2015 Team Outlook: St. Louis Rams
In 2014, many football fans thought the Rams were going to make a nice step forward, especially on the defensive side of the ball. In terms of yards and points allowed, their defense has been about league average over the past three years with Jeff Fisher as the head coach. They finished 16th in points allowed (354) and 17th in yards allowed (351.6 per game) last year. Fisher has gone 20-27-1 with the Rams. He has an overall record 162-147-1 with six playoff appearances in 21 years as a head coach. Gregg Williams will make the defensive calls for the second straight year. Gregg has held a similar position in the NFL in 14 different seasons.
St. Louis ranked 21st in points scored (324) and 28th in yards gained (314.7 per game). Part of the offense's failure in recent seasons was due to injuries sustained by then-starting quarterback Sam Bradford. Frank Cignetti was promoted to offensive coordinator after spending the previous three seasons as the quarterbacks coach. Cignetti has run the offense for five different college teams. The Rams haven't made the playoffs since 2004 while compiling a 49-110-1 mark. In its 77-year history, St. Louis has made the playoffs 27 times and won one Super Bowl. The glory days came from 1973 to 1989 when the Rams played in Los Angeles. During that time, they made the playoffs 14 times in 17 seasons.
St. Louis made multiple changes on the offensive line during the offseason. They cut center Scott Wells and left tackle Jake Long. Wells showed huge decline in run blocking and pass protection, and his career is almost over. Long, the 2008 No. 1 overall pick, struggled in his seven games (three sacks, four QB hits and 13 QB hurries) before suffering a torn ACL. Right tackle Joe Barksdale signed with the San Diego Chargers after having a tough time in pass protection (seven sacks, four QB hits and 40 QB hurries). He played well in run blocking over the first six games of the year, then his game seemed to fade over the final 10 weeks. St. Louis didn't re-sign Davin Joseph, who offered no upside in run or pass blocking. Guard Mike Person also left after seeing the field for only 66 plays in 2014.
Garrett Reynolds was the only player added in free agency to help on the offensive line. He'll compete for a backup job.
The Rams traded Sam Bradford to the Philadelphia Eagles for QB Nick Foles. Foles played well in 2013 in his first season with starter snaps. Backup QB Shaun Hill moved on to the Minnesota Vikings. QB Case Keenum was brought in to compete for the backup job. RB Zac Stacy was traded to the New York Jets after losing his starting job in 2014.
DT Kendall Langford left to play with the Indianapolis Colts. Last year, he was only a league-average player with no upside rushing the QB (one sack, four QB hits and 10 QB hurries). He was replaced by Nick Fairley, a 2011 first-round pick of the Detroit Lions. Nick had his 2014 season cut short by a knee injury that didn't require surgery. Fairley should add value to the run defense while offering upside in the pass rush (six sacks, 14 QB hits and 21 QB hurries in 2013). Linebacker Akeem Ayers had value at times with the New England Patriots after being traded by the Tennessee Titans early in October. He played well against the run in 2013.
The Rams were motivated to improve their offense in this year's draft. They snatched up electric RB Todd Gurley with the 10th overall pick. He came at a slight discount as he's recovering from a torn ACL. Todd will offer speed and power with some questions about his ability in pass protection and as a receiver.
After cleaning house on the offensive line, St. Louis felt it was important to add as much talent to the O-line through the draft. They selected four linemen on draft day: tackles Rob Havenstein, Jamon Brown, Andrew Donnal and guard Cody Wichmann. Havenstein is expected to move right into the starting lineup at right tackle. Rob will help the running game, but he needs to add more upper-body strength. He will be tested by speed rushers with power. Brown will offer more upside once he improves his technique and conditioning. He'll add power to the run game and has the flexibility to play multiple positions. Jamon has a solid first step with some risk in pass protection. Donnal will offer more upside as a pass blocker than in run blocking early in his career. His technique is above average, but his lack of upper-body strength hurts him in the run game. Wichmann will offer power in a quick-hitting run attack, but his lack of speed leads to some risk when he's asked to block a defender outside of his reach.
In the third round, the Rams took a flier on a possible starting QB in the future, Sean Mannion. Sean has the skills to be a solid passer, but he needs to improve his game from the snap to the throw. Mannion needs to develop more quickness while improving his ball security in the pocket. He may be a worthwhile game manager.
Wide receiver Bud Sasser was drafted in the sixth round. Bud doesn't have a defining edge other than his size (6 feet 2, 210 pounds). Sasser lacks deep speed or a good release in order to separate, and he has little open-field ability. His strong hands are his biggest asset. He could create some mismatches as a slot receiver.
