The Rams offensive line was notably terrible in 2019, but it
took major steps forward in 2020 and should now be considered
one of the better units in the league. Many had used offensive
line struggles as a reason for Jared Goff’s struggles at
quarterback, but unfortunately the improvements in front of him
did not translate into success for the QB, who the team has now
moved on from.
Seemingly finally admitting the reality that the Goff draft pick
was a bust, the Rams made the move to acquire another former No.1
overall NFL Draft pick, Matthew Stafford. One of the biggest problems
with Goff was that he didn’t push the ball down the field,
so a move to the big-armed Stafford should - at least theoretically
- give the Rams a more vertical offense. Stafford was without
Kenny Golladay for most of the 2020 season but still finished
close to the top of the league in average target distance.
The Rams lost Josh Reynolds and Gerald Everett which isn’t great,
but neither of those players was a significant contributor this
past season. 2020 rookie Van Jefferson should see more playing
time and he probably has more upside than Reynolds at this point,
so there’s a realistic possibility that the Rams weaponry is about
equal to what it was a season ago.
With second-year back Cam Akers now out for the season, look
for the Rams to pass the ball more heavily in 2021, which should
actually lead to more points scored for the team as a whole. This
would be a nice boost for Stafford, who has spent his recent seasons
stuck in a lackluster situation, behind bad offensive lines, with
nervous playcalling and against defenses that were able to play
hyper aggressively against the Lions. Los Angeles’ elite
defense should put Stafford in a better average starting position
on drives than he’s been used to in Detroit, which would
also indicate a higher likelihood for scoring.
The only real negatives, from a fantasy standpoint, for Stafford
are that he’s entering a new offense which doesn’t always translate
into immediate results, and that he remains one of the league’s
least-mobile quarterbacks. We’ve seen players like Tom Brady,
Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan and even Jared Goff deliver top-half
QB1 seasons without contributing much of anything on the ground,
but we also know that those performances are becoming increasingly
more rare by the year. With that said, Stafford is a relatively
safe option, especially where he’s being drafted at the moment.
He’s going outside of the top-12 QBs on many fantasy ADPs so he’s
a QB2 for most owners. If you’re taking a shot on a player like
Jalen Hurts, for example, Stafford might be an ideal complement
to deliver a safe backup option in case Hurts does flame out this
The late-first round of fantasy drafts took a hit when it was
announced that Cam Akers suffered a torn Achilles and will miss
the 2021 season. Akers looked set to be the workhorse back in
what should be an improved Rams offense this season, but now the
whole backfield is in shambles. The team moved on from veteran
Malcolm Brown this offseason, so the immediate impact would seem
to be that third-year back Darrell Henderson should see an immediate
and significant bump in value, given that he’s now the only
running back on the roster who’s seen much NFL action.
Henderson was actually fairly productive and efficient when given
an opportunity in 2020, but it was clear that the team was eventually
going to make the move to Akers either way - and they did. Now
that Akers is out, Henderson’s only real obstacle to avoid
is the Rams signing a veteran like Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley
or Adrian Peterson. It does seem unlikely that the Rams will go
into the season without making some sort of move to at least add
to their running back depth, but there’s a very real chance
that he starts the season as the top back on the depth chart for
what should be at least a decent Rams team.
Henderson saw 138 carries and caught 16 passes in 2020 in what
was, at best, a split backfield. A 200-touch season is not out
of the realm of possibilities for Henderson and that’d immediately
catapult him into legitimate fantasy RB2 discussion, as only 20
total running backs touched the ball 200 times or more in 2020.
ADPs on Henderson haven't been corrected yet so it’s hard
to know where he’s going to end up in fantasy drafts, but
you’re likely going to find a wide variety of opinions on
his value at the moment, at least until we get closer to the preseason
kickoff. There will likely be someone in most drafts who takes
a “YOLO” approach when it comes to Henderson, opting
to take the chance on him taking over the role as the team’s
bell cow back in 2021, so if you’re interested, you’re
probably going to need to reach a round or even two higher than
his ADP in order to land him in your draft.
