2015 Fantasy Football Outlook: St. Louis Rams
August 19, 2015 | Chet
The St. Louis Rams closed 2014 with a 6-10 record, their eighth consecutive losing season as they’ve failed to make the postseason since 2004. In fact, since the last time the Rams made the postseason, every other team in the NFC has made the playoffs twice. It was also the 13th time in 19 full seasons as a head coach that a Jeff Fisher led team failed to post a winning record. We’ve said this before about the Rams, but with some big personnel moves, is 2015 the year that St. Louis finally turns the corner?
2015 Rams Schedule
By now you’re aware on knowing how to handle anything strength of schedule related, but there’s little to be excited about on paper for the outlook of the St. Louis offense. For a team not expected to have a high flight attack through the air already, they draw a miserable passing outlook on paper overall with a couple of potentially soft matchups peppered in. The rushing slate is hit or miss, but this is a team that projects to run the football as often as they can and play tight defense.
It’s unfortunate that the outlook could be uphill based on level of opponent because this offense is already limited in terms of weaponry. After three seasons as offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer has moved on to the college level and the Rams have promoted quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti to call plays in 2015. Cignetti has never been a coordinator at the NFL level and last called played for Rutgers in 2011 in their final season under Greg Schiano. There’s not a high bar to hurdle in place for Cignetti in his first year as this offense was a bottom half club all around in 2014.
Based on everything we know about the personnel of this team and Fisher’s coaching style, the Rams are a team that is going to set out to run the football as much they can. They made that point even more perfectly clear by selecting running back Todd Gurley with the 10th overall selection in this past draft to go with four rookie offensive lineman (they also added a fifth lineman by selecting Isaiah Battle in the supplemental draft).
Our Chad Scott covered Gurley and his Superman-esque skill set prior to the draft, so if you’re not sure what exactly the hype was all about with him, definitely hit that post. For fantasy, what we’ve all wanted to know if just when we can expect Gurley to take the field this season since he’s coming off of a torn ACL suffered in mid-November. The timetable for ACL return is around nine months on the back end, so it’s not surprising to hear that Gurley won’t be on the training camp PUP list. The bad news still is we aren’t expected to see Gurley at all during the preseason and he still very well could be held out of the first game or longer to start the season.
It’s very likely Gurley will be nursed in as he builds up full strength but still has some concerns shrouding his 2015 outlook other than getting up to a clean bill of health. Post their week six bye, the St. Louis Rams face just four run defenses that ranked in the bottom half of most fantasy points per rushing attempt, playing behind an offensive line that will be starting three new pieces on the right side of the offensive line while still being attached to one of the league’s worst passing attacks.
Looking back at 2014, eight of the top-12 scoring running backs came from teams that ranked in the top half of team fantasy points that stemmed from passing alone. Of teams in the bottom 10 (St. Louis was 25th), just three were able to produce top-20 scoring seasons. When you look at backs that frequently overcome poor fantasy passing attacks they are generally transcendent talents on their own (Charles, Foster, Lynch) and don’t thrive off of opportunity alone. Gurley very well could be the next transcendent talent as evidence by the high end draft capital put into acquiring him, but will he be that immediately in 2015 coming off injury? That’s a lot to ask for.
He also has Tre Mason to contend with, who he should have no trouble dispatching once he gets the opportunity to relegate Mason to a bench role. Mason relied on long runs to vault his overall total as he’s better served as a secondary option than a consistent chain mover.
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The other thing hurting Mason is that if Gurley pushes him into a pure back up that only spells him at points in the game is that he could have a hard time finding the field at all. That’s because Mason is built to be a change of pace back, but not one that works in passing situations. In 2014, Mason had just seven of his 195 (3.5 percent) touches on third down. That role appears to be Benny Cunningham’s, who had 19 of the 21 backfield receptions and 18 of the 27 carries on third down last season. His 19 third down receptions also led the team as a whole. As the summer moves onm Mason’s RB37 price tag could sag down to the handcuff only levels, but until that happens, Mason won’t be finding any of my rosters even if I already have Gurley since I’m not inclined to use two single digit round picks to cover one roster spot.
Gurley has the talent level to be a league winner down the stretch, but the surrounding factors other than talent are in question. Offensive situation overall is an issue because the Rams will likely have bottom third play volume and last year only ran 32.9 percent of their snaps with the lead, 22nd in the league. They lack a potent passing game, have an inexperienced offensive line, have a daunting schedule on paper and Gurley himself has the possibility of being eased into his rookie campaign. Those questions all will keep my interest in acquiring him on a light simmer only. It all depends on where his price finally lands. His current price tag is RB26, but I’ve already done drafts in which he’s gone as early as the third round and as late as the seventh. If healthy from the start I’d vault him over Latavius Murray, Carlos Hyde, C.J. Spiller and Andre Ellington, but that’s about where I’d stop. In most cases, he’ll need to hit the end of round five to peak my interest on rosters in which I’ve gone wide receiver heavy to start and want that upside that comes with the risk.
Paying the Foles Toll
We knew Nick Foles was in for some sort of regression to earth from his ultra-efficient 2013 season, but 2014 nearly brought him all the way back down to where he was in 2012. Foles was just a top-12 scorer in three of his seven complete games played and even though he threw just six fewer passes than he did in 2013, he threw 14 fewer touchdowns and eight more interceptions.
