St. Louis Rams - 2014 Preseason #FF Preview
Kudos to St. Louis and the NFL. Many feared the Michael Sam story would dominate headlines for all the wrong reasons. The fact that his sexuality is a non issue is a welcome surprise. In fact, the story line coming out of St. Louis regarding Sam is primarily focused on the depth at the position, an actual football related topic. This is a positive reflection of just how far we have come. Now, for those of you TLZ lovers who just want the forced drama of some in your face homosexuality… I give you Jim Carey from the “In Living Color” days.
If Sam makes the team, he will be joining a stout defense. Last year Pyro ranked them as #7 before the season. In most standard scoring formats, that is exactly where they finished. This year should be about the same with room for improvement.
Possible good news for one Sam, bad news for the other. So, now it looks like Shuan will take the field instead of Sam. Don’t worry, names can be confusing.
So, as we turn our attention from Michael Sam, the news with Sam Bradford is not good. Last year, Bradford was looking sharp before he went down with a season ending ACL injury in week #7. During the first 6 weeks last year, Bradford was scoring 17.7 fantasy points a game and was ranked as the 7th best fantasy QB. Bradford was looking to have a bounce back year, and was a potential sleeper pick. However, during the 3rd preseason game, Bradford reinjured the same ACL in his left knee and is lost for the 2014 season. Coach Jeff Fisher described the news as, “devastating”. However, in the world of fantasy, I just don’t think the loss of Bradford will have that much of an impact as people are fearing.
The team now looks to Shaun Hill, who, granted, has not attempted an NFL pass since 2012. But, he is one of the better backups in the league. He has a career 62% average. Bradford’s career average is only 58.6%. If you look closely, the two quarterbacks are not that far apart. The last significant time Hill put in was in 2010, he played in 11 games with the Lions. That year, he was 257 for 416, totaling 2,686 yards. He threw 16 touch downs and 12 interceptions.
So, let’s compare Bradford’s best season (2013) to that of Hill’s. Hill threw a touchdown in every game except his first. Admittedly, Bradford had a better TD/INT ratio, 14/4 versus Hill’s 16/12. But Bradford only had one 300 yard plus passing game out of seven. Hill had five games of at least 285 yards and three games for over 300 yards out of 11 games played. He averaged a little over 244 yards per game. That is actually 3 yards better than Bradford’s per game average from last year.
Look, I am comparing numbers from 2010 to those from last year, it is not ideal, I get that. But, being a lifelong Lions fan, I have seen many a Shaun Hill performance (He played for the Lions from 2010 – 2013). I understand, Hill has not seen much action since the 2010 season. But, I don’t think this is a catastrophe by any means. In fact, I see it as a positive for the ground game. It could even be decent for guys like Tavon Austin and Jared Cook. Perhaps Kenny Britt, the downfield threat, may not see as many deep passes, but in the long run, Hill is surprisingly comparable to Bradford.
Let’s look at the two QBs a little closer. Bradford has never thrown for more than 21 touchdowns, and never more than 3,702 yards in one season. If you extrapolate Hill’s 2010 season, in which he only played 11 games, and applied it to a full 16 game season, Hill’s numbers are better than Bradford’s. Hill would have ended up with 23 touchdowns and 3,906 yards. That is 2 TDs better than Bradford and 204 yards better than Bradford ever did in his best season.
So, all of you St. Louis fans, if you weren’t part of the Sugar HILL gang, you are now! Let me hear you say “Ho-tel, Mo-tel, Holiday Inn!”
