2021 Franchise Focus: Los Angeles Rams


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2021 Franchise Focus: Los Angeles Rams

The Rams, who already haven’t made a first-round pick since 2016 (Jared Goff), are not scheduled to make another one until 2024, following yet another trade involving multiple firsts, this time to acquire the player Sean McVay believes will put LA on a path to Super Bowl glory — Matthew Stafford.

It is indeed a leap of faith. While Stafford is one of the most physically gifted throwers in the history of the NFL, he’s winless in the playoffs, though much of that can be attributed to “Detroit Lion stink.” The Rams also are facing some adversity even before training camp started, by losing emerging star RB Cam Akers to a torn Achilles in a July workout, which also threw a whole off-season of fantasy analysis asunder.

Nevertheless, the Rams remain one of the most intriguing fantasy teams on the planet, and should remain one of the favorites in the NFC to reach the Super Bowl — this is a contender if McVay’s feeling about Stafford is correct.

Los Angeles Rams Franchise Focus Companion Podcast

The Basics

Team FuturesOdds
Season Win Total (O/U)10.5 (+115/-143)
NFC West+180
Playoffs (Y/N)-192/+155
NFC Championship+550
Super Bowl+1300

Season Prop Movement

  • Win Total: 10.5 (+123) in late March to 10.5 (+115)

  • Super Bowl: +1200 in early February to +1300

Premium 2021 Betting Preview from Tom Brolley found here.

Key Offseason Moves

Matthew Stafford (QB)Tutu Atwell (WR)Jared Goff (QB, Det)
DeSean Jackson (WR)Ernest Jones (LB)Malcolm Brown (RB, Mia)
Kareem Orr (CB)Bobby Brown (DT)Josh Reynolds (WR, Ten)
Paris Ford (S)Robert Rochell (CB)Gerald Everett (TE, Sea)
Alaric Jackson (OT)Jacob Harris (TE)Austin Blythe (C, KC)
Jordan Meredith (OG)Earnest Brown (DE)Michael Brockers (DT, Det)
Max Roberts (DE)Jake Funk (RB)John Johnson (S, Cle)
Troy Warner (S)Morgan Fox (DE, Car)
Brontae Harris (CB)Troy Hill (CB, SF)
John Daka (DE)Samson Ebukam (LB, SF)
Otis Anderson (RB)

Scott Barrett’s Fantasy Strength of Schedule

Quarterback: 5th-softest (+0.54)

Running Back: 6th-softest (+0.93)

Wide Receivers: 3rd-softest (+1.36)

Tight Ends: 5th-toughest (-0.53)

Pace and Tendencies

Pace (seconds in between plays): 28.0 (T-20th)

Plays per game: 66.6 (5th)

When the game is within a score — Pass: 57.8% (17th) | Run: 42.2% (16th)

When the team is ahead — Pass: 47.5% (22nd) | Run: 52.5% (11th)

When the team is behind — Pass: 61.8% (25th) | Run: 38.2% (8th)

The Rams were very balanced last year, but that figures to change a great deal in 2021 with Matthew Stafford at the controls instead of Jared Goff. HC Sean McVay’s offense was limited with Goff last season and it showed — L.A.’s defense carried them into the playoffs as the offense was a mediocre 21st in yards per drive and 22nd in points per game. A more open and aggressive passing attack is even more likely now that Cam Akers (Achilles) is lost for the year, too.

Key Statistics

  • Over the past two seasons, Matthew Stafford is tied for 10th in passer rating (99.8) and ranks 8th in yards per attempt (8.1). Meanwhile, Jared Goff ranks a mediocre 24th-of-40 qualified QBs in passer rating (88.1) and 20th in YPA (7.3) in this span.

  • Since McVay took over as the Rams play-caller in 2017, L.A. has used play action on a league-high 32.6% of their passing plays. For reference, the next closest team in play-action rate in this span is the Ravens (29.8%) and the league-average is 23.9%.

  • Per SIS, Stafford ranks third-best (of 30 QBs) in EPA/attempt, 12th-best in on-target throws, and 10th-best in passer rating on play-action throws over the past four seasons.

  • Goff ranks 10th-best in EPA/attempt, second-worst in on-target throws, and ninth-worst in passer rating on play-action since 2017.

  • Last year, Stafford was one of the league’s best passers on throws of 15+ yards downfield, ranking fifth-best out of 29 qualified QBs in on-target throw rate (67%) and 6th-best in passer rating (121.4) per SIS.

  • Meanwhile, Goff ranked a lowly 27th in on-target passes (50%) on throws that traveled 15+ yards downfield. Only Mitchell Trubisky (47%) and Carson Wentz (43%) were worse. Goff’s 85.2 rating on these attempts ranked 20th.

