Los Angeles Rams Team Preview

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    The Rams followed up their 2021-2022 Super Bowl victory with a brutal 5-12 season before rebounding last year to 10-7. While their season ended in a dramatic loss to the Lions in the playoffs, I believe there is reason for optimism this season. However, as the Rams know things can change quickly in the NFL and a few injuries can turn a team looking destined for a playoff run into a team struggling to string together a few wins. It will be interesting to see which direction the Rams trend this year. On one hand they have some young studs who could improve in Puka Nucua (WR5 last year) and Kyren Williams (RB4 Last year). However, on the other hand they lost potentially the most impactful player in the game to retirement (Aaron Donald), while Cooper Kupp (WR41 last year) has been constantly battling injuries the past couple years and Stafford (QB15 last year) at age 36 may not have too many years left.

    The Rams were left for dead last season and once Kupp was going to miss the first portion of the season with a hamstring injury, everyone outside of LA penciled them for another losing season.  Enter Puka Nacua, the most out-of-nowhere rookie WR maybe ever who seemed like a fluke and then just kept breaking records to the point it’s a debate whether he or Kupp are the WR1 this season.  The Rams continue to be undervalued and underappreciated, but despite Stafford’s injury concerns and age, he is the one of the best in the league slinging the ball out of shotgun.  With Stafford healthy and two elite WRs, the Rams will be in every game and if the young defense can continue to gel, they are are 100% a threat in the NFC.

    One reason to have faith that the Rams can trend is the right direction is their head coach. Since Sean McVay took over, they have a 61% winning percentage and have only had one losing season out of the last seven. McVay is both the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl and the youngest coach to be named Coach of the Year. He has a knack for getting his playmakers the ball and putting his team in the best position to win. I think there is no doubt this team will have some of the top players in fantasy this year. The main question is will they be healthy enough and can their defense hold, especially without Donald, to make a deep playoff run.

    The best positional group for the Rams has to be the wide receiver room. Cooper Kupp set the fantasy world on fire a couple years ago when he finished with almost 2,000 receiving yards and 16 receiving TDs. Since then, he has had a couple of setbacks due to injuries but he still remains a valuable if not the preferred target of Matthew Stafford. However, last season the Rams struck gold with their fifth-round draft pick Nacua. With Kupp sidelined the first few games Nacua set the NFL and fantasy community on notice totaling 119, 147, 72 and 163 yards his first four games including a 15-catch game and one touchdown for good measure. When Kupp returned Nacua lost some value, but he established enough rapport with Stafford that he was able to maintain excellent production and finish the season as the WR5 overall in total scoring.  Once the playoffs started, everyone thought Kupp would ascend back to WR1 status, but Nacua refused to be denied and broke the rookie playoff record for yards with 182 yards on nine grabs.  Feel free to doubt him at your own peril, but Nacua is the real deal and the scary part is he might just be getting started.  Who knows what he has in store for an encore, but a healthy Kupp will still attract the lion’s share of attention and together they form one of the most devastating WR duos in football.

    The McVay led offense has proved to be extremely fantasy friendly over the years and I don’t expect this upcoming year to be any different. Both Kupp and Nacua should push for borderline WR1 finishes this season. The key for them is just staying healthy, when Kyren Williams, Nacua, Kupp and Stafford were all healthy and on the field, they had a historically dominate offense, ranking in the top-five in expected points added in the past 15 years. Their offensive line held up enough for Stafford to get his playmakers the balls, one change we will see on that front is moving their guard Steve Avila to center. At 332 pounds Avila will be one of the largest centers in the league by weight.

    While this offense may be fueled by the passing game, it’s the running game that does all the leg work.  Williams only played 12 games, but still produced a full season’s worth of stats.  He had more rushing yards than Travis Etienne who played 17 games and had more red zone receiving targets than any RB in the league not named Christian McCaffrey or Joe Mixon.  Williams was so dominant that if you had him on your team, you probably won your league as he posted 19.5, 16.4 and 28.1 points in the fantasy playoffs.  He finished as the RB2 for average fantasy points and those players don’t normally grow on trees.  He averaged over 5.0 YPC and clearly looked right at home in the McVay system that has always operated at peak performance with an elite RB.  There is always a chance this was a fluke as 12 games isn’t a great track record, but anyone who watched Williams play last year should be convinced that the juice is worth the squeeze.  If Williams and Nakua can come close to last season’s production, or god willing level up, the Rams are going to shock people out of the gates with their high-powered offense.

    Los Angeles Rams win prediction 10-7

    The defense is an area of concern for the Rams. Last season the Rams defense produced the second-lowest fantasy points-per-game (4.5ppg). This season that will only get worse with Aaron Donald retiring. They have a weak secondary and out of necessity seem to play a bend but don’t break defense. They did spend their top-two draft picks on the defensive side of the ball getting edge rusher Jared Verse and DT Braden Fiske. While these guys should help them out there is no way they are replacing the massive hole left by Donald. The good news for fantasy players is their weak defense should allow for plenty of shootout games this season and fantasy explosions on the offensive side of the ball.

    Another potential weakness is at tight end. Tyler Higbee (TE20) is a serviceable pass catcher and blocker but with the number of playmakers this team has on the outside and the backfield he will likely not see many looks. Last year he finished with 495 receiving yards and two touchdowns. With Kupp, Nucua, and Williams drawing a lot of attention from defenses you would hope Higbee could put up some better numbers on this prolific offense, however that typically has not been the case. If there is an injury to one of their core players, he could be a plug and play at TE but most likely will not be an every week starter in standard leagues.

    One interesting selecting in this year’s draft was  RB Blake Corum. The Rams seemed to have found a reliable every down running back in Kyren Williams last season, however they decided to select Blake Corum from Michigan in the third round of the draft. Corum has a nose for the endzone, he is the all-time rushing touchdown leader at Michigan with 58 TDs and holds the single season touchdown record of 27. This addition could be problematic for Kyren Williams’ fantasy value. Last season, Williams benefitted from being a three-down back and being the undisputed goal line option for the Rams.

    With Corum in the fold things could quickly change. McVay even compared Corum to Williams with their similar size and skillset. If this becomes a 60-40-time share scenario, then Williams is at risk of being over drafted. Williams was amazing last season finishing fourth in total fantasy points for running backs last year while only playing in 12 games. It is too early to say how this potential time share will break out but if Kyren is to miss any time Corum will likely slot in as an RB1 for that week.

    Rams Strength of Schedule Rank: 17th

    Fantasy Playoff Games: Pacers, Vikings, Bears

    Bye Week: Week 6

    Opposition Home/Away Time
    Week 1 Lions Away 8:20pm
    Week 2 Cardinals Away 4:05pm
    Week 3 Niners Home 4:25pm
    Week 4 Bears Away  1:00pm
    Week 5 Packers Home 4:25pm
    Week 6 Bye
    Week 7 Raiders Home 4:05pm
    Week 8 Vikings Home Thurs. 8:15pm
    Week 9 Seahawks Home 4:05pm
    Week 10 Dolphins Home Mon. 8:15pm
    Week 11 Pats Away 1:00pm
    Week 12 Eagles Home 8:20pm
    Week 13 Saints Away 1:00pm
    Week 14 Bills Home 4:05pm
    Week 15 Niners Away Thurs. 8:15pm
    Week 16 Jets Away 4:05pm
    Week 17 Cardinals Home TBA
    Week 18 Seahawks Home TBA

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