Perhaps no other team in the NFL has had as much roster turnover as the St. Louis Rams over the past decade. Change was needed after they put together the worst five year stretch in the history of the NFL, winning just 15 games from 2007 to 2011. The Rams became the laughingstock of the NFL. Something had to be done. They decided to bring in head coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead in 2012 in an attempt to turn around one of the worst rosters ever. There were 37 players that were on the Rams in 2011 who were completely out of the NFL in 2012, so Fisher and Snead certainly had their work cut out for them as they were looking to essentially start from scratch.
During the 2013 offseason, the Rams gave free agent tight end Jared Cook a huge deal and traded up in the draft to take dynamic receiver/return man Tavon Austin. Their intention was to simulate the spread offense that made Sam Bradford so successful at Oklahoma. That plan faded quickly as the Rams offense struggled mightily during its first four games. They had a change in offensive philosophy starting in week 5 against Jacksonville. Zac Stacy was entered into the starting lineup as they started to utilize more 2 and 3 tight end sets and built the offense around the power running game.
The NFL is a copycat league and that is starting to become more evident each and every year. One of the latest examples of this is what the Rams are trying to do as they attempt to replicate what Seattle and San Francisco have done over the past 3-5 years. It all starts in the trenches. They have built a very young and exciting defense, especially along the defensive line, and have made some moves to become stronger along the offensive line as they look to implement a run-heavy attack. While that may not translate to a high scoring offense similar to the Denver Broncos or New Orleans Saints, let's take a look at what the Rams different position groups bring to the table from a fantasy perspective.
Despite rumblings before the draft that the Rams were very interested in Johnny Manziel, they ultimately decided to go another direction with their two first round picks. The Rams have continued to put faith in Sam Bradford and 2014 could be his last chance to prove himself as the Rams franchise signal caller. He played well in 2013 before going down with a season-ending ACL tear in week 7 against Carolina as he tossed 14 touchdowns and only threw three interceptions. Despite the impressive TD-INT ratio, Bradford remains a low end QB2 for fantasy purposes with not a lot of upside. The Rams have abandoned the idea of a spread offense and relied heavily on the running game. They also have done little in developing the receivers they have invested in early in the draft over the past couple seasons. Bradford's situation really limits his upside, and because of that I find a hard time thinking he will land on any of my fantasy teams this season.
The Rams brought in 34 year old backup Shaun Hill on a one year deal this offseason. The ninth year veteran has showed he is capable of starting a few games if Bradford were to miss any more time as he has a career 85.9 quarterback rating. He will more than likely enter the season as the #2 QB. Austin Davis, an undrafted rookie who has some familiarity with the offense and is in his second stint with the Rams will battle 2014 sixth round draft choice and former five-star recruit Garrett Gilbert for the third quarterback job. Prior to Bradford's injury, the Rams only kept two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster and it is unknown how many will be on the roster for the start of the 2014 season.
Les Snead and Jeff Fisher threw a lot of people off guard with the selection of Tre Mason in the third round of the draft. Zac Stacy was coming off a great rookie season as the Rams looked to build the offense around him when he took over the starting job in week 5. Benny Cunningham averaged 5.6 yards per carry in 47 attempts. Daryl Richardson showed enough in his rookie season to be an effective change-of-pace back when healthy. With a lack of depth in the secondary as well as the offensive line, running back didn't appear to be one of the team's greatest needs. But St. Louis thought the value of Mason in round 3 was just too good to pass up.
Despite the selection of Mason, Stacy should remain the team's lead back. He showed incredible vision and ran with great power in 2013. Stacy was also solid in pass protection as a rookie. Mason, however, was not asked to pass protect at Auburn. That will be one thing he will have to prove if he were to take over the starting job from Stacy. I would expect a 70-30 split in favor of Stacy in year one. That should be enough to make Stacy a solid RB2 in standard formats and Mason a late round flier. Cunningham will see a few touches per game at best. Pead will have to prove himself on special teams to hang on to his roster spot, as he has had trouble learning the playbook and hasn't showed much within the offense. Reynolds is a special teams ace who may still have a shot to make the team even if Pead was kept as the Rams kept 5 backs on the 53 man roster for much of the 2013 season.