With their two picks in the seventh round, St. Louis added LB Bryce Hager and DE Martin Ifedi. Hager tends to be looker as he waits for plays to develop. He has enough speed to overcome his lack of vision and anticipation, but he doesn't have the power to fight off blockers and make an impact in run defense. to make an impact at the line of scrimmage in the run if a defender gets in his way. Bryce is expected to have value in pass coverage. Ifedi has a high motor, which somewhat hides his limited upside. Martin plays with intelligence while lacking enough power and speed to win at the point of attack.
St. Louis Rams RB Todd Gurley
St. Louis finished 20th in rushing yards (1,635) and averaged 4.1 yards per carry. The Rams tallied just seven rushes of 20 yards or more and scored 11 touchdowns on the ground. The Rams allowed 47 sacks. They ranked 23rd in passing yards (3,400) with 20 TDs and 16 INTs.
Left tackle Greg Robinson struggled in his first season after the Rams selected him with the second overall pick. He allowed seven sacks, nine QB hits and 11 QB hurries with negative value in run blocking. Greg is expected to have upside as a run blocker. With better QB play and more talent at the RB position, Robinson should be much improved this year.
Left guard Rodger Saffold held his own in pass blocking (two sacks, two QB hits and 13 QB hurries) with weakness as run blocker in 2014. Rodger has shown growth in pass protection, but he is nothing more than league average in the running game.
The Rams are holding a competition at center between Barrett Jones, Tim Barnes and Demetrius Rhaney. Jones has played just 23 snaps through his two seasons due to injuries. Barnes was on the field for only nine plays in 2014. In his only experience as a starter in 2013 (four games), Barnes was a below-average player in run and in pass blocking. Rhaney didn't play a down in 2014 due to a knee injury suffered in training camp. The Rams have a clear weakness as this position.
Rookie Jamon Brown is seen as the favorite at right guard even though he played tackle in college. He should help the Rams' running game. Garrett Reynolds or Andrew Donnal could chip in here as well.
Rob Havenstein is expected to start in his rookie season at right tackle. He'll have the most value as a run blocker early in his career until he adds more strength.
It's really tough to believe this line will have high upside in 2015 with so many moving parts. The left side has the most upside with the center position having the most risk. I expect Havenstein to hold his own as least in the running game. The pass blocking will be iffy until St. Louis establishes its ground game.
The above chart shows the Rams' 2015 offensive strength of schedule in terms of rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA) and passing touchdowns (TDS).
This information is based on 2014 stats, which we will work with as our starting point for 2015. We'll look at all the changes on offense for each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades each team has made on the defensive side. We'll update this table when we finish researching all 32 teams.
2014 Average: The league average of each stat from all 32 teams in 2014.
2014 Results: The results for each specific team in the NFL.
2015 Adjustment: The difference between a team's result and the league average in a certain statistic. This number will show if a team is above or below the league average in each stat and will serve as the basis for the strength of schedule.
The Rams' ground game has three tough matchups: the Baltimore Ravens and two versus the Seattle Seahawks. They have only one game that looks like a favorable run matchup: the Cleveland Browns. In the passing game, those two games against Seattle will provide what is easily their toughest tests. St. Louis has seven games against below-average pass defenses.
Running backs caught 25 percent of the team's completions (82 catches for 670 yards and two TDs). The tight ends were also active in the passing game. They caught 26.5 percent of the action (87 catches for 958 yards and seven TDs). The wide receivers caught only 160 passes for 2,074 yards and nine scores.
QB Case Keenum, CLE - Low Potential
UPDATE (11/17): Case Keenum has been named the starter for Week 11. His Fantasy potential is extremely limited. Unless you're desperate and playing in a 2QB league, you should take a chance on another QB.
QB Nick Foles, CHI - Bye Week Fill-in
Week 13 DFS Update (12/3): Jason Weiler stated over the weekend that Foles is the worst QB on the planet. He has eight games with 200 yards passing or fewer and only one TD in his last five games. Despite his failure, he did somehow throw three TDs vs. the Cardinals in Week 4 with 171 yards passing. You can consider him the black hole at his position where no Fantasy owner should invest any time or money. Hell, it would have been quicker to delete his name off this list as I did last week.
UPDATE (11/17): The Rams have benched Nick Foles in favor of Case Keenum. The offense needs a spark because they can't put all their eggs in the Todd Gurley basket every single week. Needless to say, Foles' 2015 season has been a bust.