  • There is no denying Stafford is a more aggressive quarterback than Goff, and it had to be a deciding factor for the trade. Over the last two combined years, Stafford’s average depth of target downfield when he’s given a clean pocket is 9.9 yards. Only Jameis Winston (10.6) is more aggressive.

  • On the flipside, Goff’s aDOT from a clean pocket is 7.0 yards. That ranks 41st-of-46 qualified QBs ahead of only Teddy Bridgewater, Drew Brees, Justin Herbert, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Alex Smith.

  • Cooper Kupp (15.5) and Robert Woods (15.4) rank as the WR15 and WR16 in fantasy points per game over the last two combined seasons.

  • Among the 77 WRs to see at least 40 targets last year, Kupp (6.3) ranked 74th in average depth of target and Woods (6.8) ranked 71st.

  • On the flipside, Kupp ranked ninth-best in yards after the catch while Woods was 11th-best.

  • In his 5 starts in Week 3-7 last year with Cam Akers out/limited, Darrell Henderson got 15.8 touches and averaged 78.6 scrimmage yards per game.

  • In Week 3-7, Henderson averaged 12.9 FPG which would have made him the RB25.

  • In that five game span, Malcolm Brown averaged 9.0 touches per game and played on 46% of the team’s snaps.

  • On their early down carries, Henderson ranked 2nd-best in first down percentage and 5th-best in EPA per carry.

  • Akers 29th in EPA and 34th in first downs per carry among 40 qualified RBs.

Huber’s Scheme Notes


The Rams were far closer to reaching the NFC conference championship than the 32-18 final score might suggest from their defeat at the hands of Green Bay. The defense, as will be discussed in detail later, didn’t play its best game, that much is for sure. The Packers’ O-line nearly shut Aaron Donald down (one QB pressure), and the chosen one, Jalen Ramsey, permitted a completion on all five of Aaron Rodgers’ targets into his coverage (5/54/0)… including a rare missed tackle. Those five receptions may not seem like much, but they account for 13% of the season total allowed. However, as had become an every three games-or-so occurrence following a brutal start to the season, Troy Hill’s coverage proved to be the ultimate weakness. Hill permitted a 5/96/1 line that was highlighted by a 58-yard TD strike to Allen Lazard.

The final straw that broke the camel’s back was provided by Green Bay’s talented RBs breaking through seven tackle attempts. You never want to play your playoff games on Lambeau Field. The entire design of the surrounding stands creates unique wind vortices, providing an innate disadvantage to opposing passing attacks, not to mention the freezing temperatures. We can consider the locale as the opening straw. The middle straw was quite obvious, traced to the injuries at QB, and the absence of Cooper Kupp. HC Sean McVay clearly did not want to force Jared Goff into play less than three weeks removed from thumb surgery. But John Wolford was forced out due to a neck injury early in the Wildcard round. As we all know, every team is only as good as its QB. Goff clearly played the game at around 50%, at best. In no way was he prepared to face a Packers’ defense that had crept into elite territory.

Considering how well Cam Akers ran the ball, had Goff been at 100%, a showdown with Tampa Bay and the GOAT could have resulted in a far different Super Bowl LV result. Taking a quick glance at this offseason’s personnel changes, you might notice that, under the direction of GM Les Snead and McVay, Los Angeles was rather quiet during free agency. Now, they did send over the package that included Jared Goff to the Lions in exchange for Matthew Stafford. But they saw John Johnson III, Michael Brockers, Hill, and Gerald Everett all sign elsewhere, yet their only significant signing ended up being DeSean Jackson. Why is that, you might ask? While some obvious exceptions exist (i.e., Ramsey, Robert Woods, Leonard Floyd, etc.,), this team has been hand-picked by the current regime through the NFL Draft.

Just look to the 2021 draft for the evidence. It can reasonably be assumed that they replaced Josh Reynolds with Tutu Atwell, Everett with Jacob Harris, Brockers with Bobby Brown III, Hill with Robert Rochell, and Samson Ebukam with Earnest Brown IV. Since they already rostered Jordan Fuller, Taylor Rapp, and Nick Scott, there was no need to acquire another safety. The same is true with Brian Allen replacing Austin Blythe at center. In fact, they managed to survive free agency without a single forced adjustment to their entire starting offense. That is, until Akers recently tore an Achilles to end his season. With word from McVay stating the Rams would not pursue a veteran free agent, a bellcow opportunity is staring directly in the face of Darrell Henderson. The question is: will his health hold up with increased touches? Especially since the last two seasons have ended on IR for Henderson due to high-ankle sprains.

