Little known fantasy tidbit for you – the Los Angeles Rams resembled a steaming pile of garbage last season for fantasy purposes. The Rams performed so poorly, in fact, that early-mid 90’s alternative rock band Remy Zero even wrote a song heralding the arrival of Sean McVay as the new Head Coach.
“Sean McVay Save Me” is probably the band’s most famous song, which is odd considering it came out 16 years before Sean McVay took over the reigns in L.A. But that’s how bad it’s been for the Rams the last few seasons under Jeff Fisher.
How bad were the Rams in 2016? They were impressively awful in every facet of the offensive side of the game:
On the bright side, the Rams weren’t the worst at everything; they finished 31st in the league in both Passing and Rushing yards on a per game basis. Now that we’ve established that the Rams were a terrible offensive team last season, we can move on. Washington, on the other hand, was a much better offensive team, with much better playmakers. It’s too simplistic to expect that with the addition of Sean McVay, that all of the Rams offensive woes will suddenly vanish.
But, there are some things we can look to that will allow the Rams to begin the path to offensive respectability at least.
Going into last season Todd Gurley, was believed to be a generational running back, a talent to rival the likes of Adrian Peterson. A disappointing sophomore season has seen Gurley’s ADP fall from the mid-first all the way down to the late 2nd round in a year’s time. Keep in mind that Gurley still turned in a RB2 season last year, but that’s not what we expect from someone with his level of talent.
One upshot of the arrival of Sean McVay is the expected change in running scheme. Under Jeff Fisher, the Rams primarily ran inside zone run plays. As highlighted in a recent @JeffRatcliffe tweet, not only is Gurley more successful running an outside zone scheme but he should expect to run it more often in McVay’s offense. In 2016, Washington called 15.8% more outside zone runs than the Rams.
(Here’s a fun primer on outside zone run-blocking.http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2072415-nfl-101-introducing-the-zone-running-game)
Todd Gurley career yards per carry averages:
Inside Zone: 3.81
Outside Zone: 4.22 https://t.co/HWJJ0HDj1B
— Jeff Ratcliffe (@JeffRatcliffe) June 23, 2017
The breakdown of run plays by concept in the 2016 NFL season: pic.twitter.com/TzWI7E9sTl
— Jeff Ratcliffe (@JeffRatcliffe) March 14, 2017
Why wouldn’t you put your best players in position to succeed by playing to their strengths? If I knew how to do a shrug emoji, this is where I would add one. Short answer, Jeff Fisher was just not good at the footballing.
Per PFF, the Rams graded out as the 27th overall offensive line last season. PFF’s worst rated run blocking tackle in the league, Greg Robinson, played for the Rams in 2016. Robinson, the #2 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, performed so poorly that the Rams recently traded him for a 6th round pick in the 2018 draft. Removing Robinson from the o-line is the quintessential addition by subtraction move. The Rams replaced Robinson with Andrew Whitworth; an All-Pro left tackle in 2014 and 2015, which is a monumental upgrade. The addition of Robert Woods to the receiving corps will also be a boon to the run blocking, as Woods was a highly regarded blocker during his time in Buffalo.
Even with the change in blocking scheme, Gurley is going to need to improve considerably on his own from last season. Gurley performed poorly in just about every efficiency metric that PlayerProfiler.com charts last season.
Though it’s hard to remember from time to time football players are human beings, and their mindset can affect their work just like it does us. Gurley was visibly frustrated with the direction of the Rams offense last season, saying as much in December 2016 after yet another loss.
Gurley’s pedigree, college and rookie season production all lead me to the belief that he is a great running back. With the upgrade to the offensive line, and the Rams changing their run blocking scheme to better suit Gurley, I expect a marked improvement in his production in 2017. If Gurley can replicate his efficiency from 2015, I can see him turning into a high-end RB1 in 2017.
