2023 Franchise Focus: Los Angeles Rams


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2023 Franchise Focus: Los Angeles Rams

The Rams’ all-in push to win Super Bowl LVI — which was successful, by the way — was expected to come with a bill down the line, just like the Buccaneers’ run with Tom Brady was. It’s the game you play for a ring.

But even Mr. “F Them Picks” Les Snead was probably surprised it came so soon and so brutally, with the Rams falling to 5-12 in 2022 with one of the most injured rosters in the NFL — most notably QB Matthew Stafford.

Stafford is back in Los Angeles and, hopefully, the elbow injury that hampered him in 2021 and 2022 is healed. The back injury that cost him a lot of 2022 is a concern. So is the fact that the Rams are thin on the offensive line and… well, just about everywhere else.

How much magic can Sean McVay coax out of this roster?

Listen to the accompanying Franchise Focus podcast with The Rams Wire’s Cameron DaSilva

The Betting Basics

Odds courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook

Team FuturesOdds
Season Win Total (O/U)6.5 (+110/-134)
NFC West+1000
Playoffs (Y/N)+285/-375
NFC Championship+3500
Super Bowl+6500

Season Prop Movement

Win Total: 7.5 (-120) in late March to 6.5 (+110)

Super Bowl: +3000 in mid-February to +6000

Projected Fantasy Contributors

All ADP is from Underdog Fantasy as of publication date.

Matthew Stafford (Proj: QB26 | ADP: 151 | Pos ADP: QB20)

Les Snead and Sean McVay made an ambitious trade to acquire Stafford from the Lions during the 2021 off-season. The move paid immediate dividends, with Stafford and his running-mate Cooper Kupp carrying the offense to a Super Bowl victory over the Bengals in their home stadium. Stafford paid the price for Los Angeles’ deep postseason run with throwing elbow, spinal cord, and head injuries last year, which ended his floundering season after nine games. Los Angeles’ splash signing of Allen Robinson completely flopped, and Stafford’s body broke down operating behind an offensive line that allowed him to be sacked the third-most times (28) through the first eight weeks of the season. Stafford completed 206/303 passes (68.0%) for 2087 yards (6.9 YPA), 10 TDs (3.3%), and 8 INTs (2.6%). He added 13/9/1 rushing to finish as the QB29 with 13.3 FPG in nine contests. He had just one weekly finish as a top-12 option in 2022 after 10 finishes as a top-12 QB in 2021. Stafford has finished outside the top 15 QBs in total FP in four of his last five seasons, excluding his 41-TD campaign in 2021. He’s a complete zero as a runner with just 399 rushing yards and 1 rushing TD in the last six years for .56 FPG as a runner. Stafford will only return to fantasy relevance with extreme passing volume, which the Rams' defense could potentially accomplish with a cast of no-names next to Aaron Donald. The question then returns to Stafford’s ability to handle that passing volume healthy for an entire season at 35 years old behind a bad offensive line.

Stetson Bennett (Proj: QB41 | ADP: N/A | Pos ADP: QB54)

Bennett’s draft position odds had him favored to go undrafted at +100 (50% implied odds). The Rams pulled a stunner by selecting him 128th overall to cash the fourth-round tickets at +1400 odds (6.7% implied odds). He checked in at just 5’11”, 192 pounds at the combine and he reportedly had some off-the-field concerns coming out of Georgia. It also took him six years to get through the college level. Bennett will turn 26 years old in October, which means he’s older than fourth-year QBs Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts. Bennett’s career took off in his final two years, with Georgia winning back-to-back titles with him at the helm. He finished fourth in the Heisman voting as a redshirt senior, with now-Ravens OC Todd Monken letting him take more control of the offense — his attempts (287<455) and passing yards (2862<4128) significantly climbed from 2021 to 2022. Bennett’s best fantasy asset is his rushing ability after posting 10 rushing TDs last season and a 4.67-second 40-time at the combine. Bennett will compete with Brett Rypien to be Matthew Stafford’s backup, and there’s a chance he could get starts later in the season. Stafford, who is entering his age-35 season, is coming off an injury-riddled campaign, and there’s an outside shot they could shut him down if they go into tank mode if they’re out of postseason contention by December.