Other than a pair of late-season ankle sprains, Henderson has actually remained healthy for the Rams during in-season play. And, if we place him alongside Akers’ own injury history, Henderson has actually been the most consistently healthy of the two. But Akers was the Rams’ clear lead back for a reason: he was simply the more explosive back. However, no matter if you want to take the step down to Henderson or not, he was actually a pretty damn efficient RB last season. The only thing he lacked was volume. That will not be a problem in ‘21 within Los Angeles’ two-concept running game. Specifically, the Rams rely on top-three rates of Outside Zone and Man blocking.

What if Henderson does end up following Akers to IR? A piece of advice I always rely upon: be careful to consider the source of every opinion you read. One of the immediate reactions to the Akers’ news was to quickly anoint Xavier Jones as the immediate backup to Henderson. As we saw with Malcolm Brown in recent seasons, McVay is most definitely not afraid to go against the grain with his backfield touches. While we can expect to see Jones receive some touches, for sure, this is an opportunity vacuum that is far from decided. The main factor in Jones’ favor will be his experience with the team since May of last season after being signed as an UDFA.

It’s common knowledge that Snead and McVay never throw away late draft picks. They only draft individuals that they envision for significant roles with the team. Considering their passionate pursuit of building their roster through the draft, look no further than ‘21 seventh-rounder Jake Funk. His name may not have come up frequently in discussions of the top draft-eligible RBs prior to the draft; he is still a name we must monitor. Funk’s college career was offset by a pair of ACL injuries that cost him two seasons of play at Maryland. Heading into his final, senior season with the Terrapins, COVID-19 abbreviated his Big Ten schedule. Funk may have only run for 967 yards during his collegiate career, but he scored 10 TDs on only 136 carries, and averaged 7.1 YPC while facing stout B1G defenses. If you have the time, make sure you check out his ‘20 film. It’s quite impressive.

It should be noted that a major reason the Akers injury has created such a stir is due to the quality O-line fielded by the Rams. While it’s reported to be his final season, Andrew Whitworth continued with the type of play at left tackle that will one day end with him enshrined in the Hall of Fame. On the other side of the line, Rob Havenstein, all 6-foot-8, 330-pounds of him, overcame his struggles from the ‘19 season to firmly entrench himself heading into this season. That tackle combination is the envy of well over half the teams in the league. With Blythe now set to snap the ball to Patrick Mahomes, 2018 second-rounder Austin Corbett will slide over to center from RG after an impressive breakout last season. In Corbett’s place, it appears ‘19 third-rounder Bobby Evans will get the first crack at right guard. He’ll need to play significantly better if he intends to claim the role. Should Evans falter, a collection of depth consisting of Brian Allen, Tremayne Anchrum, and/or Jordan Meredith will be ready to pounce.

At left guard, ‘19 fifth-rounder David Edwards will continue to offer his team its most consistent guard play. Los Angeles’ guards may not come anywhere close to the skill they have at tackle but, as previously mentioned, their run blocking scheme focuses on Outside Zone and Man blocking. In fact, the Rams rank toward the bottom in Pulling Guard rate. Stafford will certainly be appreciative of Whitworth and Havenstein protecting the edges of the pocket after his sack rate ranked 25th-highest last season. But McVay didn’t acquire Stafford due to his sack rate, he had his sights set on adding a QB that has established an extensive track record as being one of the very best in the game at coverage recognition. Stafford is so adept with his pre-snap reads that his efficiency remains steady no matter what specific scheme the defense throws at him. Without his top RB, “Stat Padford” will likely end up with some elevated passing numbers. All the same, the Rams’ passing attack was already set for significant improvements.

What else can be said about the combo of Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp that hasn’t already been said? One piece of advice, don’t confuse yourself with their numbers from last season. In addition to the late-season injuries at QB, McVay made the annoying decision to plant the untalented Josh Reynolds on the field for 75% of passing plays. Thankfully enough, he is no longer in the picture. The infusion of blazing speed from Jackson and Atwell will allow the masterful mind of McVay to scheme the route combinations that previously led his team to Super Bowl LIII. Intermingled with that game-changing speed, McVay will use “Bobby Trees,” “Cooperkupp”, and/or Van Jefferson on variations of his beloved post-deep crosser combo. And through play action, he’ll alot Stafford with plenty of pocket space to continue stacking up reception totals to his No. 2/slot WRs, and allow them to continue tapping into their YAC madness.

It doesn’t end there; with Everett out of the picture, Tyler Higbee could be in line for a massive season. Health permitting, Higbee offers one of the most complete scheme profiles in the game. As long as Jacob Harris and Brycen Hopkins only end up filling secondary roles, a boost to the 50% route rate for Higbee could result in setting career numbers across the board. Some chatter was spread around on Harris’ OTA work, but it would be shocking to see him make an immediate impact with nothing in the way of TE experience in his background. In total, the hubbub surrounding this new-and-improved offense is legit. It’s led by one of the most ingenious offensive minds in the game (McVay), directed by one of the top-five arms in the game (Stafford), and stacked with the receiving weapons to make it all come together. The major question marks are at RG and RB. And we’ve seen teams make serious playoff pushes with far less.