Gurley scored a TD on just 2.16% of his carries, with 6 rushing touchdowns, under the league average of 3.31%. If Gurley were able to produce at just league average last season, he would have scored 9 rushing touchdowns in 2016. Those additional 18 points would have moved Gurley from up from the overall RB15 to RB11(overall scoring) and from 25th on a per game average to 20th per game. It’s a reasonable assumption that with an improved offensive line, 9-11 rushing touchdowns should easily be in the realm of possibilities for Gurley in 2017.
Using the DLF trade finder (a great tool), you can see recent trades involving Gurley. In one trade Gurley was traded for C.J. Prosise and a rookie 1.06; Spencer Ware and Jarvis Landry is the payoff in another trade. I find that deeply disturbing and sad.
The wide receiving core was led by Kenny Britt’s comeback/breakout/career season. Britt ended 2016 as the WR26 scoring 13.2 fantasy points on a per game basis. Outside of Britt, there was Tavon Austin, who can’t even be relied on in best-ball formats at this point. Robert Woods came over from Buffalo and escaped the shadow of Sammy Watkins. I’m sure if we look at Woods’ splits in games played without Watkins his numbers will be pretty impressive, right?
Woods saw an uptick of 1.42 fantasy points per game when playing without Watkins, which isn’t an enormous increase but every point counts when trying to secure a fantasy win. I’m not going to hard sell you on Robert Woods. He’s going to be the #1 receiving option in what will be a low-volume passing offense for whatever that’s worth. According to his splits above, I’d say it’s worth about 10 fantasy points per game. If you play in leagues where you need to start up to 8 offensive players besides QB, then he’s certainly worth a roster spot. I’ve traded for Woods in several leagues at the cost of a 3rd round rookie pick.
The rest of the Rams receiving group is a work in progress. Cooper Kupp, is an old, unathletic, stat compiler. If we are in a league together go ahead draft him, I want no part of him. Tavon Austin, good luck figuring out when to start him. Pharoh Cooper is worth a stash. Cooper boasted a stellar 43.1% (86th percentile) college dominator along with a respectable breakout age of 19.5 (78th percentile). Josh Reynolds is another interesting player to stash on dynasty rosters. The rookie is a field stretcher who probably will be a better real life football asset than fantasy asset, but he can help loosen up the stacked boxes Gurley sees.
Gerald Everett vs. Tyler Higbee is not a competition. Let’s take a look at some major indicators to see who holds the edge.
Higbee is bigger and holds a slight edge in college YPR, but the everything else indicates Everett is the move TE to own from the Rams. Hold onto Higbee in 2 TE and TE premium leagues. In the short term, until the Rams find more capable receivers I wouldn’t be shocked to see McVay deploy the Higbee/Everett in 12-personnel sets trying to find mismatches for Jared Goff to exploit. McVay’s 2016 Washington offense supported the TE1 and TE30 in fantasy scoring(per game) last season, so there is a reason to believe that both Rams tight ends will be at least startable depending on your league format.
By every measurable statistic, Jared Goff was terrible in his rookie season. I assure you he was brutal, but if you don’t believe me just check out his PlayerProfiler page. Passing yards, completion percentage, deep ball completion %, pressured completion %, touchdowns, fantasy points per drop back, touchdown to interception ratio, all of it, just brutal. Goff was so bad last season I initially spelled his first name wrong in this article and almost didn’t correct it because his stats don’t earn him the respect of having his name spelled correctly.
With literally nothing to point to from his rookie season as a positive to build on, I decided to look at some scouting reports from last years draft. PFF, WalterFootball.com, and NFL.com all gave Goff decent to good scouting reviews. Matt Ryan is a player that many draft scouts thought was Goff’s closest player comp. While scouting is an inexact science, I’m going to trust their judgment on a player who was the #1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
The addition of Sean McVay who’s coached the high-performing Washington offense, albeit with a much stronger cast of players, can only help Goff. As loathe as I am to blame Jeff Fisher for everything that went wrong with the Rams, I think it’s well known he was a terrible Head Coach. Fisher showed little to no imagination offensively, failed to draft or develop offensive weapons and misused the few weapons he did obtain.