Now the really bad news for Foles is that he’s losing offensive creativity, volume and also is taking a downgrade in surrounding receiver talent in a much tougher division. Just four times in 19 seasons has a quarterback under Fisher thrown at least 550 passes in a season and just once have thrown for 25 touchdowns. Foles has been a high volume deep ball thrower over the past two seasons, offering an opportunity to hit splash plays and create a ceiling, but judging by his 2012 attempts, that also was perhaps situation or scheme induced under Chip Kelly. Here’s his passing on throws 20 or more yards downfield per Pro Football Focus.
There’s no sense in burying Foles statistically from here. You can swing on him as a QB3 in best ball formats in which you’ve really missed on two capable bodies, but even at his QB25 price tag, it’s hard to invest as there aren’t many light spots on the schedule that can prop up low volume to warrant even selecting him as a streamer in drafts.
Do We Want Any of These Wideouts?
The Rams have been a black hole for wide receiver production. The last time St. Louis had a 1,000 yard receiver was Torry Holt back in 2007 and no receiver has even reached 800 yards in a season since. That season was also the last time a Rams wide receiver caught more than five touchdowns in a season. Last season, no team targeted their wide receivers less than the Rams as that unit collected just 233 targets which made up 46.2 percent of the total targets in St. Louis.
They have some talent at the position, but also a lot of ambiguity. The good news for this unit is that despite playing all season with Austin Davis and Shaun Hill, most of them outside of Tavon Austin performed above par in terms of success rates per reception.
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Here’s where we start to see separation within the group as Austin is further cementing his status as a bust selection only after two seasons. Per Pro Football Focus, his average depth of target was just 3.8 yards, which is worse than running back level and he had just five total targets over 10 yards downfield all season long. Austin actually had more rushing attempts (36) than receptions (31) and while he was good with those rushing attempts (6.4 yards per carry), you aren’t drafting a 5’9”, 175 pound player for his rushing ability. Austin hasn’t shown the necessary physicality to play receiver in the NFL and arguably outside or on par with Chris Givens, was the worst Rams receiver by a good margin last season.
Brian Quick was their best option in the passing game but unfortunately suffered a shoulder injury that forced him to miss the final nine games of the season. Quick was potentially primed for a third-year breakout as he was a top-30 scoring receiver in four of the first six weeks of the season. He was targeted at least nine times in three of the opening four games before cooling down slightly before his injury. It may have been a precursor to a breakout, or just a small sample because before his injury he was the Rams leading receiver yet occupied just a 16.3 percent share of the team targets.
With his current WR53 cost, you’re afforded the opportunity to ignore the latter and strictly play for his ceiling. At 6’4”, 210 pounds and still entering season at age 26, it’s a ceiling worth pursuing. As C.D. Carter highlights in his Equity Scores, Quick has a near mid-WR2 ceiling that will cost you only pennies from your draft capital. Dr. Jeff Budoff alleviates many of the shoulder injury concerns here that may also be keeping Quick’s cost suppressed at discount status. For a guy that’s already shown he can give you those top-30 scoring weeks, Quick is a fantastic best ball addition but also a great redraft option a this cost and will find many of my rosters as my WR5 or later.
Believe it or not, but Kenny Britt will just be turning 27-years old when the season kicks off. He was able to play a full season for the first time since his rookie year and provided three top-20 scoring weeks and six top-36 ones on the season. Britt is a little intriguing in best ball formats because he’s been deployed heavily as a vertical asset before in his career and was used as such last year. If Foles rolls over some of his mad bombing ways from Philadelphia, Britt can run into some splash production moments. Here’s his target totals on throws 20 or more yards downfield excluding 2011 when he only played three games.
The last receiver here that people are keeping a pulse on is third year receiver Stedman Bailey. The college teammate of Austin, Bailey has always been a favorite of the metric crowd due to his stellar production and strong profile, but has been limited in St. Louis from finding the field and then doing little on it. Quick’s injury opened a door for Bailey as he played just 37 total snaps through seven weeks. From that point on, Bailey played 62.5 percent of the snaps in St. Louis. He teased us with three top-30 scoring games with back to back games in week 12 and 13 in which he totaled 12 catches for 189 yards and a score, but over those final nine weeks caught just 28 passes for 415 yards and that lone touchdown. Bailey is unlikely to start, but should secure the third receiver spot. The issue here is there just isn’t the volume to latch onto in supporting him as a fantasy option without injury.
The Rams targeted their tight ends 29.4 percent of the time, the highest percentage in the league. When you have players like Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks, you have to feed them the ball apparently. Cook is now entering this year at age 28 and it’s looking like we’ll never see a big breakout from him as he’s consistently finished in the lower TE1 to mid TE2 range over the past three seasons. He can still provide some big moments as he finished with three top-six scoring weeks, but also had a subterranean floor with nine weeks outside of the top 16 scorers at the position. With a healthy receiving unit, his target share should come down a bit and he’s never had more than five touchdowns in a season. He is best left as a streaming option on your waiver wire.