A lack of downfield pass catching opportunities has really limited
the true upside of Robert Woods in recent seasons, but he has
continued to be one of the most reliable and slept on fantasy
receivers. Woods finished as the WR13 in 2020, the WR21 in 2019
and the WR10 in 2018. He’s now being selected as around
the WR20 in the ADP this offseason, depending on the service you’re
looking at, and that would seem to be about his floor given recent
Certainly there are sexier picks, but Woods has now seen at least
129 targets in three straight seasons. What’s really hurt
him most in fantasy is that he just hasn’t been able to
translate his high target share and yardage into receiving touchdowns.
In fact, he’s caught just 14 touchdowns over those past
three seasons combined. Some would argue he’s, “just
not a touchdown scorer,” but history tells us that there
are very few players like that throughout history. Like most things
in sports, if the ancillary numbers are there, the corresponding
statistics will typically correct themselves over time. This doesn’t
necessarily mean that Woods is likely to suddenly shoot up to
being a 15-touchdown guy, but a 10 touchdown season - with improved
quarterback play in what should be a more aggressive offense -
doesn’t seem out of the question.
One thing that has helped Woods in recent seasons is that he’s
been able to carry the ball between one or two times per week
on average. That doesn’t seem like much, but when he’s
been able to translate that into over seven yards per carry and
four total touchdowns, it’s easy to see why that extra point
or two per week can help give Woods the edge over other players
who aren’t as involved in their teams’ running game.
To that point, however, the Rams did invest a second round pick
on speedster Tutu Atwell, a wide receiver from Louisville. Atwell
didn’t contribute a ton in the running game during college,
but he would appear to be almost an ideal “weapon”
for the Sean McVay offense. That could end up leading to him stealing
at least some of the carries that would’ve otherwise gone
to Woods. Again, this is a relatively small number to begin with
so we should be moving down Woods because of it, but it’s
something to keep an eye on as his rushing numbers have given
him some nice added value.
The major point with Woods is that he’s seemingly falling
into the “slept on” category again this season by
fantasy owners. He’s likely never going to be a flashy playmaker,
but Woods is a reliable fantasy weapon who consistently delivers
WR2 numbers. Don’t be afraid to select him over the “hot,
new thing” who hasn’t proven himself.
Like his teammate Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp struggled through
an ugly season from quarterback Jared Goff in 2020. Kupp saw his
yards per reception drop to a career low of 10.6 and his yards
per target were also a career low at 7.9. Anyone watching the
team from the outside could’ve told you that quarterback
play was a problem, so the Rams opting to make the move to acquire
Matthew Stafford should be a welcome change for both Kupp and
Kupp has primarily played out of the slot throughout his career,
but actually saw his slot snaps drop a bit this past season when
the Rams opted to play significantly more 12-personnel than they
had in previous years. This made sense as the team was without
Brandin Cooks, which meant that they were down to only two proven
wide receivers on the roster. This meant more total playing time
for tight ends Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett, but it also meant
that Kupp had to play outside more often. With Everett now gone
and the Rams adding both DeSean Jackson in free agency and Tutu
Atwell in the second round of the draft, it would seem likely
that they will be looking to transition back into being one of
the NFL’s most consistent three-WR set offenses. This should allow
Kupp to spend more time in the slot, where he’s seen most of his
success throughout his career. Kupp isn’t a particularly fast
or strong player, but he possesses tremendous open field agility
and his route-running allows him to absolutely abuse the linebackers,
safeties and nickel corners that dare line up to defend him out
of the slot.
Kupp is currently being drafted just behind Woods and while his
2020 season saw him finish significantly behind that number, there’s
plenty of reason to believe that he’ll be back to being
a solid WR2 this season, particularly in PPR formats.
The Rams relied heavily on 12-personnel in 2020, but with Gerald
Everett now out of the equation, Los Angeles will almost certainly
look to lean even more heavily on their three-WR sets in 2021.
The two players who are most likely to benefit from that are veteran
WR DeSean Jackson and second-year WR Van Jefferson.
Jefferson didn’t fire as a rookie as he sat behind standouts
Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods and was unable to supplant Josh Reynolds
as the team’s third wide receiver in three-WR sets. This
is somewhat of a red flag as Reynolds himself was quite unimpressive
in 2020 despite being given plenty of playing time. We’ve
seen head coach Sean McVay give plenty of praise for Jefferson
in training camp, including comments about how much work he’s
put in to improve throughout the offseason.
