By The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson (with Contributions from Joe Zollo and Chris Tyler)
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Goodbye Jeff Fisher. Hello new-look Los Angeles Rams. Hot shot offensive coordinator Sean McVay came from Washington to be the new head coach of the Rams and what a difference he made. He ran the offense and let defensive guru Wade Phillips run the defense. The offense finished first in scoring offense in the NFL and the defense ranked 2nd in fantasy. It all started with Todd Gurley. After an RB19 finish in 2016, Gurley came back with a vengeance in 2017. He finished as the best RB and the best player in fantasy last year. Sophomore QB Jared Goff looked dead on arrival in 2016, losing every single one of his starts. With McVay at the helm, the 2016 first overall pick looked like the real deal with 28 passing TDs and a QB8 finish. And let’s not forget about Greg the Leg, Greg Zuerlein. He finished as fantasy’s best kicker last year.
The Rams receiving corps didn’t have any one dominant player, but they didn’t need one. They traded for Sammy Watkins from Buffalo, signed Robert Woods — also from Buffalo — and drafted Cooper Kupp. Kupp turned into their best WR in Fantasy (WR24) while Woods looked like their best WR period (though he missed four games). Watkins didn’t have the numbers you’d expect as their projected number one option, but he did chip in eight touchdowns. Their TE position has young options — Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee — that seem to have potential but are underutilized. All in all, a great year for the Rams in McVay’s first year.
|(Projected Starting Lineup)|
|RB4||(R) John Kelly||N/A||N/A|
|WR1||Brandin Cooks (w/ NE)||203.50||WR13|
After a year in the NFL, the media buzzed about how Carson Wentz looked like the better of the two QBs drafted 1-2 at the top of the 2016 draft. After year two, Wentz found himself in the MVP discussion and Goff took his game to another level with a new head coach. It just goes to show you how moronic owners and GMs are for allowing Jeff Fisher to coach in the NFL as long as he did. Needless to say, Goff gave the Rams hope and assured them they took the right guy in 2016. He finished with 3,804 passing yards, 28 TDs and 7 INTs and added a rushing TD. He finished 5th in the league in passer rating (100.5) and tied for 5th in TD passes. His ability to spread the ball around kept defenses off balance. It certainly helped having the best RB in the NFL last year running behind him.
A deeper dive into Goff’s statistics show that he’s primed to continue his success in 2018 and beyond. Goff throws one of the better deep balls in the league and his WR unit wasn’t the most skilled at getting downfield. Sammy Watkins was his most targeted on passes travelling 20 yards or more downfield (16 targets) but he caught only three of them. Robert Woods, not especially known for his speed, led the team in receptions and yards on such throws. That’s a problem for a guy like Goff who can let it rip. Out goes Watkins and in comes Brandin Cooks to solve that issue (more on him later). If they can launch the deep ball off play action passes, great things should happen. Goff had the second highest percentage of throws on play action passes a season ago and led the NFL in passing yards off play action throws. (I’m sure Todd Gurley’s thank you card is in the mail.) It’s not hard to see why I have Goff once again in the top 10 at quarterback heading into 2018 (QB9). He should have an opportunity to eclipse 4,000 passing yards this year as I expect a little regression in terms of Gurley’s rushing output and with the arrival of Cooks I think he hits 30 passing TDs. This just goes to show yet another reason why you can wait on QBs on draft day.
Behind Goff are a couple of unprovens in Sean Mannion and Brandon Allen. Be very worried for Rams players if Goff gets hurt.
What’s there to say about Todd Gurley that we don’t already know? He was a one man wrecking crew in 2017 after a subpar sophomore campaign in 2016. This was the Gurley the Rams expected when they drafted him out of Georgia. He totaled 343 touches last year, 64 of which were receptions. Gurley’s usage in the passing game is what makes him such a valuable commodity for fantasy owners. His 19 total TDs certainly help as well. We know about Gurley as a rushing threat (1,305 yards, 4.7 yards/carry, 13 TDs) but how efficient is he as a receiver?
Gurley finished 4th last year among RBs in total number of pass routes run with 368. His 2.14 yards per route run was 5th among RBs. He finished 2nd in receiving yards among RBs with 788. He also had the most receiving TDs among RBs in 2017 with 6. So, um, yeah, Gurley is pretty good.