Cam Akers (Proj: RB15 | ADP: 66 | Pos ADP: RB21)

Akers had an absolute roller coaster of a year for the Rams. He was easily one of the most polarizing fantasy picks last summer after returning from a career-threatening Achilles injury suffered in July 2021. Akers then found himself squarely in Sean McVay’s doghouse during the NFL’s season-opening game. His relationship with his head coach deteriorated so much that he stepped away from the team for two games, with NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reporting that Akers had likely played his final snaps with the Rams because of “philosophical and football-related differences with head coach Sean McVay.” The two eventually patched up their relationship in early November, and Akers turned into a league-winning player by the time December rolled around. He posted double-digit FP in each of his last six games and led the NFL with 512 rushing yards in Weeks 13-18. He ranked as the RB6 with 16.9 FPG in that span, with a 74% snap share and a 64.2% carry share (per Fantasy Points Data). Overall, Akers posted 188/786/7 rushing (4.2 YPC) and 13/117/0 receiving (9.0 YPR) on 18 targets (3.7% share) to finish as the RB36 with 9.1 FPG. He owned a 48% snap share and a 52% carry share, and he ran 113 routes (7.5 per game) in 15 contests. He had one weekly finish as a top-five RB, two finishes as a top-12 option, and six finishes as a top-24 fantasy RB. Akers has a path to dominate carries and snaps as he did at the end of last season with just Zach Evans and Kyren Williams behind him. He also handled a healthy 88.9% carries from inside the 5-yard line (per Fantasy Points Data) when active last season, but he’s yet to show he can be a bell-cow option with just 27/250/1 receiving in his first 29 games. Akers could do it this season, and he certainly has a lot to prove entering the final season of his rookie contract with another year removed from his Achilles injury.

Zach Evans (Proj: RB65 | ADP: 215 | Pos ADP: RB74)

The Rams selected Evans in the sixth round, but he has an easier path to potential fantasy relevance than most late Day 3 picks. Cam Akers is the only back definitively ahead of him entering training camp, and this could be his last season with the Rams as he enters the final year of his rookie deal. Evans started his career as a five-star recruit at TCU before transferring to Mississippi for his true junior season in 2022. He finished with 144/936/9 rushing (6.5 YPC) and 12/119/1 receiving (9.9 YPR) for per-game averages of 87.9 scrimmage yards, 1.0 receptions, and .83 touchdowns. Evans checked in at 5’11”, 202 pounds at the combine, and he registered a 4.5-second 40-yard dash and disappointing marks in the vertical (33.5”) and broad jumps (10’1”) at his pro day. Our Brett Whitefield believed Evans could be a contributor as an early-down runner but had underdeveloped skills in the passing game. Akers is out of Sean McVay’s doghouse for the time being, but there’s potential for that to change based on McVay’s handling of him last season. Evans is worth keeping an eye on in training camp if he starts making noise, but he’ll likely be a one-dimensional fantasy contributor as a runner at least early in his career.

Kyren Williams (Proj: RB70 | ADP: N/A | Pos ADP: RB83)

Williams had rotten injury luck to start his professional career. He missed a major chunk of time in the summer for a broken foot during OTAs, which required surgery. He then suffered a high-ankle sprain on the opening kickoff of the NFL season. His ankle injury ruined his chance to potentially contribute right out of the gates, with Sean McVay throwing Cam Akers in the doghouse early in the season. Los Angeles’ fifth-round pick never got going once he returned to the lineup in Week 9, and it didn’t help that Akers earned back his workhorse role. Williams posted 35/139/0 rushing (4.0 YPC) and 9/76/0 receiving (8.4 YPR) on 12 targets (5.0% share). He owned a 24% snap share and a 16.5% carry share, and he ran 73 routes (7.3 per game) in 10 contests. Williams fell to Day 3 of the draft in 2021 when he posted a 4.65-second 40-time and a 32-inch vertical at just 5’9”, 194 pounds. There’s a chance he’s just not a good enough athlete to be an impact running back, but he’ll get a better chance to prove himself this season without two debilitating lower-body injuries slowing him down. Akers is the heavy favorite to lead this backfield, but we’ll see if he can stay in McVay’s good graces for an entire season. Williams could carve out a role as a complementary option, especially in passing situations.

Cooper Kupp (Proj: WR3 | ADP: 4 | Pos ADP: WR3)

Los Angeles’ title defense quickly went to hell last season but Kupp remained the NFL’s best receiver until he suffered a season-ending ankle injury nine games into 2022. He became the fourth player to win the receiving Triple Crown during Los Angeles’ Super Bowl run in 2022. Kupp then finished as fantasy’s WR1 in FPG for the second straight year, and he remarkably ranked as the WR24 in overall FP despite taking his final snap on Nov. 13. Kupp posted 75/812/6 receiving (10.8 YPR) on 98 targets (29.9% share) to finish as the WR1 with 18.3 FPG. He played on 95% of the snaps and ran 308 routes (34.2 per game) in nine contests. He had four weekly finishes as a top-five fantasy WR, six finishes as a top-12 option, and eight finishes as a top-36 WR. Kupp had the highest rate of top-5 finishes among WRs over the last two seasons at 42%, ahead of Davante Adams (36%), Justin Jefferson (36%), and Tyreek Hill (32%). He led the league in receiving yardage share (37.8%) and target share (29.9%), and he finished behind only Adams in first-read target share (37.5%). Kupp saw so many targets that he finished sixth in air yards share (41.9%) despite being the only WR with an aDOT under 10.5 yards in the top 15 — he had an aDOT of 7.2 yards (per Fantasy Points Data). The only things keeping Kupp from being drafted ahead of Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase are his age (he turned 30 years old in June) and durability concerns (he also missed half of 2018 for a torn ACL). His connection with Matthew Stafford is undeniable, and he’ll challenge for his third consecutive WR1 finish in FPG as long as he and his quarterback can stay healthy.

