2020 Fantasy Preview: Los Angeles Rams

Erik Smith continues the 2020 team preview series with a fantasy-focused look at the Los Angeles Rams.

Los Angeles Rams

 

Coming off of a Super Bowl appearance and loss in 2018, the Los Angeles Rams suffered the dreaded Super Bowl hangover in 2019, finishing 9-7 and missing the playoffs as the third-place team in the stacked NFC West. After an offseason full of concern about running back Todd Gurley II‘s knee, Gurley played in 15 games and looked relatively healthy in 2019, though he saw his yards per carry drop by over a yard and his receptions cut in half from the previous season. The Rams must have seen something in Gurley’s performance, as he was released this offseason despite a major cap hit. The Rams also parted ways with wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who they traded to the Houston Texans in a draft pick swap. The Rams quickly replaced both Gurley and Cooks during the NFL Draft with the addition of second-round running back Cam Akers and second-round wide receiver Van Jefferson.

The Rams had begun to transition away from their patented three-wide sets to more two tight end sets down the stretch of 2019, which coupled with an injury to Gerald Everett allowed Tyler Higbee of all people to break out and win some fantasy leagues. The big question for fantasy managers heading into 2020 is whether the Rams will stick with the two tight end formations that brought them success last year, or if they will go back to the three wide receiver formation from years past.

 

Quarterback

 

Jared Goff

ADP: 150.9, QB20

Playing in all 16 games in 2019, Jared Goff compiled the 13th most fantasy points at the quarterback position, a bit of a deceptive finish. On a points per game basis, Goff finished 21st among all quarterbacks with at least 8 starts, a more representative ranking of his up and down season. Goff had 30 or more attempts in all but three games, seven weeks with more than 40 attempts, and topped 50 attempts twice, including an outlandish 68 attempts in Week 4 against Tampa Bay. But he often disappointed from a scoring perspective even during his volume weeks, as he scored just 20.7 fantasy points during his 68 attempt game.

Goff is due for positive touchdown regression, as he should have scored 24 to 36 more points last year based off of his passing volume. Those additional points would have bumped Goff back up to the QB12 range on a points per game basis, so there is certainly reason to buy in on Goff at his current ADP. However, advanced statistics don’t love Goff’s 2019 season, as he ranked 22nd with a 32.3% Pressured Completion Percentage and 22nd with an 84.8 True Passer Rating, both per FantasyData. Goff lacks the true upside that mobile quarterbacks possess, so he should be viewed as a streaming option or QB2 in superflex leagues for the most part. But if you do end up needing to start him in single quarterback leagues, there are reasons to think that he can put up better numbers if given similar volume in the passing game.

 

Best-Case Scenario

Head coach Sean McVay regains his magic, the offensive line plays closer to league average, and Goff is the beneficiary. His high volume coupled with more touchdowns leads to a solid mid-range QB1 season. He doesn’t have the rushing ability to challenge the top of the quarterback class outside of a fluky high touchdown year, but Goff settles in near the top of the next group and is a weekly fantasy starter.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

The running game never gets back to the days of old, the offensive line continues to be exposed, and Goff struggles under pressure for the second-straight year. Goff’s contract looks more and more like an albatross that McVay can’t fix, and the franchise’s short term future is in serious doubt. Goff falls behind the young quarterback class of Daniel Jones, Joe Burrow, and even Gardner Minshew II for fantasy purposes, and is no more than a streamer in expected shootouts in matchups against poor pass rushes.

 

2020 Projection: 362 completions, 575 attempts, 4,658 yards passing, 27 touchdowns, 15 interceptions; 25 rushing attempts, 35 yards, 1 touchdown

 

Running Back

 

Cam Akers

ADP: 60.5, RB30

Cam Akers earned the respect of Seminole fans during his college career, running hard behind bad offensive lines at Florida State, and showed some versatility while catching 69 passes across 36 games. At 5’10” and 217 pounds, Akers has the size to hold up to a heavy workload, and profiles as a potential three-down running back. He flashed at the combine and separated himself from the pack at his position, running a 4.47 40-yard dash and displaying quick feet.

As the 52nd player selected in the draft, the Rams are showing a commitment to Akers that instantly launches him into fantasy-relevance. Darrell Henderson was a third-round pick last year, and on a Rams offense that was struggling to find a spark for much of the year, Henderson’s 39 attempts and lack of passing game involvement should be a major red flag. Malcolm Brown is a career backup and shouldn’t be a concern for Akers, who the Rams just used a premium pick on for a reason. While this Rams’ offense isn’t what it once was, Gurley racked up over 1,000 yards and 14 total touchdowns last year while battling an arthritic knee, and with Gurley in Atlanta now, Akers has a chance to be a starting fantasy running back. How quickly Akers can take over the backfield, how involved he is in the passing game, and how many of Gurley’s vacated red zone work he receives will all ultimately determine Akers’ ceiling.