This defense is only waiting on the offense. If Stafford is able to put consistent points up on the scoreboard, nothing will stand in the way of the Rams stationing themselves alongside the Chiefs and Buccaneers as the very best of the best. Whereas some teams attempt to hide their deficiencies along their D-line, that’s precisely where Los Angeles boasts one of the top-five defensive players in the history of the game: Aaron Donald. The fact that Donald disrupts the run and pass with equal awesomeness, from the interior of the line, and while dealing with double teams on seemingly 100% of snaps is beyond belief. Needless to say, the benefits of playing alongside Donald on the interior has boosted the play of both Sebastian Joseph-Day and Greg Gaines. Expect the same whenever ‘21 fourth-rounder Bobby Brown III earns his place in the rotation.

What has taken this Rams D-line to another level is Leonard Floyd’s emergence on the edge. He submitted a career year after being shown the door by Chicago after the ‘19 season. With the departure of Samson Ebukam to the 49ers, a combination of Justin Hollins and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo will absorb the vacated snaps. As for the linebacker unit, the Rams clearly weren’t pleased with the results from last season. The front office invested their third-round pick into MIKE Ernest Jones out of South Carolina. Jones will step into a three-down role from Day 1. Both Micah Kiser and Kenny Young proved to be complete liabilities in run defense and coverage, so we’ll likely see Troy Reeder absorb most of the snaps at WILL ‘backer.

What type of scheme rotation can we expect with Brandon Staley now the new HC of the Chargers, and shifting to an entirely new defensive staff led by new DC Raheem Morris? As difficult as it may be to believe, I am not expecting we’ll see any significant changes. The Rams’ defense already offered the elegance of the Mona Lisa prior to Morris’ arrival. Yes, the defense underwent far more significant personnel changes than the offense, but the D-line is stacked, the CB room is the best in the game, and the safety unit is talented enough to replace John Johnson III without missing a beat.

You just can’t improve perfection. And that’s precisely what LAR has on the outside in Ramsey and Darious Williams. I find it unbelievable that Ramsey finished with both the fourth-fewest yards allowed/per coverage snap and FPs allowed/coverage snap while defending the very best offenses had to offer last season. And most opposing QBs were scared out of their shoes at the thought of targeting receivers into his coverage, leaving Ramsey with the fifth-lowest air yards/snap among 89 qualified outside CBs. The secondary role that will need to be filled is at nickel corner. And that answer does not immediately stand out. A possible answer could be having David Long Jr. kick inside to work out of the slot. If not, McVay and Morris could always already have a name under their sleeve (Robert Rochell?) they see as a candidate.

If Morris does, in fact, keep the coverage rotation in place — which has also been reported by the players, then we can expect to see them feature league-high rates of three schemes: Cover 4, Cover 6, and Cover 3-Seam. It’s their league-leading rate of Cover 6 that allows Los Angeles to mask their use of Cover 4 that they use to defend the run. And they love to revert to their Cover 3-Seam whenever they face off with spread-heavy passing attacks. But you need at least two outstanding safeties to pull off this rotation; the Rams happen to have three. It was unfortunate that Taylor Rapp went down with a knee injury in Week 10 after generating top-10 rates in every important coverage metric prior to the injury. But Rapp has already been cleared, so he’ll likely fill Johnson’s old role at strong safety.

Snead simply hit a home run by selecting Jordan Fuller in the sixth round of the ‘20 draft. Fuller played an integral role following the injury to Rapp and we will see him on the field on opening day as their starting free safety. The other player that stepped forward last season is ‘19 seventh-rounder Nick Scott out of Penn State. With the ability to step into the shoes of either Rapp or Fuller, were the injury bug to strike, Scott stands as a significant asset. And that’s precisely the type of quality safety depth vital to the most exotic scheme rotation in the game. Unlike the offense dealing with questions at RG and RB, the defense only needs a slot CB to step forward to field a near-perfect defense. One thing we must always keep in mind, this defense is not to be taken lightly. They permitted the fewest FPs to entire opposing offenses last season for a reason, and we will need to find ourselves under the gun to even consider starting our offensive players. In nearly every instance, you can look to each of the other matchups on the schedule to find better starting options.

