2022 Los Angeles Rams Team Outlook
With high-stakes fantasy football legend Shawn Childs anchoring Sports Illustrated's fantasy coverage, we decided to give our take on Shawn's Team Outlooks. While we won't always agree, Shawn's pedigree speaks for itself. Shawn has been a high-stakes Fantasy Football legend since 2004 when he had success in his first season (three titles and $25,000 in winnings). Childs has competed and won six-figures in all different formats – auctions, draft championships, main events, and high-dollar leagues. We dare you to find an expert who knows the NFL player pool better than Shawn Childs -- it can't be done!
The Los Angeles Rams have been a top team in the NFL since Sean McVay arrived in 2017. After an offseason switch from Jared Goff to Matthew Stafford at quarterback, the Rams reached the Holy Grail in football by winning the 2021 Super Bowl. The success was driven by an all-time season by WR Cooper Kupp (145/1,947/16), setting the stage for follow-through in 2022. Los Angeles flipped WR Odell Beckham for WR Allen Robinson on their depth chart in the offseason, but there is still a chance Beckham returns to the team. Cam Akers missed more of the regular season with an Achilles injury, leaving a void at running back for the Rams. He has an excellent opportunity to be a stud lead back, but is Akers an elite talent? His play last season invites some trepidation about his ability to be a workhorse runner. DE Aaron Donald remains a beast attacking the quarterback and defending the run.
Looking back on 2021, the Rams' offense only did one thing well. They got the ball to Cooper Kupp. He accounted for almost 40% of their passing yards and 46.3% of their passing touchdowns. They rank the ball 40.9% of the time. Their offense gained 500 fewer yards than the Dallas Cowboys (7,082).
The Rams pretty much ditched the passing game for running backs over the past three seasons. They had a three-year high in targets (76) and touchdowns (4) while ranking last in the league in catches (53) and receiving yards (314). The injury to Cam Akers contributed to a step back in rushing yards (1,641) and rushing scores (10).
The Rams' wideouts led the NFL in catches (286), receiving yards (3,964), and touchdowns (31) while gaining 81% of the team's receiving yards. The most impressive stat was their 13.9 yards per catch, considering the high number of chances. Los Angeles wants to make defenses defend the whole field, which is a huge plus for their wide receivers.
The change at quarterback for the Rams ended with Los Angeles throwing fewer balls to their tight ends. As a result, they set three-year lows in catches (67), receiving yards (615), yards per catch (9.2), and targets (95).
In his first five seasons as the Rams head coach, Sean McVay has a 55-26 record, helping St. Louis to four postseason appearances with a Super Bowl victory in 2021. Over his previous three years, he worked as the offensive coordinator for the Redskins. McVay has 12 seasons of experience in the NFL at age 36.
Liam Coen makes the jump from college offensive coordinator (Kentucky) to the Rams. Before last year, he worked under Sean McVay as their assistant wide receivers and quarterbacks coach for three seasons.
Los Angeles improved to ninth in offensive yards and seventh in scoring (460 points). The change at quarterback led to the Rams finishing with 88 more points than in 2020 (372).
The defense remains in the hands of Raheem Morris, who worked in the Falcons' system for six seasons with various jobs. His NFL coaching career started in 2002 as their defensive back coach, leading to the Bucs' head coaching job for three seasons (17-31). Morris had his first defensive coordinator job in Atlanta in 2020 while finishing the season with the interim coaching position (4-7).
The Rams had the league's top defense in 2020, but they slipped to 15th in points allowed (372) last year while finishing 17th in yards allowed.
Los Angeles lost four top players (LB Von Miller, CB Darious Williams, G Austin Corbett, and DT Sebastian Joseph) to free agency. They signed for a combined $200 million. In addition, P Johnny Hekker moved onto the Panthers. Rams added LB Bobby Wagner and WR Allen Robinson.
In this year's draft, the Rams didn't have a selection in the first two rounds. They focused on their defense with five (CB Decobie Durant – 4.37, S Quentin Lake – 6.33, CB Derion Kendrick – 6.34, and S Russ Yeast – 7.32). Los Angeles picked up a pair of offensive linemen – G Logan Bruss (3.40) and T A.J. Arcuri (7.40) plus RB Kyren Williams in the fifth round.
The Rams fell to 25th in rushing yards (1,683) with 10 touchdowns and three runs over 20 yards. Their rushers gained only 4.0 yards per carry while averaging 24.7 attempts per game.
Los Angeles ranked 5th in passing yards (4,893) with 41 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. They gained 8.1 yards per pass attempt with 65 completions over 20 yards. Their offensive line gave up 31 sacks.