The biggest deterrent for me with Gurley is the total number of touches (343; 914 over the last three seasons) and the fact that the last RB to finish number one in fantasy points in back to back seasons was Priest Holmes. That was over 10 years ago. I have Gurley as RB4 heading into 2018. Not because I don’t like him, it’s just because of the fears I listed above. You can still draft with confidence, just don’t expect him to replicate the same numbers. I’m thinking around 1,200 yards rushing and another 550 receiving with 14 total TDs and 45 receptions. Those are still top 5 numbers at RB.
Behind Gurley, there isn’t much to get inspired by. Malcolm Brown saw limited action to the tune of 63 rushing attempts but at only 3.9 yards per carry. He’s heading into his 4th season and as underwhelming as he’s been, it made sense why the Rams took a flier on former Tennessee Volunteer John Kelly during the 2018 draft. Kelly spent time in the same backfield as Alvin Kamara and had solid production as both a runner and receiver. At only 5’9”, Kelly is likely to be used more on passing downs — he had 37 receptions in 2017 — and as a change-of-pace from the bruising style of Gurley. I like Kelly as a late round flier and as a Dynasty stash in the event the apocalypse happens and sucks Gurley into a vortex.
Already a solid receiving corps, the Rams traded a wannabe number one receiver for an actual number one receiver. Here are two statlines and I’ll let you decide which receiver you’d rather have: Player 1 – 70 targets, 39 receptions, 593 receiving yards, 15.2 yards/catch, 8 TDs, and 39.5 yards/game. Player 2 – 114 targets, 65 receptions, 1.082 receiving yards, 16.6 yards/catch, 7 TDs, and 67.6 yards/game. And yet, Player 1 makes more money, go figure.
Brandin Cooks (Player 2 if you didn’t gather that; Player 1 is Sammy Watkins) was acquired from the Patriots for a 1st round pick this offseason. (Side note: that’s the 2nd year in a row Cooks has been traded for a 1st round pick.) Cooks is fast, gets in and out of his breaks quickly, and can straight up burn a defense. Imagine if Tom Brady had a stronger arm? Or if the Patriots had a better running game? So much less attention would be paid to Cooks to take the top off a defense. I talked a little about Cooks’ ability to go deep, so let me further explain here. Cooks tied for the league lead in receptions on throws 20 yards or more downfield (16) and finished 2nd in yards on such receptions (608). He also had zero drops. The biggest outlier is his target percentage. Cooks can run all the routes, but getting deep is something of a specialty. 33% of Cooks’ targets travelled more than 20 yards downfield. By comparison, Watkins was at 24.2%, Robert Woods at 16.3%, and Cooper Kupp at 12.2%. This is where Cooks will fit most in this offense. He’s not the best for PPR purposes – WR13 finish a year ago and he enters 2018 as my WR22 — but he’ll get his targets to make big plays. He does have three straight 1,000 yards receiving seasons after all. You can do worse than Cooks as your WR2 in Fantasy, just be prepared for a couple of frustrating outings. (Cooks had 6 different weeks where he didn’t top 10 fantasy points.) (**News! Cooks signed a 5-year extension after this post was written.**)
The Rams receiver you’re likely to count on the most is Robert Woods. Woods is more known for his blocking as a receiver, but he does okay catching passes also. In fact, he had one of the best seasons of his career last year in a season in which he played the fewest games in his career. Chew on that for a second. Woods is a more traditional possession receiver — he had only 3 drops on 80 targets. One stat that Pro Football Focus likes to use is called WR Rating — a quarterback’s passer rating when targeting a particular WR. Woods had the 6th best WR Rating according to PFF. (By comparison, Cooks’ WR rating was 14th best.) Woods was on track for a top 20 finish before a late season injury derailed his season. But therein lies the issue with Woods: he’s played a full 16 games only once in his career. If Woods can play 14 games, I think Woods can have a more productive season than Cooks in Fantasy. I look for close to 80 catches for 980 yards and 6 TDs from Woods in a fully healthy season. I have him ranked as WR28 to start the year, but I’m thinking that’s too low. Honestly, Woods represents better value on draft day than Cooks, so don’t be afraid to roll with Woods as Goff’s most trusted target.