Projected Fantasy Contributors

Matthew Stafford (Proj: QB9 | ADP: 85 | Pos ADP: QB10)

Look, it’s simple: the Rams’ brain trust — and let’s be real, Sean McVay is making the calls here — believed Jared Goff was so holding the team back that they wanted to start John Wolford in the playoffs. And despite Goff taking the gig back because of an injury to Wolford, the relationship between coach and quarterback was already dead. So the Rams traded future first-round picks in 2022 and 2023, along with a 2021 third-round pick, in a blockbuster deal to land Stafford from Detroit. (The Rams, notably aggressive — if not outright flippant — with their first-round picks, don’t have one until 2024 and haven’t made one since Goff in 2016.) This is a team that believes its Super Bowl window is now, and if we believe that McVay is the offensive genius we’re told he is, it’s going to be fun to watch a more aggressive QB in this attack. Last year, Stafford was one of the league’s best passers on throws of 15+ yards downfield, ranking 5th-best out of 29 qualified QBs in on-target throw rate (67%) and 6th-best in passer rating (121.4) per SIS. Meanwhile, Jared Goff ranked a lowly 27th in on-target passes (50%) on throws that traveled 15+ yards downfield. Only Mitchell Trubisky (47%) and Carson Wentz (43%) were worse. Goff’s 85.2 rating on these attempts ranked 20th. But while Stafford is significantly more aggressive than Goff, which will be a much different look for Rams fans this season, he also fits what McVay does like a glove. Since McVay took over as the Rams play-caller in 2017, L.A. has used play action on a league-high 32.6% of their passing plays. For reference, the next closest team in play-action rate in this span is the Ravens (29.8%) and the league-average is 23.9%. Per SIS, Stafford ranks third-best (of 30 QBs) in EPA/attempt, 12th-best in on-target throws, and 10th-best in passer rating on play-action throws over the past four seasons. Goff ranks 10th-best in EPA/attempt, second-worst in on-target throws, and ninth-worst in passer rating on play-action since 2017. The Rams believe Stafford is the man to take them to the promised land, and as of now, the markets are buying it too — with an 8th-round ADP, Stafford is often the first “non-running” QB off the board. He’ll have to approach 40 TD passes to pay off that ADP, but he has the weaponry to do it, and with the injury to Cam Akers (Achilles), he may be throwing more than even the Rams expected. Like the Rams did for Stafford, you’ll be paying a premium to acquire him.

Darrell Henderson (Proj: RB19 | ADP: 110* | Pos ADP: RB41*)

After a very disappointing 2019 rookie campaign, Henderson worked his way into an active rotation in 2020, only ceding true bell cow work to Cam Akers late in the season when Henderson landed on IR with a high ankle sprain. In 15 games, he posted 138/624/5 (4.5 YPC) rushing and 16/159/1 receiving on 24 targets (9.9 YPR, 66.7%). His season-long average of 8.7 FPG was higher than Akers’ 7.9, though he never reached Akers’ heights of his late-season/playoff run. Henderson did have 3 finishes as a top-12 fantasy RB and 1 more as a top-24 RB, both higher than Akers’ totals, and four more times he finished as a top-36 RB, so there was a reasonable expectation he would be an effective FLEX if plugging him in. Now, the question becomes how big a role Henderson can handle, with Akers’ absolutely devastating Achilles injury suffered in mid July. While we’ve never seen Henderson as a true bell cow, the closest we’ve come is his six-week stretch from Weeks 2 to 7 last year, a stretch over which Akers missed two games and barely played in the other four. Over that span, Henderson handled 47% of the Rams’ snaps, averaging 14.1 FPG and ranking as the RB15. But keep in mind, even with Akers barely playing, the Rams were working in Malcolm Brown, who actually saw more targets (15) than Henderson (13) over that span. Brown is gone, and behind Henderson (for now) are 2020 UDFA Xavier Jones and uber-athletic 2021 rookie Jake Funk. Remember that Henderson is one of the most explosive RBs our Graham Barfield has ever charted for his Yards Created project, as well. The Rams seem to really like Jones, but make no mistake that Henderson will get the first opportunity here, and he’s the most talented of the bunch.

Robert Woods (Proj: WR13 | ADP: 40 | Pos ADP: WR15)

Woods is a “boring” pick, as someone who isn’t what we’d call “flashy” and doesn’t often make big plays down the field. But what he has done consistently since signing with the Rams in 2017 is produce, and we’ll take his numbers on our fantasy team any day. Here are the finishes for Rams Woods in the last three seasons — WR13 (2020), WR14 (2019), WR11 (2018). It’s possible that the lack of dominant “spike” weeks for Woods is a factor in his relatively mild ADP, and that’s fair. He had just two 100-yard receiving games in 2020, and has scored multiple TDs in a single game just once in the last two seasons. He hasn’t had multiple receiving TDs in a game since Week 3 of 2018, so Woods seems to fit the stereotype of a boring lineup filler who won’t win you matchups, but won’t lose them either. However, we’re trusting Sean McVay here, and he was clearly fed up with Jared Goff. The eye test also showed the Rams’ offense was missing something — it was like a luxury convertible that was spinning its wheels in the driveway. The numbers bear that out as well, however. In McVay’s first season in Los Angeles, the Rams ranked 6th with 5.8 yards per play. They followed that up with a 2nd-place finish (6.4) in 2018. But they fell to 13th in 2019 (5.7), and posted McVay’s first bottom-half finish at 18th (5.5) in 2020. Our belief is that Matthew Stafford is a significant upgrade for this offense. And Woods’ consistency in an offense that’s been on the decline suggests he could flirt with WR1 numbers again if Stafford is the upgrade both we and McVay believe he will be. Keep in mind that, while he’s no burner, his aDOT is a virtual guarantee to rise — his 6.8 aDOT last year was 71st of 77 WRs to see 40 or more targets. He’s going in a fantastic range for multiple roster builds, too. He can be a hammer WR3 in a WR-heavy build, or a value WR1 on teams that go RB heavy or perhaps invest in an elite TE.