The Rams have been actively drafting offensive weapons the past few years. Their line should be in the top 10 for pass blocking and perhaps top 5 for run blocking. That is great news to the ground game as the Rams are going to be relying on them heavily this season, even more so now with the Bradford injury news. In the backfield, last year’s surprise was Zac Stacy, a 5th round pick in last year’s draft. Look, I am going to tell you right now, I am biased. In my fantasy league, I drafted Stacey. Well, after four weeks of bench time, I dropped him for some waiver wire pick up. To be honest, I don’t even remember who it was, I think the whole incident was so emotionally jarring, I’ve blocked most of it out. I envision the day I am sitting in the old folks home and all of this repressed memory comes rushing back to the surface. As an 80 year old man, I will stand up, clutching my cane in the community kitchenette and toss my tapioca pudding in a tirade “Damn you Stacy! Damn you to hell!”
But, for now, I will just push those feelings back down in there, take some Tylenol and move on. With the loss of Bradford, the St. Louis running game should see an increase in volume. Stacy finished last season averaging 11.24 fantasy points per game. In weeks #5 – #16, he put up 153.2 total fantasy points. That made him the 7th best fantasy RB during that time span. One thing to be cautious of with Stacy, while he did have four games where he went for over 100 yards, if you look a little closer, you will notice that in each of those games, the lowest amount of carries he had was 26. The guy needs a volume of carries to put up the numbers. He is definitely not an Andre Ellington type, who has lethal potential to strike at any time. Stacy is a plodder who relies on multiple carries to slowly put up those big games. Keep this in mind if you league awards for long TDs, if so, a guy like Stacy will move down your tiers. With the news of Bradford’s injury, Stacy could very well see such a work load in 2014. He is fantasy RB#2, that is currently going in the 3rd round as of late August. Watch his ADP, again, his value should increase, but if owners get scared with the Bradford news and his ADP falls, it could equate to some nice fantasy value. Just know this, that top 5 offensive line is going to be tested as the Rams have the 31st ranked rushing schedule.
As for the other backs on St. Louis, Isaiah Pead tore his ACL and is out for the season. While Benny Cunningham is there, rookie Tre Mason is the RB to focus on after Stacy. Cunningham may have a better yards per carry after 3 games of the preseason (5.3 for Cunningham vs. 3.0 for Mason), but Mason has seen the volume of work. In fact, Mason has carried the ball 37 times in 3 preseason games to Cunningham’s 15. It was curious however, that in the third preseason game, Cunningham got the start over Stacy. Fisher downplayed the move, just saying they wanted a chance to see what Cunningham could do with the starters. Again, now that Hill is the starter, chances are all running backs will receive more action throughout the season. Still, Mason should find his way to the backup role leaving Cunningham in 3rd on the depth chart before too long. Mason is too talented not to start getting looks sooner rather than later.
In fact, many seem to fear Mason taking time away carries from Stacy, and well they should. Pyro sees Mason in the early 50’s for RB. I like him a little better than that. He had a great career at Auburn, never once averaging below 5.7 yards per carry in three years. His last season in 2013 was outstanding. Mason played in 14 games, counting the loss to Florida State in the National Championship. Now, I have stated I fall for the young ones, but he put up some impressive stats against some tough defenses. In the Championship game alone, he averaged 5.7 yards per carry, totaled 195 yards and scored a touchdown. In 14 total games, he rushed for at least 99 yards 10 different times; this includes a 304 yard game against Missouri that also saw him score 4 touchdowns.
That was the 2nd time he scored 4 TDs in one game that year. The other time he did it against Arkansas, he totaled 168 yards. He can snap off some big runs. As the year goes on, I see Mason getting more and more playing time. I love taking a guy like this or Alfred Blue from Houston with the last pick in the draft, it will pay off.
Now, moving away from the ground game, one is liable to become mired down in receivers. In fact, one could get downright lost, which, is easy to do in St. Louis.