Another Rams WR may have an argument against that last sentence. Cooper Kupp, the Rams’ rookie receiver in 2017, was actually the Rams leading receiver in 2017. As one of my top 5 rookie WRs entering the league last year, I feel a sense of pride about that. His 869 yards — WR24 finish — paced the receiving corps and he ran 58.7% of his routes from the slot. Between Kupp and Gurley, Goff has two of the best underneath weapons in the league. As much as I think Kupp is primed for a breakout, something has to give. Can the Rams really have 4 people on the team — Kupp, Cooks, Woods, and Gurley — top 60 catches? I don’t know that anyone tops 1,000 yards but I think the three WRs can exceed 60 catches, at the expense of Gurley unfortunately. (Another reason I think Gurley doesn’t repeat as Fantasy’s number one RB.) Kupp is a top 35 option and it’s not because I don’t like him, it’s just because the addition of Cooks clouds any potential breakout Kupp may have.
The Rams have a pair of young TEs that are used in a multitude of ways. Gerald Everett is the more athletic of the two but Tyler Higbee has been the more productive one to date. Higbee plays more inline — 91 times he stayed in to pass block in 2017 — while Everett is used more downfield — 176 yards on passes travelling 20 or more yards down the field. Asking one of these two to break out is assuming Gurley, Cooks, Woods, or Kupp get injured, thus opening up more opportunities for either of these two. Both Higbee and Everett should be looked at more in Dynasty formats as options who could help in the future but not this year.
Rookie to Watch
Undrafted free agent WR Steven Mitchell Jr. has injury problems, but that’s the only thing that scares me. He is undersized at 5’10’’ 189 lbs with blazing game speed and an ability to stretch the field. Mitchell Jr. is a finesse route runner and can break in and out of his cuts with angelic grace, even after two knee injuries. He’ll be a dangerous number two or three wide receiver if given the opportunity. You likely won’t hear his name in Year One but he’s going to be a nice weapon for Jared Goff. – Chris Tyler
The second year man out of Eastern Washington Cooper Kupp started only 6 games in his rookie year. It is his time to shine as Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods will hog all the coverage, leaving Kupp with the third best DB. He played well last season, managing 869 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns and is poised for a 1,000 yard season in 2018. He will play in the slot and give Goff a safety blanket with no strong TE on this roster. People know his name but they don’t know just how good he can be. He can be your FLEX option or WR3. – Joe Zollo
2018 Loose Ends
You should be looking to load up on Rams players in Fantasy this year. I mentioned earlier that they were the highest scoring offense in the NFL a year ago, topping New England by more than a full point per game. Target Rams all the way down to the kicker. (And that’s my obligatory kicker praise for the day.) Goff is a QB1, Gurley an RB1, the Rams D/ST a top 5 unit, and Zuerlein is also a top 5 option. WR is where things get tricky. Cooks, Woods, and Kupp should all be owned — just don’t overpay. Kupp and Woods provide the best value but until we see all these guys play together, we don’t know how targets will be distributed. Proceed cautiously. The only position you’re avoiding on this team in season long leagues is TE. Sorry. The Rams’ schedule isn’t something to shake a stick at either. They play the NFC North — no cakewalk with the QB options on those teams — and the AFC West. They luckily get their bye in Week 12, providing time to heal up before the fantasy playoffs. They play @ DET, @ CHI, vs PHI, and @ ARI from Weeks 13-16. Three road games doesn’t sound all that appealing. The good news? You can run on three of those four teams and they’re only facing 2 legit cover corners. Here are a few additional tidbits I discovered while researching the Rams:
- Jared Goff ranked 33rd in the NFL with a 41.4% completion percentage when facing pressure in 2017. See those matchups during the fantasy playoffs? Lots of skilled pass rushers will be in his face.
- Gurley has the 7th most receiving yards among RBs since 2015 with 1,303.
- Brandin Cooks averages 9.43 yards per target since 2015, second only to Julio Jones among WRs who have started 40 or more games during that time frame.
- Robert Woods averaged 13.92 fantasy points per contest last season, better than Brandin Cooks’ 13.56.
- Cooper Kupp came into the league as one of the most sure-handed WRs in college. He had 7 drops in 2017.
- The Rams D/ST had 28 total takeaways in 2017, 5th best in the league. They also had 48 sacks, 4th best in football. This offseason, they’ve added DT Ndamukong Suh (51.5 career sacks), CB Marcus Peters (19 INTs and 2 TDs in his career), and CB Aqib Talib (34 INTs and 10 TDs in his career). Safe to say, draft them with confidence.
|Los Angeles Rams|
|1||9/10 (Mon)||@ OAK|
|4||9/27 (Thurs)||vs MIN|
|11||11/19 (Mon)||vs KC|
|12||** BYE WEEK **|