Cooper Kupp (Proj: WR18 | ADP: 51 | Pos ADP: WR21)

Whatever the reason for it, Kupp fell behind teammate Robert Woods in overall effectiveness in 2020. While Kupp is, over the last two seasons, the WR15 (15.5 FPG) to Woods’ WR16 (15.4) in fantasy points per game, Woods was the more effective fantasy option in 2020, at 15.4 FPG to Kupp’s 14.0. Woods had both a higher ceiling and floor as well. Kupp finished zero times as a top-5 PPR WR; Woods has two such finishes. Kupp had three top-12 WR finishes; Woods had four. Most notably, Kupp was a top-24 PPR WR just five times in 2020; Woods did so nine times. Of course, this Ram offense was spinning its wheels with the uber-conservative Jared Goff under center. Among the 77 WRs to see at least 40 targets last year, Kupp (6.3) ranked 74th in average depth of target and Woods (6.8) ranked 71st. While Kupp is no burner, that number is almost certain to go up with Matthew Stafford under center. Just keep in mind that Stafford is better than Goff in just about every area, especially on play action, which is the bread-and-butter of Sean McVay’s attack. We still love Kupp — Stafford has told reporters that Kupp is one of the smartest guys he’s ever played with, which bodes well for chemistry — and he’s got a hell of a shot to outproduce his ADP, and we have him projected to do so. Just keep an eye on his health: Kupp dealt with multiple knee ailments last season, including bursitis throughout the season before he suffered a Morel-Lavelle lesion in the Wild Card Round, which is when skin and tissue separate from the fascia. He sat out Week 17 and then th Divisional Round with the injuries. Kupp rested in minicamp but he’s been working closely with Stafford with a play-card in hand, talking him through plays. He’s developed a rapport, at least mentally, with Stafford, and that could go a long way.

Van Jefferson (Proj: WR97 | ADP: 214 | Pos ADP: WR78)

One of the best route runners in the 2020 NFL Draft class, Jefferson played sparingly as a rookie, posting 19/220/1 on 31 targets, as he was used as kind of a direct backup for Cooper Kupp. When Kupp missed two games with knee injuries — Week 17 and the Divisional Round — Jefferson had his two best games off the year. In Week 17, he played 60% of the offensive snaps and posted 4/50 on 8 targets. In the Divisional Round, he played a season-high 86% of the snaps and posted 6/46/1 on 7 targets. Now, Josh Reynolds is gone, vacating over 800 snaps and 81 targets, but the question is if Jefferson is going to fill Reynolds’ role in the offense. Reynolds’ 2020 aDOT with uber-conservative Jared Goff at QB was 10.6, about four yards per target higher than Kupp and Robert Woods. Jefferson’s aDOT of 8.9 was higher than both Kupp and Woods’ aDOT as well, but we wouldn’t call him a true burner, and he wasn’t a vertical dimension in college either. Meanwhile, the Rams signed DeSean Jackson and drafted Tutu Atwell this off-season, two players who do profile as burners (for as long as DJax can stay on the field, at least). There are opportunities here to establish a rapport with new QB Matthew Stafford, and coach Sean McVay has indicated that Jefferson showed up to camp this off-season ready to work, but there are also questions that need to be answered about his role. Jefferson is being drafted as a last-round type of best ball flyer.

DeSean Jackson (Proj: WR125 | ADP: 352 | Pos ADP: WR119)

DeSean can still run — he’s proven that the last two seasons with the Eagles, over which he averaged 17.2 YPR. Of course, the act of running has taken its toll on him… he played just eight games over that two-year span, and frankly, we’re surprised it’s that much. The Rams have an open spot for a burner in their offense with Josh Reynolds gone, and Matthew Stafford is one of the most aggressive throwers in the NFL. But DJax just can’t stay healthy, and fantasy players are sick of being fooled by him, leaving him undrafted even in most best-ball leagues (where he’s actually had some semblance off value the last two years). Unlike the Eagles, though, the Rams aren’t counting on Jackson, and his presence here is a luxury. If he can’t stay healthy or his speed finally wanes, second-round rookie Tutu Atwell (literally the smallest player in the NFL) would get a chance to show his jets.