 

Best-Case Scenario

It turns out that the Rams stopped throwing to their running backs last year primarily due to Gurley’s knee issues. McVay jumps at the chance to get Akers involved in the passing game, and it quickly becomes clear that Akers is one of the league’s true three-down running backs. While it isn’t quite the glory days of the Rams offense when Gurley was winning fantasy leagues, Akers pays off handsomely on his fifth-round ADP. Akers finishes as an RB1, with Henderson and Brown simply spelling Akers when needed. In a year where the Rams are desperate to return to the playoffs, they ride Akers from start to finish in order to lessen the burden on Goff.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

Henderson turns out to provide more competition than we thought as he battles Akers for playing time. Henderson is the starter Week 1 due to his veteran status and excels with the opportunity, grabbing the better end of a 60/40 split. Akers is caught in the lesser side of the timeshare and even loses red zone work to Brown. Akers flashes from time to time but never gets quite enough consistent work and puts up a Ronald Jones-like season, settling in as an RB3/Flex that you never feel especially confident about starting.

 

2020 Projection: 220 rushing attempts, 924 rushing yards, 8 touchdowns; 42 targets, 30 receptions, 258 yards, 2 touchdowns

 

Darrell Henderson Jr.

ADP: 111.1, RB47

Darrell Henderson Jr.‘s 2019 season was a disaster from a fantasy perspective. With Gurley entering the season with knee issues, fantasy drafters couldn’t help themselves when it came to the third-round rookie from Memphis. Henderson flashed explosive ability on a consistent basis in college while sharing a backfield with Tony Pollard, and the fantasy community envisioned a split backfield with Henderson providing the lightning to Gurley’s thunder. Henderson wound up going in the eighth-round of many fantasy drafts, and his ensuing line of 39 rushes for 147 yards along with four receptions on six targets for the season was an absolute worst-case scenario. The rationale made sense though, even in retrospect. While Gurley was somewhat surprisingly on the field for a majority of the season, his performance left much to be desired. In an offense in need of a spark, Gurley rushed for 3.8 yards per carry and disappeared in the passing game. But Gurley still scored 14 total touchdowns, a testament to the value of the Rams’ running back role.

With Gurley now in Atlanta, the backfield opens up for Henderson. Now, however, Henderson has to battle with a second-round rookie in Akers, as well as the veteran Brown. With such an awful rookie season in 2019, there are legitimate questions about Henderson’s fit with the team and future in the league, especially after Los Angeles spent such a high pick on the position to bring in Akers. But at his tenth-round cost, Henderson looks like an appealing dart throw for those that missed out on running backs early. This is a backfield that we want a piece of, as evidenced by Gurley’s 14 touchdowns last season, and there are plenty of opportunities in this COVID-19 offseason for Akers’ development to be stunted at first. Henderson should have an opportunity to contribute, and if he can make some noise early, fantasy drafters could end up with a nice value in the later rounds of drafts.

 

Best-Case Scenario

Akers struggles to learn the offense, and maybe even comes down with some nagging soft tissue injuries while adapting to the NFL in this weird offseason. Henderson takes the opening and runs with it, and by the time Akers is fully incorporated into the offense, Henderson has cemented his role. Henderson sees 40-50% of the snaps on a typical week with some spiked weeks and is a surprisingly consistent RB2. Henderson steals some touchdowns, catches some passes, and revives his NFL career.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

There’s a reason that Henderson only received 43 touches during his rookie year — he’s a bad fit in this offense. Akers dominates the workload and even Brown sees the field more consistently than Henderson. Henderson looks like a failed draft pick that may be looking for a new team sooner rather than later.

 

2020 Projection: 120 rushing attempts, 491 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns; 29 targets, 20 receptions, 150 receiving yards, 1 touchdown

 

Malcolm Brown

ADP: 221, RB77

Malcolm Brown looks like an appealing late-round dart throw at the running back position at first glance. With his primary competition being a rookie running back in the weirdest offseason on record and a disappointing second-year back in Henderson, Brown appears to have a path to production. But the upside just isn’t there to be worth drafting in all but the deepest leagues. The former undrafted free agent has played five years in the league, and while Brown seems to be loved by coaches, his usage has been non-existent. Brown’s career-high rushing yardage in a season is 255 yards and his best season through the air saw him catch nine passes. Sure, he scored five touchdowns last year, and he has been trapped behind the superior athlete in Gurley. But Brown still finds himself battling a second and third-round pick for playing time, and likely doesn’t have much of a use for fantasy purposes outside of the occasional vultured touchdowns.