Nick was the key reason for the Eagles' success over the second half of the season in 2013. He went 10-2 as a starter with only two interceptions in 317 pass attempts while throwing 27 touchdowns. That stretch included a 402-yard, seven-TD game versus the Oakland Raiders. He posted his second 400-yard outing later that season against the Vikings. As attractive as his resume looks, Foles ended only one game with more than the league average in pass attempts. His success was driven by an amazing 9.1 yards-per-attempt average. Foles completed 64.0 percent of his passes for 2,891 yards. He even chipped in with 221 rushing yards and three scores on the ground. In 2014, Foles went 6-2 with three 300-yard efforts and one 400-yard game. He notched at least two TDs in five of his eight starts. A broken collarbone suffered in Week 9 cut his season short. Last year, the Rams attempted only 32.2 pass attempts per game, the 10th-fewest in the league. This year's team will be built around a solid defense and a ball-control offense. St. Louis has some talent at wideout, but it lacks an impact player. Since Foles won't throw much more than 500 times, he'll record 3,500 yards at best if he can complete 60 percent of his passes. He may put 20-25 TDs. A tough NFC West and the lack of a proven WR lower his upside.
St. Louis Rams QB Nick Foles
RB Benny Cunningham, --- - Low Potential
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Benny struggled to find room in the running game in 2014, averaging just 3.7 yards per rush over 66 carries. Of course, the offensive line didn't help much. However, Cunningham did develop into the Rams' best pass-catching RB (45 catches on 52 targets for 352 yards with one TD). Over the last 11 games of the year, Benny never had more than four carries in any of them. He recorded at least four catches in five games and should remain the top receiving option out of the backfield at the beginning of the 2015 season. But Cunningham isn't really explosive and will probably have no long-term value barring an injury to either Mason or Gurley. At best, Benny is a low-value bye-week cover for the first half of the year.
RB Todd Gurley, --- - Gamble (high risk)
Week 14 DFS Update (12/12): After his fast start from Week 5 to Week 8, when Gurley had four straight 100-yard rushing games, he has only gained 260 yards rushing in his last five games with fading value in the passing game (1 catches for 11 yards in his last three games). The Rams continue to get nothing from the QB position, while their defense has failed to live up to expectations. St. Louis fired their offensive coordinator this week so maybe Gurley will have a bounce in his step again. The Lions rank 13th in the league in RB Fantasy defense, with top five value over the last month (14.25 Fantasy points per game). Detroit allows 3.9 YPC with RBs scoring 16 rushing TDs. I expect him to be a low percentage own with a chance at an uptick game. At this price point he may need multiple TDs to deliver winning value. His high reward led me to leaving him in the RB exacta box.
Week 13 DFS Update (12/5): Gurley had his five game TD streak end last week vs. the Bengals. Over his last four games he has only gained 3.1 YPC, with fading value in the passing game in his last two games (one catch for 11 yards). Last week he had only 10 touches for 30 combined yards, while being the field for 29 of 73 RB plays due to game score. The lack of QB play allows defenses to stack the box vs. the running game. In Week 4 Gurley had 161 combined yards on 21 touches against the Cardinals. Arizona allows 4.0 YPC with eight TDs to RBs. They rank 11th in the league, with some risk defending backs in the passing game (64/598/2). Gurley is talented player with big play ability, but St. Louis is trending in the wrong direction offensively. May surprise, but his price point makes him a tough investment at this point of the year.
UPDATE (11/17): Gurley has somehow been even better than advertised. Expectations couldn't have been higher after he was selected with the tenth-overall pick and he has surpassed them already. People were saying he could be the next Adrian Peterson and while that may be premature, he has sure looked like the real thing when given enough touches. He's only played in seven games and in one game he saw only six carries as he was eased in off of a torn ACL. In the last six games, he's rushed for 700 yards and five TDs. The rookie has also racked up 132 yards on 16 receptions. It's becoming clear, barring injury, Gurley is going to be a Fantasy superstar for years to come. Fantasy owners that were willing to roll the dice on him coming off of injury are being handsomely rewarded. There is no reason to believe he'll be slowing down anytime soon.