Tyler Higbee (Proj: TE10 | ADP: 111 | Pos ADP: TE10)

It looked like we were going to get a massive year from Higbee in 2020, who was a popular “breakout” candidate at the TE position, carrying a top-10 ADP there. After a respectable 3/40 receiving on 5 targets in Week 1, he absolutely torched the Eagles for 5/54/3 on 5 targets in Week 2. He then proceeded to score 2 TD… the rest of the season. That game was Higbee’s only top-5 TE finish on the year, and he finished inside the top-16 just four times. That was a huge bust of a season for someone drafted so highly. Higbee’s final line of 44/521/5 receiving on 60 targets (11.8 YPR, 73.3%) was overall disappointing, as he finished as the TE18 in total fantasy points and the TE21 at 8.5 FPG. So, what happened? We may have underestimated the role of Gerald Everett, who saw 62 targets to Higbee’s 60, despite running fewer routes (262 to 295, per SIS. Higbee’s 292 routes were just 21st among TEs). While we liked Everett’s talent, it was surprising to see that, given the Rams chose Higbee over Everett — 2020 was Everett’s last year on his rookie contract, but signed Higbee to a four-year extension in 2019. The Rams also seemed to preemptively replace Everett in drafting Brycen Hopkins last year. With Everett now gone to division rival Seattle, fantasy drafters are not holding a grudge against Higbee, drafting him similarly to last season as a top-10 TE. But will he usurp the majority of Everett’s targets, or will Hopkins or rookie freak-show Jacob Harris earn a significant batch of those targets? It’s worth pointing out that new QB Matthew Stafford likes having a TE he can rely on — Eric Ebron had three seasons of 70 or more targets and TJ Hockenson had over 100 last year with Stafford under center. Higbee’s rate stats are impressive, as well: his 1.80 yards per route run since 2018 are behind just George Kittle, Darren Waller, Travis Kelce, and Mark Andrews at the position. The only question here is about role, and our projection is that Higbee will indeed take the majority of what Everett leaves behind.

Brycen Hopkins (Proj: TE54 | ADP: 269 | Pos ADP: TE34)

Hopkins appeared in five games as a rookie in 2020, playing just 2 snaps on offense and 50 on special teams, as he was buried behind Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett, and blocking specialist Johnny Mundt. But Hopkins wasn’t selected to contribute right away — the Rams knew that Everett would be leaving in free agency, and he leaves behind 62 targets. Will Hopkins get a chance to eat into those? Well, based on his athleticism, yes. Our Greg Cosell wrote in his scouting report last year that Hopkins “is a strong prospect with excellent athleticism and movement for a TE with the formation versatility to line up in multiple positions, the ability to attack the defense at all three levels, and turn short receptions into explosive plays.” A blocking specialist, he is not. However, Cosell also noted Hopkins had major drops issues in college, and the Rams did take a very intriguing WR/TE tweener prospect in UCF’s Jacob Harris this past draft. Hopkins is undraftable in all but the deepest TE-premium leagues, but he is a worthwhile dynasty stash in the event the team views him as a strong Everett replacement.

Hansen’s Final Points

The Cam Akers injury threw a monkey wrench into a situation that looked great for Matthew Stafford this year — but he should be used to having a less-than-stellar running game behind him. And it’s not like their current top back Darrell Henderson is a stiff. Otherwise, LA should be a great environment for Stafford to produce for fantasy immediately. Stafford doesn’t produce much with his legs (0 rushing TDs his last four seasons), and he may not get the volume we’ve seen at times in Detroit, since their defense is still top-10 on paper. But the Rams will look to him for big plays, and Stafford is still one of the league’s best passers on throws of 15+ yards downfield. He’s also one of the best in the league on play-action, which the Rams use a ton, and he’s a better second-reaction player than Jared Goff when plays break down. I’m not making it a point to draft him, but he’s one of my top targets after the top running QBs are off the board around 90 picks into a draft. Stafford will need to pile up TDs to compete with the running QBs, but if things go well he’s a legit 40-TD candidate.

His rookie season was forgettable, but Darrell Henderson last season proved why the Rams spent a costly third round pick on him in 2019, and now he’ll be their lead guy on all three downs. Henderson does have lingering durability issues, so the team will make sure his workload isn’t too large, but his 2020 tape was very good overall, so 250+ touches are there for the explosive Henderson. During that six-week stretch from Weeks 2-7, Henderson only handled 47% of the snaps with veteran Malcolm Brown well in the mix, so without him Henderson should do better than his RB15 ranking for that span. Henderson is only the RB19 in our late-July projections, but we could easily bump him up a few spots if the vibes are good in August. I’m comfortable taking him as my RB2 in Round 4, so he stands out if I go with only one RB the first three rounds. I may not feel the need to take Henderson in the fourth as my RB3 over a top-end WR, but he’d obviously be a great flex or third back.

