On a map, St Louis is in the middle of the country. In fantasy football, however, the St Louis Rams are on an island in the middle of nowhere.
The 2011 season saw quarterback Sam Bradford get banged up and stay banged up. The wide receiver corps caught only bad breaks. A rookie tight end struggled to find his place as an NFL presence. The only real statistical bright spot came in the backfield, where Steven Jackson once again proved himself as one of the more consistent running backs in the game today.
Owner E. Stanley Kroenke put the Rams through a significant spring cleaning. They enter 2012 with a new head coach, offensive coordinator, and general manager. GM Les Snead showed his strategy right away, trading back multiple times in the 2012 draft for extra picks, including two future first round picks. It’s safe to say, the “spring cleaning” will continue in St Louis.
Heading into 2012, the St Louis Rams are largely a youth brigade. Will this mean another thin year for the Rams as fantasy players, or might there be one or two hidden gems?
Let’s take a position-by-position look and find out.
Sam Bradford will be feeling the pressure in 2012. The guy won a Heisman at Oklahoma. He was the first player taken in the 2010 draft and went on to win the AP Rookie of the Year.
Now those accolades seem so far away. It is painfully apparent how rigorous the mantle of “franchise quarterback” can be on a team like the Rams. They’ve been wobbly in a weak division, but the fans hunger for the success they had just over a decade ago.
Last year one injury after another kept him limited until a high ankle sprain finally did him in for the season. It was as if there were vultures in the nosebleed section just biding their time.
While he was on the field, Bradford’s numbers were anything but impressive. In ten games Bradford threw a 53.5% completion rate with a 70.5 passer rating. His 6.1 yards per attempt were among the lowest for starting quarterbacks in the NFL, and he managed to connect for only six touchdowns.
The only thing Bradford came close to leading the league in was sacks. He was brought down an unreal 36 times in only ten games!
Now Bradford will have to prove he’s not an injury-prone quarterback. His offensive line will have to prove they can protect him. They did pick up free agent center Scott Wells, who had been a long time starter for the Green Bay Packers. Whether his veteran presence can anchor this porous line remains to be seen.
Bradford enters 2012 with a seemingly limited wide receiver crew. While there may be some pleasant surprises (see below), the Rams lack a ready-made go-to receiver. I hate to say it, Rams fans, but it looks to be a pretty tough year for the young quarterback. If Bradford stays healthy he should improve on last year’s numbers and show growth from his decent rookie season the year before, but Bradford is near the bottom of my pre-draft QB rankings.
That’s not to say he can’t be great. Once he meshes with new head coach Jeff Fisher and new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer—and once the Rams are in a place to build around him—he could be a fine fantasy pick-up.
If he doesn’t, St Louis will wish they used their second pick on some quarterback out of Baylor instead of trade bait.
Kellen Clemens will back up Bradford. Clemens has experience with Schottenheimer (they were both with the New York Jets), and has proven to be a serviceable NFL back-up. Still, if Bradford goes down, don’t expect Clemens to step in and blow you away with his numbers. Last season he had a 52.7% completion percentage and a 73.8 quarterback rating.
Tom Brandstater and undrafted free agent Austin Davis will battle for clipboard duties.
The fact that the Rams ranked only 23rd
in rushing yards in 2011 is not so much an indictment of Steven Jackson as it is on the Rams for not giving the pounding running back much help. Cadillac Williams was the number two rusher for St Louis in 2011, and he only claimed 87 attempts. While he did pound out 4.1 yards per rush, he saw the end zone only once.
Williams is a free agent this summer, but won’t be in a Rams uniform come the fall. St Louis sought help for Steven Jackson in the draft when they took Isaiah Pead out of Cincinnati in the second round. Pead is expected to make an immediate impact in his rookie season.
Jackson, meanwhile, is expected to do exactly what he has done for the past several seasons. If you think of one word when you think of Jackson, it should be “consistency”. The 6’2”, 240 lbs monster of a running back is entering his ninth season, and shows no sign of regression. His biggest statistical drop off came in 2010 when his yards per game fell from 94.4 to 77.6. He appears to be a couple seasons away from another drop off, barring injury.
In 2011 Jackson amassed 1,145 yards (ninth in the league) on 260 attempts. He was limited to only five touchdowns (even fewer than Jets’ quarterback Mark Sanchez), which has lowered his fantasy stock significantly. Yards are good. Scoring is better.
Add to that Jackson’s age. At 29 years old, he’s entering the twilight years where fantasy owners really want to steer clear of aging running backs for fear their stats will plummet off a cliff.
Jackson has already proven he has no plummet.
I fully expect Jackson to have similar numbers to last season. He’s exceptionally healthy for a back with his experience, and sharing attempts with Pead will keep his legs fresh.
As for numbers, Jackson hasn’t been a big touchdown guy since he claimed 13 in 2006. If the Rams find success under Schottenheimer’s offense, Jackson will acquire more red zone touches than he did last season. Jackson will defy his age, maintain his yards per game average, and top his 2011 touchdown total. Jackson should be near the top of your list for #2 running backs.
Isaiah Pead—a 5’10”, 192 lbs speed back—will complement Jackson’s running style and see significant snaps in his first season. With great lateral movement and blazing open field speed, Pead is one young running back you’ll want to keep an eye on for future keeper league drafts.
Behind Pead, the depth chart drops quite a bit with Chase Reynolds and rookie Daryl Richardson out of Abilene Christian University. The workload will be heavy at the top, which seems to be just how Jackson likes it.
The wide receiver depth chart in St Louis is like an optical illusion; no matter which order you have their receivers in, you might just be right. The only sure receiver from 2011—Brandon Lloyd—has relocated to New England, leaving virtually every slot up for grabs.