The Rams want to play a physical style of football with a focus on defense and the running game. Gurley should be the perfect hammer in their offense with Mason adding explosiveness as a change-of-pace back. Todd exploded onto the college scene as a freshman at the University of Georgia when he rushed for 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns on 222 carries. His sophomore year was less impressive as he missed a couple of games due to injuries. Gurley finished with 989 rushing yards on 165 attempts in 10 contests. His skill set did add another dimension in 2013 when caught 37 passes for 441 yards and six receiving TDs. After a fast start through his first five games in 2014 (94 carries, 773 yards, eight TDs), Todd was suspended four games for a NCAA rules violations. When he returned to the lineup, Gurley rushed for 128 yards and a TD against Auburn before blowing out his left ACL late in the game. His knee was surgically repaired on Nov. 25, which gives him 10 months to get ready for the 2015 season. St. Louis should bring him along slowly; Mason has enough talent to handle the early-season load. Todd could develop into an impact player over the second half of 2015. He's a real tough call this season because St. Louis may not have a reason to rush him back onto the field. Right now, I think he will be the team's lead back over the second half and could touch the ball 18-20 times per game with added value at the goal line. In the early draft season, Todd has an ADP of 57 (23rd RB selected). I'd much rather own him as an RB3 if he is discounted on draft day. I'm not a fan of drafting players who are coming off of injuries, so my advice would be to wait until 2016 to own Gurley unless his price point is too good to pass up.
RB Tre Mason, --- - Fantasy Handcuff
Mason is an undersized back (5 feet 8, 207 pounds) who doesn't run with power. However, he has success running the ball inside due to his vision and quickness (4.15 20-yard shuttle at the 2014 NFL combine). Tre shows patience and very good acceleration when he sees a small hole starting to open. Once through the first line of contact, he has solid leg drive to push for more yards. His 4.50 40 speed is league average for his position. In 2013 at Auburn University, he ran for 1,816 yards and 23 TDs on 317 carries. His skill set as a receiver is an untapped commodity as he caught only 19 balls for 249 yards in his two collegiate seasons. He has low mileage on his body and questionable pass protection skills. He should be a productive player to start 2015, but he won't see full-time carries once Todd Gurley returns to action. In 2014 with the Rams, Tre had seven games with at least 15 touches. He registered two 100-yard rushing performances and peaked in Week 13 with a 164-yard, two-score outing versus the Raiders. He finished the year with 195 touches in 12 games (16 per game) and five TDs. Mason is going to be a great complement to Gurley when this offense gets rolling. Early in the year, while Gurley is still recovering, Mason should see most of the action on first and second downs with Benny Cunningham seeing most of the action in passing situations. The key to Tre's value once Gurley returns is how well he develops as a pass protector. Mason should get about 18 touches per game over the first eight weeks, with that number dropping to about 10 over the second half of the year if he can't handle the passing downs. This works out to about 225 touches, including 20 catches, for about 1,100 yards from scrimmage and 6-8 scores. Mason is a back-end RB2 who will have declining value late in the year.
St. Louis Rams RB Tre Mason
WR Tavon Austin, JAX - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Week 14 DFS Update (12/12): Austin has two catches or less in three of his last four games and has only 82 yards receiving in those games. He has eight TDs on the season. His success in the run game (35/318/3) allows him to have playable value at times. Austin has two impact games (116 combined yards with two TDs and two catches and 119 combined yards with two TDs and three catches). The Lions are about league average in WR Fantasy defense, with their last five opponents scoring fewer than 38 Fantasy points from the WR position. The Rams' offense looks DOA so he is merely a gamble.
Week 13 DFS Update (12/5): Austin continues to deliver respectable results thanks to his success in the run game. Last week he had 96 combined yards with a TD and six catches. On the year he has eight TDs (four receiving, three rushing, and one in the return game). Austin had his second best game of the year (116 combined yards with two TDs and two catches) in Week 4 against Arizona. His other impact game (119 combined yards with two TDs and three catches) also came within the division (San Fran). The Cardinals rank 10th in the NFL in WR defense, with 11 TDs to WRs. Low volume player with big play ability who is a thorn in Todd Gurley's side at the goal line.
UPDATE (11/17): The Rams have actually found creative and diverse ways to get the versatile athlete the ball this season. Austin has been up and down, however he has been far more productive than he ever has been in the past. He has caught 30 passes for 305 yards and four touchdowns. On top of that, he has chipped in with 226 yards and two TDs on 28 carries. He's also returned a punt for a TD. In just nine games he's already surpassed his season high in rushing yards, receiving yards and TDs. If he's on the waiver wire, he could be a sneaky good add and a no-brainer if you receive points for return yards.
It's hard to ignore the chemistry between Austin and Foles this year in camp. It looks like they've finally figured out a way to utilize Austin in a TY Hilton style. Look for Austin to dramatically improve in this his 3rd season. Put him on your radar in the 16th-18th round.