The situation at RB behind Henderson is still fluid, and I’d expect a veteran to be signed unless

2020 UDFA Xavier Jones and rookie Jake Funk showcase themselves extremely well in training camp. Jones had 660 carries at SMU and scored 24 TDs in his final year there in 2019 and the Rams do like him, so he’s the safer bet to be in the mix on early downs. But Funk, who averaged 7.2 YPC on just 135 college carries, is an intriguing option, due to his athletic ability and explosiveness.

He’s been a top-14 or better WR for fantasy in each of his three seasons, so it’s beyond fair to consider Robert Woods a top-15 wideout this year, given his upgrade at QB going from Jared Goff to Matthew Stafford. He’s the WR13-15 off the board, depending on when you look, and we have him at 12 as of late July. One element that has to be considered with Woods, along with his consistency as a receiver, is his rushing production. Woods has been good for at least 115 rushing yards and 1 TD in each of his last three seasons, which adds about a point per game to his totals. That’s important to note because his target number may drop a little from his strong 130-140 range from 2018-20. Woods’ YPR has also dropped three years in a row, going from 14.2 in 2018 to only 10.6 in 2020, but his aDOT with Stafford is guaranteed to rise, which can offset a drop in targets. Woods is not a sexy pick, but he’s as steady as they come and is worthy of a fourth round pick as a WR2. If he slips a round, then he’s a bargain.

He’s not as consistent as Robert Woods, but Cooper Kupp is also more affordable than Woods, whose ADP is a round earlier. Like Woods, Kupp’s aDOT suffered with Jared Goff, ranking as the 74th WR in that metric out of 77 wideouts to see at least 40 targets. Matthew Stafford will love playing with Kupp, who I’ve called a “football nerd” since before he was drafted, and Stafford has said that Kupp is one of the smartest guys he’s ever played with. Injuries have been a concern, with multiple knee issues popping up the last few years, so we’ll downgrade him if he has issues this summer. But otherwise, we expect him to get on the same page as his new QB quickly, given how detail-oriented Kupp is about his job, and we have him ranked a little over his WR21 ADP.

It’s hard to make any definitive statements about a 19-catch campaign for a rookie wideout, but Van Jefferson certainly passed the eyeball test in 2020. Considered a great route runner coming out of college, Jefferson’s aDOT was considerably higher than the top two Ram WRs last year (over 4.0 yards per target), so he should be excited about the strong-armed Matthew Stafford coming to town. The problem is the Rams signed DeSean Jackson and drafted Tutu Atwell to be vertical threats (at least Jackson, who played for Sean McVay in Washington), so Jefferson’s target numbers should be relatively low each week. He’s not an awful “handcuff” to Woods or Kupp, and he’s a viable late, late-round flyer, but he’s going to need at least one key injury to another receiver to have a chance at fantasy relevancy.

He’s as big of an injury risk as there is in the league at this point, but DeSean Jackson can still run and separate against DBs who are 10+ years younger, so we could easily see some big plays coming from him and the strong-armed and accurate Matthew Stafford. But for fantasy, Jackson merely helps Stafford’s chances while possibly limiting Van Jefferson’s, so there’s not much to get excited about unless you’re talking about best ball.

There is no doubt in my mind that Tyler Higbee would be a stud fantasy TE if he was featured, like he was down the stretch in 2019 (and he was a league-winner that year). The problem is Sean McVay is enamored with the WR position in his offense, and the Rams continue to add other TEs in the draft with Brycen Hopkins in 2020 and the freakish Jacob Harris this year. Harris created some buzz in the spring with a great showing, which is a mild concern for Higbee. Losing veteran Gerald Everett and his 62 targets (2 more than Higbee) does help, though, since the combination of Hopkins/Harris won’t likely get that much action. Higbee does also get a nice upgrade at QB to Stafford, who has a strong history of producing with a TE. Higbee is still a great talent, as evidenced by his 1.80 yards per route run since 2018, fifth-best in the NFL over that span. It should be relatively easy for Higbee to land in the top-12 this year for fantasy if he’s healthy, but we’re going to need to see what transpires in Rams camp this summer. If the vibes are good and/or our sources come through, then we could upgrade Higbee to a must-add as a top-8 TE. For now, we’re still fine with him at his 110 ADP and as the TE10 off the board.

He might have been a name to keep a close eye on this summer had the Rams not drafted Jacob Harris, but Brycen Hopkins, while a strong prospect, won’t command any interest in fantasy drafts this summer unless Tyler Higbee is hurt.