 

Best-Case Scenario

2020 proves to be a crazy year with COVID-19 IR stints and injuries resulting from the shortened preseason. Brown finds himself on the field a lot more than expected with Akers and Henderson missing time at various points. Brown locks in the red zone role all year and has a few weeks where he is startable when the other running backs sit out.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

Akers joins the offense at full speed and takes over, Henderson shakes off his disappointing rookie season and is a nice compliment, and Brown settles in as the veteran presence. His only role is to occasionally steal a touchdown from his fantasy-relevant teammates.

 

2020 Projection: 61 rushing attempts, 220 rushing yards, 4 rushing touchdowns; 11 targets, 11 receptions, 45 receiving yards

 

Wide Receiver

 

Robert Woods

ADP: 42.8, WR17

Robert Woods is likely the safest Rams wide receiver to draft for fantasy purposes, and if he can ever find a way to score more touchdowns he could be a breakout value. With 130+ targets and 1,100+ yards receiving over the past two seasons, Woods has been an under the radar fantasy contributor. Woods is relatively immune to McVay’s decision to go with more two tight end sets, as Woods rarely comes off the field as the primary outside option while Kupp works better in the slot with three receivers on the field. In fact, Woods saw 100% of the team’s offensive snaps on four different occasions last year, and Woods saw nine or more targets in each of his last seven games played in 2019 as the team transitioned their scheme.

The fact that Woods only scored two touchdowns last year on 139 targets (he did add a third touchdown on one of his 17 rushing attempts) is relatively astounding, and will no doubt positively regress in 2020. Woods scored seven total touchdowns in 2018, and while Kupp does have the more consistent red zone role, Woods could even surpass that number if things break right. Woods is a rock-solid WR2, and I wouldn’t feel too bad about grabbing him as my WR1 in drafts where I draft running backs early.

 

Best-Case Scenario

Woods continues his excellent production and is immune to whatever shifts in offensive philosophy that the Rams go through. With Gurley out of the picture and Kupp on the field less, suddenly there is a bigger piece of the pie available in the red zone. Woods approaches double-digit touchdowns and has his breakout fantasy season, providing consistent mid-range WR1 numbers at the price of a WR2.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

Woods has an incredibly high floor barring injury. His worst-case scenario would involve the offense regressing as Goff struggles more and more, and the absence of Gurley puts too much pressure on the offensive line. Even in this scenario, it is hard to see Woods lacking in volume, but a worse overall offense could reduce his yardage closer to 1,000 and prevent any improvement in the touchdown department.

 

2020 Projection: 135 targets, 85 receptions, 1,160 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns; 18 rushing attempts, 121 rushing yards 1 touchdown

 

Cooper Kupp

ADP: 40.7, WR15

Cooper Kupp is a polarizing player ahead of 2020 drafts. The slot specialist has amassed an extremely impressive resume in his early career, totaling 196 receptions, 2,596 receiving yards, and 21 touchdowns over his first three seasons in the NFL. These numbers are even more impressive after considering that Kupp suffered an ACL injury in the middle of this three-year stretch and returned to near full force last year. Kupp’s red zone role has been especially impressive, ranking ninth in the league in red zone targets during his rookie 2017 season and ranking fifth in the league in targets inside the ten last year. With 21 touchdowns scored in his first 39 games, Kupp’s red zone role sure seems to be a product of the offense and his connection with Goff that is unlikely to go away any time soon.

The primary concern around drafting Kupp in the fourth round of fantasy drafts is the Rams’ transition away from 11 personnel to more 12 personnel down the stretch of 2019. This meant fewer snaps in the slot for Kupp where he is most dangerous, and fewer snaps in general as his snape rate dipped into the 60% and 70% range several times down the stretch. While Kupp finished the year with a touchdown in five straight games, his volume was down from his red-hot start, and he didn’t reach 70 receiving yards from Weeks 10-16. There’s a chance Kupp faded down the stretch in his first year back from ACL surgery, regardless of the offensive personnel changes. We shouldn’t forget Kupp’s nuclear start to the 2019 season where he topped 100 yards in five of the first eight weeks, including a 220-yard performance against the Bengals. Kupp is more boom or bust for 2020 than Woods, as his production will certainly suffer if he sees fewer snaps. But if he regains his snap share, especially from the slot, and maintains his touchdown production, Kupp if fully capable of paying off on his ADP.