After much speculation that the Rams could possibly take a receiver early in the 2014 draft, they thought it was wise to look elsewhere in the first round. Jeff Fisher has publicly stated a lot of confidence in this group, stating in a press conference earlier this offseason, "Anybody that would reference the receiver position as being a need for us, doesn't know what they're talking about." This is a very bold statement for a group of receivers that has never had a guy top 800 receiving yards in a single season and is full of unproven players.
One move the Rams did make was bring in troubled receiver Kenny Britt. He has been extremely inconsistent throughout his career and has had durability issues, but he possesses intriguing physical traits that can not be coached. Britt has reportedly been very impressive in OTAs and I would expect him to enter the season as the team's #1 wide receiver. However, I would not be comfortable drafting him as more than a late round flier as my WR5 or WR6 because Britt already comes with multiple red flags and now plays for a team that wants to run the ball. I expect speedy third year receiver Chris Givens to win the starting job opposite of Britt. After an impressive rookie season, Givens took a step back in 2013. Unless he starts to show signs of regaining that form as a deep ball specialist, he is undraftable in standard fantasy leagues. For now, he is a player to monitor.
First round pick in 2013 Tavon Austin will remain the team's primary slot receiver. He showed the homerun ability that made him such a special player at West Virginia but will rely too much on big plays to be an every week starter for fantasy. It is put up or shut up time for Brian Quick. He has shown flashes in preseason but has been extremely inconsistent in his play. Austin Pettis is just a mediocre talent who will likely see his snaps decrease in 2014 with the presence of Britt and an emphasis on developing the younger receivers. The one guy who I thought had a chance to come in and start this year and be one of my late round targets is Stedman Bailey. He excels at bringing in passes that are outside his frame with impressive hands and is extremely smooth as a route runner. But his four game suspension for violating the leagues substance abuse policy will likely limit any fantasy upside he may have had coming into the season.
Although Jared Cook has all the measurables you look for (4.49 forty, 41 inch vertical) in a pass-catching tight end, he has proved to be extremely inconsistent throughout his career. Many fantasy owners thought that he may have been on the verge of a breakout season in 2013 after recording 7 catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns in week 1 against Arizona. That was not the case. Cook never topped 100 yards the rest of the season and only scored three times over the course of the next 15 games. He will be difficult to rely on once again for a team that clearly wants to attack defenses on the ground and should only be considered in fantasy leagues with deeper benches or in 2 tight end formats.
Lance Kendricks, a former second round pick of the Rams, is a good athlete who should continue to see plenty of snaps as the Rams utilized more two and three tight end sets later in the year. Unless Cook were to miss time with an injury, Kendricks is not on the fantasy radar. Probably the biggest beneficiary of the Rams changing to the ground and pound attack was Cory Harkey. He only saw 11 snaps through the first four weeks of the season but would average 29 per game from week 5 and on. He should be the frontrunner for the #3 tight end job. Justice Cunningham, Mr. Irrelevant from the 2013 NFL Draft will battle converted defensive end Mason Brodine and 2014 undrafted free agent Alex Bayer for the fourth and likely final tight end spot on the roster.
After much success becoming a running football team in the second half of the 2013 season, expect much of the same this year. The Rams looked to build on that philosophy through the draft, grabbing Tre Mason and Greg Robinson. Robinson is one of the most physically dominating run blockers to enter the draft in the past decade and the college teammate of Mason. With Brian Schottenheimer remaining the offensive coordinator, the Rams will stay extremely conservative and depend heavily on their young and improving defense.
The Rams have without a doubt improved their roster from a year ago. The new pieces, however, likely won't translate to more production from a fantasy perspective. There will be many low scoring defensive battles in what is widely considered the best division in all of football.