With the addition of Robert Woods, Gerald Everett, and Lance Dunbar, Goff’s options in the passing game are improved compared to 2016. The upgrade at left tackle from Greg Robinson to All-Pro Andrew Whitworth is going to allow Goff adequate protection from the pocket, which will surely benefit the sophomore signal-caller.
In DFFs May Superflex ADP, Goff is drafted out of the 79 hole, going off the board after Ryan Tannehill and Deshaun Watson. Call me a wild-eyed optimist, but I believe Goff can turn into a better QB than either of those players. Goff’s value is in the gutter, so you should be able to trade for him without sacrificing any valuable assets. Send out offers of a 3rd round rookie pick to see if anyone bites. If Goff hits you look like a genius, if he doesn’t you paid nearly nothing to find out.
Sean McVay The Savior:
Comparing yards per play, efficiency metrics, etc. probably isn’t going to sway you to believe in the Rams going forward. As I stated earlier, the playmakers in the Rams offense can’t compare with the overall talent that Washington possessed during McVays time as Offensive Coordinator there.
What we can look to are McVay’s tendencies. Over the last three seasons, McVay’s OC tenure with Washington, Washington averaged 63.2 while the Rams averaged 59.1 per game during the same period. An additional 4.1 offensive plays per game works out to another 65.6 pass or run plays per season. That’s a lot of untapped opportunity for fantasy value that Jeff Fisher frittered away.
McVay also favors stretching the field vertically. In 2016, Kirk Cousins threw 94 Deep Ball Attempts (passes at least 20 yards through the air) on 606 total pass attempts. Cousins’ 94 attempts stand in stark contrast to the 16 Deep Ball Attempts on 586 total pass attempts by Goff in 2016. McVay has already gone on record stating that Tavon Austin needs to be used more as a vertical threat in 2017. Josh Reynolds, with his 17 yards per reception in college (79th percentile), would be especially adept at filling the deep threat role in the Rams offense along with Austin.
Per Matt Harmon of NFL.com, Todd Gurley only mustered 2.94 yards against stacked boxes last season (26.3% of his rushing attempts), second worst in the NFL. With more attempts down the field, Gurley should see fewer stacked boxes which can only be a boon for his production.
Washington turned into a fantasy goldmine during McVay’s time there as an Offensive Coordinator. He’s also built himself an excellent coaching staff in L.A. As his offensive coordinator, McVay hired Matt LaFleur. LaFleur spent the last two seasons in Atlanta as the QB coach helping Matt Ryan achieve, by far, his best statistical season in 2016. For the role of QB coach McVay tapped Greg Olson, formerly Jacksonville’s QB coach and Oakland’s Offensive Coordinator. Olson coached Blake Bortles to his best season in 2015 when Bortles threw for almost 4,500 yards.
Between McVay and his coordinators, they’ve coached Matt Ryan, Blake Bortles, and Kirk Cousins to become three of the best QBs in the league. Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch on Bortles, but he’s still a very viable fantasy starter. Though Kirk Cousins is now seen as a fantasy star, it’s not that long ago we all thought he’d never be anything more than a bye-week filler.
Sean McVay is a more creative coach than Jeff Fisher could ever dream to be. McVay understands the need to put his players in the proper scheme to fit their strengths. He’s already upgraded the offensive line with an All-Pro left tackle. His history of success in Washington is well-documented. Can McVay be the Savior of the Rams fantasy fortunes? Hebrews 11.1 says “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” On blind faith, I prefer the Rams offensive outlook under McVay opposed to Jeff Fisher. I’ve seen enough evidence in McVay’s time as an OC to know my faith in him as the Rams Savior is not a blind faith, but one based on fact.
Thanks for taking the time to give me a read. Please follow me on the Twitter @DFF_Shane.
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