Their offensive line will no longer have the services of LT Andrew Whitworth, who retired in the offseason. His pass blocking has been an asset for the Rams and Bengals for over a decade. Joe Noteboom has a lot to prove as his potential replacement while never earning a full-time starting job in his four years in the NFL. Los Angeles signed him to a three-year $40 million deal in March, showing that they believe in his upside. Rob Havenstein remains a foundation player at right tackle with a higher ceiling in run blocking. Brian Allen finished as a neutral option at center in 2021 after his first season with starting snaps. His pass blocking. Both guard position looks to be in flux entering 2022. David Edwards should earn a starting job after finishing with league-average stats in run and pass blocking.
The passing window for the Rams looks to be diminished entering this season, pointing to fewer impact plays by Matthew Stafford. Their offensive line looks league average at best while needing to improve in run blocking.
The Rams dripped to 6th in rushing yards allowed (1,754) with 18 touchdowns and four runs over 20 yards. Rushers gained 4.0 yards per carry with 26.1 attempts per game.
Los Angeles plummeted to 22nd pass defense (4,109 yards) with 17 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. Quarterbacks gained 7.2 yards per pass attempt. The Rams had the third-most sacks (50).
The bulk of the Rams' pass rush came from DE Aaron Donald (12.5) and LB Leonard Floyd (9.5). DE A'Shawn Robinson helps vs. the run with minimal value in the pass rush. DT Greg Gaines put more pressure on the quarterback last season while missing too many tackles. He did a better job clogging up the center of their defensive line.
The second level of their defense has the structure to offer more upside, attacking the quarterback and defending the run. LB Bobby Wagner brings a veteran presence with a long history of being a high-volume tackler.
CB Jalen Ramsey should no longer be considered a top player in coverage. He does his job on many downs, but quarterbacks no longer fear him, leading to some touchdowns allowed and many yards allowed. The Rams have two talented safeties who both help to defend the run. However, the second cornerback position does have some downside risk even with Los Angeles adding back CB Troy Hill via a trade in the offseason.
The Rams' defense gets plenty of respect in fantasy drafts (ranked 6th), but they can be hot and cold. Their success vs. the pass relies heavily on closing the passing window. When they don't, offenses will have plenty of chances to beat them via the air. Based on their sacks and turnovers created, Los Angeles will finish the year as a top 10 defense in 2022.
QB Matthew Stafford, LAR - Solid/Safe Pick
Over the five previous seasons before landing in Los Angeles, Stafford had a league-average feel at quarterback. He tossed 119 touchdowns and 46 interceptions over 72 games while averaging 265.7 passing yards.
Stafford matched his career-high in touchdowns (41) last year with success in his completion rate (67.2). The Rams gave him the receiver talent to challenge defenses deep in the passing game, leading to a league-high 18 completions over 40 yards. He finished with over 300 yards passing in nine of his 20 matchups (including playoffs) and nine games with three scores or more in the regular season. Stafford offers no fantasy help in the run game (32/43).
Fantasy outlook: The Rams have one of the best wide receivers (Cooper Kupp) in the game, and their secondary receiving options blend well for Stafford when asked to move the ball. I expect WR Allen Robinson to shine in this offense, creating another productive year in yards and touchdowns for Stafford. He finished last year fifth in quarterback scoring (399.10) in four-point passing touchdowns formats. In the early draft season in the National Fantasy Football Championship, he ranks eighth at quarterback. The Rams will throw the ball over 600 times, giving him a chance at 5,000 yards with a floor of two scores a game. Ultimately, his most significant risk comes from better success running the ball, especially in close.
Other Options: John Wolford, Bryce Perkins
RB Cam Akers, LAR - Gamble (high risk)
Over the first 11 weeks in 2020, Akers offered emptiness in the fantasy market leading to 228 combined yards with one touchdown and three catches on 53 touches while missing two games with a rib injury. However, he flashed in Week 12 (9/84/1), creating a starting job down the stretch.
From Week 13 through the second round of the playoffs, over six games, the Rams gave Akers 23.8 touches per start. He gained 708 combined yards with three scores and 11 catches, highlighted by two matchups (194 combined yards with two catches and 176 combined yards with one touchdown and two catches). He missed Week 16 with an ankle issue.
Unfortunately, an Achilles injury before the season led to only eight touches in Week 18 for 13 yards with three catches. The Rams tried to get Akers going in the postseason, but he struggled in the run game (54/151/0 – 2.8 yards per carry) while picking up five catches for 62 yards. He also battled a shoulder issue in the playoffs.
Over three seasons in college, Akers gained 3,360 combined yards with 34 touchdowns and 69 catches on 655 touches. His highlight season came in 2019 (1,369 combined yards with 18 scores and 30 catches).
