This should more than counteract any offensive efficiency improvement, resulting in lower overall play volume.

Positional target shares have much less excitement about them. As noted above, McVay has been pretty consistent with which position groups he features year to year. The only thing really noteworthy at all is that over the last five games of 2020, the tight ends captured a 25.7% target share while the wideouts dropped to 56.7%. This would be an interesting trend to track heading into 2021…if it weren’t for Gerald Everett departing for the Seahawks. Given that the Rams are once again left with only one proven tight end, that trend is not likely to continue. Expect yet another year of wide receivers commanding around 60% of the targets, tight ends around 20%, and running backs in the low-mid teens.

2021 Projections

Total PlaysRush Attempts (Rush %)Passing Plays (Pass %) – Includes SacksSacks Allowed (Sack %)WR Targets (WR Target %)RB Targets (RB Target %)TE Targets (TE Target %)
2020 Stats1088473 (43.5%)615 (56.5%)25 (4.1%)365 (61.9%)71 (12.0%)126 (21.4%)
2021 Projections (17 Games)1135487 (42.9%)648 (57.1%)30 (4.6%)392 (63.4%)82 (13.3%)122 (19.7%)

Previous Entry: Los Angeles Chargers

Next Entry: Miami Dolphins

Find this article helpful? You can follow me on Twitter and Reddit as @TubaDeus, though I spend most of my time on Discord.

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