Still, there’s plenty of reason to be worried that Jefferson
just isn’t “the guy,” given that the Rams did
bring in DeSean Jackson and they also drafted Tutu Atwell in the
second round this year. It’s not time to give up on Jefferson
yet, but he’s going to need to show improvements right away
or he’s probably going to lose his starting job in three-WR
sets fairly quickly - potentially even before the season starts.
Nevertheless, the upside is here for Jefferson and that should
be enough to make him a worthwhile pick near the end of your seasonal
Injuries have completely crushed DeSean Jackson’s recent
seasons, allowing him to play just eight total games over the
past two seasons for the Eagles. The 34 year-old has, however,
shown signs of life when he’s been on the field, particularly
early in the season. He exceeded 100 receiving yards in three
of his first four games for the Buccaneers back in 2018, then
smashed in Week 1 of the 2019 season for the Eagles with eight
receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns before getting injured
early in Week 2. His early part of the 2020 season wasn’t
quite as impressive, but he was still targeted 20 times over his
first three games before getting injured.
Jackson now finds himself in a new offense, tethered to a big-armed
quarterback who is completely willing to sling the ball down the
field. That matches perfectly with what Jackson brings to the
table as he, despite being an older player, is still one of the
quickest receivers in the league.
The depth chart ahead of Jackson is set with Robert Woods playing
outside and Cooper Kupp playing in the slot in the Rams’
base three-wide set, but the other outside receiver spot is still
very much up for grabs. It makes sense that the Rams would give
Jackson a shot to compete for it, given that they brought him
in this offseason, but they do have a pair of second round draft
picks invested in Van Jefferson and Tutu Atwell, so he may end
up being used more situationally than some fantasy owners are
thinking when they just take a quick glance at the depth chart.
Jackson’s recent injury history is certainly a concern,
so perhaps the Rams would be wise to not have him play every snap.
Jackson is a player who’s going very late, or even undrafted,
in most drafts. He does have huge upside if he outright wins the
third WR job in Los Angeles and he could see his value skyrocket
if anything happened to Woods or even Kupp. Still, the most likely
outcome here is that Jackson doesn’t provide enough weekly
targets to make him a trustworthy weekly fantasy asset in normal
Tyler Higbee was one of the hot fantasy football tight ends heading
into drafts in 2020, but a lot of that came from extrapolation
of the stats he compiled near the end of 2019. That alone is a
dangerous game to play, but the skepticism should’ve been
compounded when it was considered that Higbee provided those numbers
when the Rams were without his tight end counterpart Gerald Everett.
Everett and Higbee have long been looked at as one of the league’s
best duos at the position, but neither player was a consistent
fantasy asset because the Rams have relied so heavily on three-WR
personnel, which has meant that only one of their tight ends could
be on the field. Therefore, they cannibalized one another’s
opportunities despite the two of them combining for what would
otherwise be usable fantasy performances.
Not surprisingly, Higbee was a huge bust in 2020 for those who
invested in him as their TE1 for fantasy. He finished with just
44 receptions for 521 yards and despite a career high of five
touchdowns, fantasy owners were left with the TE17 on the year.
Looking ahead to 2021, Higbee is now being drafted far outside
the TE1 range, but the situation has completely changed. The Rams
actually moved on from Gerald Everett and did not bring in any
sort of additional competition at tight end. This should signify
that Higbee is now the team’s locked in TE1, giving him
the lion’s share of the snaps at the position. Certainly
it should be noted that the Rams did sign WR DeSean Jackson and
drafted WR Tutu Atwell, so there might be more target competition
as a whole, but when it comes to specific competition at the tight
end position, there really isn’t anything stopping Higbee.
For conversation sake, if we were to add Higbee and Everett’s
stats together from the 2020 season, we would’ve seen that
super-player contribute 85 catches for 938 yards and six touchdowns.
To put that into perspective, only two tight ends (Darren Waller
and Travis Kelce) caught more than 72 passes in 2020. Only those
same two tight ends went over 723 yards, and only eight tight
ends caught more than six touchdown passes.
Certainly we can’t just add Higbee and Everett’s
numbers together and say that this is what we’ll get in
2021, but Higbee looks like a player who’s being vastly
undervalued right now and a lot of that is stemming from the disappointing
2020 season he provided for those who didn’t pay attention
to the Everett situation. He’s going so late in fantasy
drafts that he costs practically nothing to acquire, but Higbee
looks like a potential top six option at the position if he can