Brandon Gibson sits at the top of many projected depth charts for the Rams, but there are also indications he may not even be retained heading into the regular season. He is the highest paid among Rams receivers, but lacks production to prove he deserves the amount on his paycheck. With a new regime calling the shots, Gibson might be let go to make space.
Even if Gibson does wear a Rams helmet this fall, his past numbers are enough for me to avoid him in my fantasy draft. In fifteen games in 2011, Gibson caught 36 receptions for 431 yards but only one touchdown. There is no reason to expect his numbers to spike in 2012.
Danny Amendola, on the other hand, may be the best/worst kept secret out of the St Louis receivers. His 2010 numbers (85 receptions, 689 yards, three touchdowns) left fantasy owners salivating for him to evolve into a poor man’s Wes Welker. Both are small receivers (Amendola stands at 5’10”) with quick feet from Texas Tech.
Amendola was primed to be a smart #3 receiver pick heading into 2011, when a dislocated elbow interrupted his season. The Rams tried to rush him back onto the practice field, resulting in a re-injury that cost him the season. If that tells me anything, it is that the Rams need his presence on the field desperately.
At the very least Amendola will be a smart pick again in 2012 as your #3 wide receiver. If Bradford builds off their connectivity from 2010, expect to be the envy of your fantasy opponents.
Brian Quick is a rookie (2nd
pick) out of Appalachian State with the size to be a primary receiver in the NFL. At 6’4”, Sam Bradford should have no trouble finding him on his routes. Quick’s inexperience in the game was cited as a concern during the NFL Combine, but putting in the full four years at the college level leads me to believe his learning curve may be quicker in the NFL than people think.
It would be wise to keep an eye on Quick through the first few games. With the Rams depth chart in limbo, Quick will have the perfect opportunity to step up as a long term solution.
Steve Smith enters his first season with the Rams after being the forgotten man on the “Dream Team” Eagles of 2011. He’s far removed from his breakout 2009 season, where he racked up 107 catches, 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns. The Rams may still find some usage out of him in some capacity, but you won’t on your fantasy roster.
Chris Givens is another rookie receiver that should find significant playing time in 2012, but the question is how much. Givens put up impressive numbers while at Wake Forest (how about 16 yards per catch in 2011?), but you’ll want to keep an eye on where the Rams place him heading into the season before you make any move.
Greg Salas, Danario Alexander, and Austin Pettis are all receivers also trying to find a spot in this weak Rams receiving rotation. Each saw action last season due to injuries, but nobody made enough of an impact to turn heads.
The silver lining for fantasy owners looking at the Rams’ receivers is that there may be some gems no other owner in your league saw coming. My eyes are on Amendola and Quick. Hopefully Bradford’s are, too.
Nine tight ends will enter camp with the Rams. Only four are expected to remain with the Rams going into the regular season.
Michael Hoomanawanui enters his third year and should keep his spot as primarily a blocking tight end. Newcomers Matthew Mulligan from the Jets and Brady Elridge from the Colts appear to have the best chance of rounding out the tight ends.
But the only name you’ll need to remember for fantasy from this tight end squad is Lance Kendricks. Kendricks is entering his second season out of Wisconsin, and is expected to demonstrate growth from his lackluster debut season a year ago.
Last season Kendricks claimed only 28 receptions for 352 yards and never found the end zone, but there is reason to believe his sophomore NFL season will show improvement. He’ll likely have more use under new OC Brian Schottenheimer, who never shied away from using tight ends with the Jets.
With primary receiver targets still trying to sort themselves out, Kendricks will need to be a reliable outlet for Bradford and could help complement the running game.
The downside when considering Kendricks is that he hasn’t proven anything yet, and he doesn’t quite have the size of the elite tight end targets in the NFL; Kendricks is only 6’3”. While I don’t have him rated as a #2 tight end just yet, the first few games of the season will indicate whether he can grow into that role or not.
Easily the top fantasy prospect from this squad is Steven Jackson. His consistent numbers make him a safe pick as a #2 running back in a balanced fantasy line-up. His age will likely be a caution flag for other managers in your draft party (especially with the steep increase in young, productive backs the past couple seasons), but I’m not counting Jackson out. If you think he’s only a pounding runner, think again. While he’s no Marshall Faulk, Jackson did snag 42 receptions (15th
among NFL backs) for 333 yards. With a healthy Sam Bradford and an unsteady receiving corps, those numbers may go up as well.
I’m going to pass over the wide receivers and take tight end Lance Kendricks. Kendricks won’t be battling any other tight ends for targets and is expected to step up offensive responsibilities. As a rookie, Kendricks had no real “break out” game. Either he is lurking in wait heading into his second season, or it’s not going to happen at all. While I’m not yet confident enough to draft him, it will be “stock up” time for Kendricks if he can rack up consistent fantasy points in the first couple weeks.
By default I have to go with Isaiah Pead. He ran a 4.41 forty at the combine, and his game speed is even more impressive. Should Jackson go down, Pead will have practically no competition for rushes from back-ups Daryl Richardson and Chase Reynolds. It would certainly be trial by fire, but Pead should feel at home being the go-to back. He has good hands, as well, which will translate nicely at the next level.
Rookie to Watch—
Wide receiver Brian Quick may have the biggest immediate impact out of all the rookies. I’d love to see him grow as an adequate complement of a receiver to Danny Amendola. If Quick builds an early rapport with Bradford, the sun may start shining inside of Edward Jones Dome. Quick accounted for 71 receptions, 1,096 yards, and 11 touchdowns with Appalachian State as a senior last season. While Appalachian State is no NFL team (not even an NFC West team), his skills hint at the big things Quick may be capable of in the near future.