 

Best-Case Scenario

The Goff-Kupp connection is too strong for a late-season personnel shift to disrupt, and Kupp is right back to his normal usage. The offense is more explosive with some fresh legs in the backfield, McVay continues to adapt to the league, and Kupp produces another excellent fantasy season. He reaches double-digit touchdowns for the second-straight season and sets a new career-high in receptions and yardage as a fantasy WR1.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

The changes from last year are real, and Kupp sees the field much less than the 90+% snap share that we are used to. Additionally, his touchdown luck regresses, and we are left with a slot receiver that we drafted in the fourth round that lacks big-play ability.

 

2020 Projection: 130 targets, 85 receptions, 1,060 receiving yards, 9 touchdowns

 

Josh Reynolds

ADP: 186, WR77

If this was the Rams offense of old, we would currently be looking at a big-time sleeper in Josh Reynolds. The departure of Brandin Cooks leaves Reynolds a huge opportunity to see the field, and though they drafted Van Jefferson in the second round of the NFL draft, this disjointed offseason likely gives Reynolds the upper hand. The problem with a Reynolds breakout is that this isn’t the same offense that set the league on fire in 2017, and their recent commitment to 12 personnel means fewer snaps available after Kupp and Woods. Reynolds has produced fairly lackluster results when given the opportunity, so he’s mainly a pass for me in standard leagues. Put him on your watchlist maybe, but I don’t see the upside to spend a pick on him.

 

Best-Case Scenario

The Rams revert to their past usage of 11 personnel and Reynolds is on the field often. He finally breaks through in his fourth year in the league while holding off the rookie Jefferson. Reynolds is a streaming option in good matchups and is a capable bye-week fill-in.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

Reynolds can’t be counted on for consistent production as the Rams run more 12 personnel, and the snaps that are available for a third receiver are split between Reynolds and Jefferson. By the end of the year, Jefferson is clearly the superior prospect.

 

2020 Projection: 54 targets, 37 receptions, 550 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns

 

Tight End

 

Tyler Higbee

ADP: 89.7, TE9

Along with Kupp, Tyler Higbee is a player that the fantasy community has a wide range of opinions on. With fellow tight end Gerald Everett missing time down the stretch of 2019, Higbee exploded with four straight 100-yard games from Weeks 13 to 16. Higbee saw eight or more targets in each of the final five weeks, including 11 or more targets in each of the final four weeks. Higbee didn’t have a massive touchdown scoring role, only producing two touchdowns over this span, but the volume and reception totals were a shock, and should certainly make us take notice in 2020.

On the plus side for Higbee is the Rams’ potential reliance on two tight end sets this year, as well as the rapport he developed with Goff. While Everett will be back from injury, you would have to think that his play earned him the leg up on his competition. On the negative side, Higbee’s breakout was reliant on Everett missing time, so his upside could be capped if Everett sees the field often. And it should be noted that two of Higbee’s big performances came against the Arizona Cardinals, who were historically bad at defending the tight end position. Higbee’s ADP feels about right, as his upside is undeniable. Very few tight ends in other offenses could have seen the volume Higbee received down the stretch of 2019, regardless of the circumstances. Just don’t draft him expecting the league-winning performance from late last year.

 

Best-Case Scenario

More of the same from last year, as Higbee takes a stranglehold on the TE1 job in Los Angeles and forces the Rams hand in sticking with 12 personnel more often. He flirts with TE5 overall status and pays off on your draft day investment.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

Last year was a fluke, and Higbee more resembles the player that had yet to top 300 yards receiving through his first three seasons. He splits too much work with Everett and lacks enough scoring potential to be more than a matchup dependant streamer by the end of the year.

 

2020 Projection: 90 targets, 70 receptions, 745 receiving yards, 5 touchdowns

 

Gerald Everett

ADP: 298, TE27

There isn’t a reason to draft Gerald Everett in your typical 12 team league, but in deep leagues he should be on your radar, and he might be worth a watchlist after the draft. Everett showed signs himself of breaking out before his injury, drawing eight or more targets in four of his first nine games, including a 136-yard game in Week 5. He was much more inconsistent than Higbee and will likely receive fewer targets to start out 2020. But if this Rams offense really is transitioning to more 12 personnel, maybe there is room for Everett to develop a role as well. As a second-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, maybe there is another level of development left for Everett.

 

Best-Case Scenario

The Rams offense is rejuvenated with two talented tight ends on the field, and Everett shows enough reason to feed him targets as the year progresses. He is suddenly an appealing dynasty option and is on the redraft radar in 2021.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

Higbee takes ahold of the starting tight end job, which turns out not to be that lucrative of a role anyway. Everett looks like an ideal change of scenery option in the coming years.

 

2020 Projection: 65 targets, 41 receptions, 501 yards, 2 touchdowns

 

 

Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

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