Akers graded well in speed (4.47 40-yard dash), and the bench press (20 reps of 225 lbs.) in the 2020 NFL combine. However, his short-area quickness isn't ideal. His free-flowing style works well in space while showing the vision to add yards at the second level of the defense if given open field to make plays. Akers will make some big plays with a feel for scoring in close.
Fantasy outlook: Despite an empty resume in 2021, Akers ranks 15th at running back in the early draft season in the NFFC with an ADP of 29. The Rams remain reluctant to feature their backs in the passing game, creating a lower ceiling for Akers. In addition, Darrell Henderson isn't going away without an injury. Based on last year, there are only about 440 chances for the Rams' running backs. I set his bar at 225 carries and 30 catches, putting Akers on a path for 1,150 combined yards with double-digit scores while also understanding he plays in an offense that could create many more chances.
RB Darrell Henderson, JAX - Sleeper (undervalued)
The injury to Cam Akers handed Henderson the keys to the starting job in Week 1. He played well over eight games (110/507/5 with 16 catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns) while missing Week 3 with a rib issue. After three dull showings (172 combined yards with one score and 11 catches on 43 touches), his season was all but over due to thigh and knee injury plus a battle with Covid-19.
Over the previous two seasons, Henderson gained 1,647 combined yards with 14 touchdowns and 45 catches on 332 touches.
Henderson turned in an impressive season in 2018 (2,204 combined yards with 25 touchdowns and 19 catches) for Memphis despite only receiving 233 touches. He gained 8.9 yards per rush and 15.5 yards per catch, supported by his success in 2017 (8.9 and 9.4). In his college career, Henderson caught 63 passes for 758 yards and eight scores.
He runs with power and home run ability while consistently breaking arm tackles. His vision graded well while offering subtle movements to create big yardage on what looks like small windows at the point of attack.
Fantasy outlook: The Rams will get Henderson on the field for a minimum of one-third of their plays. His floor should be 150 touches with 750 yards, five scores, and 25 catches. In the NFFC, his ADP (132) creates an easy buying opportunity in many drafts for some looking to add him as a handcuff to Cam Akers, something I view as a must.
Other Options: Kyren Williams, Jake Funk, Xavier Jones
WR Van Jefferson, LAR - Bye Week Fill-in
Over the first month of last season, Jefferson offered flash value in two games (2/80/1 and 6/90/1). By the end of Week 10, he had 30 catches for 487 yards and three touchdowns on 53 targets. Jefferson scored in his next three matchups (3/93/1, 6/41/1, and 2/58/1), but his role faded over his final seven games (14/202/0 25 targets).
Coming into the NFL, Jefferson got high marks for his route running and understanding of how to create space out of his breaks. He does not have the speed or explosiveness to be trusted as a consistent deep outside threat. His best value will come working over the short areas of the field, but I don't see the quickness of a Julian Edelman-type receiver out of the slot. Jefferson will make plays in tight coverage, but his lack of top-end speed does allow a defender to sit on some of his moves.
Jefferson failed to deliver an impact season in his four years at Florida and Mississippi (175/2159/16). He caught 49 passes in 2016 and 2019, with the best value in yards (657) coming in his senior year. Over his final 12 games, Jefferson caught 12 touchdowns.
Fantasy outlook: Surprisingly, Jefferson played better than expected in the deep passing. He finished 36th in wide receiver scoring (168.20) in PPR formats while being challenging to time. His ADP (163) in the NFFC ranks him as the 63rd wide receiver off the board. His next step in growth will result in more catches, but regression should be expected in his yards per catch. Jefferson fits better on a team as a WR5 with a chance at 65 catches for 800 yards and five scores.
WR Tutu Atwell, LAR - Not Draft Worthy
In 2019 and 2020, over 22 games, Atwell caught 115 of his 177 targets for 1,897 yards and 19 touchdowns at Louisville. The Rams want him to stretch the field while also featuring him on some quick-hitting plays close to the line of scrimmage.
He brings speed to burn with an explosive feel after the catch. Atwell checks in at 5'9" and 165 lbs., inviting questions about his durability and ability to win contested balls in tight quarters. He will test a defense deep while adding explosive daylight plays close to the line of scrimmage.
Atwell didn't have a catch in his rookie season while being on the field for only 10 plays.
WR Ben Skowronek, LAR - Low Potential
Skowronek offers size (6'3" and 220 lbs.) and route running, but his release, quickness, and overall speed rank below the top players in the NFL. He handles himself well in the blocking game, and his hands grade well. The Rams' vision with Skowronek could help push the run game forward while bringing sneaky pass-catching value late in games when playing from the lead.
Over his five seasons at Notre Dame, he caught 139 passes for 1,856 yards and 14 touchdowns on 238 targets.
The Rams gave him 20 targets in his rookie season, leading to 11 catches for 133 yards.