Undoubtedly, the Rams have a plethora of receivers. The question is: who will emerge from the talented group? Jeff Fisher just seems to draft these guys without a plan as to how to use them. Starting with a guy who was with Fisher in Tennessee, we have Kenny Britt. Here is where we might see the most impact from the Bradford loss. Hill is a decent game manager. I can see him relying on the run game, and some play action short yardage plays. But, I do not see him pushing it down the field to Britt as often as Bradford would have. To me, Britt’s numbers will be affected the most by the change at the QB position. Undoubtedly, Britt has the talent. But damn it would be nice if he dusted it off to showcase once in awhile. He has never had more than 45 receptions in a season, nor gone for more than 775 yards. In his 2nd year, he did clock in with 9 TDs, but besides that one year, his highest touchdown total is 4 in a season. Look, the guy came into the league in 2009 and is only 25 years old amazingly. The dude feels like he has been around forever, yet he has only played in 57 games. Undoubtedly the talent is there. I for one, held out hope longer than most, save Dawgmatica. Even though it is a contract year for him, he may just be another NFL casualty. Here is a kid with incredible talent, but too much baggage to ever let that shine through.
Tavon Austin entered the NFL with a great deal of hype. In fact, Pyro has him ranked highest of all the St. Louis receivers this coming year. All this kid needs is a little bit of space and a creative offensive coordinator… If there is one thing that Brian Schottenheimer has, it is space: the kind that fills his offensive playbook. This is a case of situation. Austin could be electric if he were in a situation that knew how to utilize his type of play. Unfortunately, his situation is compounded. He has Schottenheimer as the OC and Jeff Fisher as his coach. That is a recipe for sheer boredom. Let’s face it, Fisher is known more for his marketable mustache than his offensive prowess.
I will say, out of all the receivers affected by the loss of Bradford, I think it actually might be good in a way for Austin. Granted, the loss of Bradford predominately boosts the run game, but Hill is a capable QB who will not be asked to do much. If the coaching staff can come up with some quick screens, get him in motion for some short routes, Austin just might make the best of the situation. It is not like he was that dynamic with Bradford in the game. Austin only had one 100 yard plus receiving day last year and that was without Bradford. He caught just as many touchdown passes with Bradford as without. Out of all pass catchers, I see Austin and Cook being the least affected by the loss of Bradford. Tavon admitted he did not understand the play book last year. This year is a different story. They plan to use him more as a receiver and less as a return man. If you are in a league that awards for returns, Tavon should not be as involved this year as he was last year. In 2013, they only moved him to return duties because of injury and necessity. So far in the preseason, he has not returned any kick offs and has only fielded 2 punts in three games. As of the end of August, Austin is going in the 10th round in 12 team mock drafts. Look for him to fall with the Bradford news. Guys that I like more going after Ausitn include: Mike Evans, Jordan Matthews, and Kenny Stills. If Austin falls into the 11th or early 12th, the value will be there.
The other receivers to mention are Brian Quick and Chris Givens. I like Quick the best. There has been some talk about him from camp, although it seems like that is always the case with him, yet he never lives up to it. Ironically, both guys have scored a touchdown so far in the first three games of the preseason. Givens only has 2 catches while Quick is tied with Austin for 5. Again, they are going to be focused on the run game with Bradford down. I can’t see too much fantasy value trickling down this far in their receiving core. With your last two picks in the draft, I would go for complete upside guys. Whereas, you know what you are getting with Quick and Givens. They will not make any of my teams.
Jared Cook. Oh man. Pyro has loved his potential over the seasons. After week #1 last year, it finally looked like he was ready to take the leap. Fooled us again Cook, you sneaky bastard! Last year did happen to be his best thus far with 51 receptions and 671 yards and 5 TDs. But, looking back on his year, it was lackluster to say the least. He is worth drafting as a backup in 2014. I could very easily see Hill relying on the short routes and check downs to his tight end. If you need a backup tight end, and you don’t want to take a chance on the high upside guys like Kelce and Ladarius Green, Cook could be an option. I think he will put up similar numbers to those of last year. In 2013, he was the 11th ranked fantasy tight end. This year, I feel the position is deeper, thus, those same numbers might put him around fantasy tight end #14 or so.