Van Jefferson (Proj: WR54 | ADP: 137 | Pos ADP: WR62)

Jefferson came into the NFL with a reputation as one of the best route-runners in the 2020 Draft class, but Sean McVay has mostly deployed him as a deep threat through his first three seasons. He finished with the third-longest aDOT at 16.9 yards among 117 WRs with 25+ targets, behind only Justin Watson (20.4) and teammate Tutu Atwell (17.9). Jefferson made a leap in Year 2 with 50/802/6 receiving before taking a step back in 2022. A pair of off-season knee surgeries held him out for the first six games before he was forced to play the majority of his games without Matthew Stafford. Jefferson posted 24/369/3 receiving (15.4 YPR) on 44 targets (13.5% share) to finish as the WR72 with 6.1 FPG. He played on 78% of the snaps and ran 275 routes (25.0 per game) in 11 contests. He had one finish as a top-24 option and four finishes as a top-36 WR. Jefferson is the clear favorite to be the #2 WR but he’ll be a distant second option behind Cooper Kupp, who earned a league-high 29.9% target share before his injury in 2022. Jefferson will be back to full health after multiple operations last year and he has plenty to play for entering the final year of his rookie deal. He’ll also benefit from a healthy Stafford at QB, but he needs more easy-access targets after more than a third of his targets (15) came on go, post, deep cross, and corner routes last season (per Fantasy Points Data).

Tutu Atwell (Proj: WR115 | ADP: 215 | Pos ADP: WR100)

Atwell has been a major disappointment in his first two seasons since the Rams reached to select the pint-sized WR — he’s listed at 5’9”, 165 pounds — with the 57th overall pick in 2021. He played just 10 offensive snaps in eight games as a rookie before a shoulder injury ended his year. Tutu once again saw himself buried on the depth chart to start 2022, but HC Sean McVay decided to let him out of the doghouse after Cooper Kupp’s season-ending ankle injury. Atwell posted 18/298/1 receiving (16.6 YPR) on 35 targets (9.1% share), and he played on 40% of the snaps and ran 166 routes (12.8 per game) in 13 contests. He had two weekly finishes as a top-36 WR. Tutu was the epitome of a one-dimensional player with the second-longest aDOT (17.9 yards) among 119 WRs with 25+ targets — he ranked behind only Justin Watson at 20.4 yards (per Fantasy Points Data). Atwell is unlikely to be a fantasy factor but he has a better chance of being an impact deep threat with a healthy Matthew Stafford back in the mix.

Of course, that’s if Atwell stays out of McVay’s doghouse and remains in the #3 WR picture, which is doable given Los Angeles’ thin depth chart behind Kupp.

Puka Nacua (Proj: WR117 | ADP: 210 | Pos ADP: WR90)

Nacua landed in the perfect WR depth chart to quickly rise in despite being selected 177th overall. Our Brett Whitefield called Nacua a good developmental prospect with exceptional body control that helps him win at the catch point. He also has an exceptional lateral ability that makes him dangerous after the catch. Nacua may be a developmental prospect, but the Rams may need him to make immediate contributions, with only Cooper Kupp and Van Jefferson locked into spots ahead of him. Nacua failed to earn playing opportunities at Washington in 2019-20, but he came into his own with Brigham Young with 91/1430/11 receiving and 39/357/5 rushing in 21 games in 2021-22. Nacua will battle the likes of Tutu Atwell, Demarcus Robinson, and Ben Skowronek, among others, for snaps and targets as the team’s #3 WR. HC Sean McVay could look to get the ball in his hands as a runner on jet sweeps and as a receiver on designed targets to take advantage of his rookie’s ability in space.

Ben Skowronek (Proj: WR118 | ADP: N/A | Pos ADP: WR157)

Skowronek was one of the least impactful full-time receivers in the league last year, which is saying a lot, with Allen Robinson outproducing him in the same passing game. Among 76 WRs who ran 300+ routes, he ranked 73rd in YPRR (1.02), 74th in FP/RR (.18), and tied for last with no receiving TDs (per Fantasy Points Data), even with Cooper Kupp missing the second half of the season. Skowronek posted 39/376/0 receiving (9.6 YPR) on 61 targets (12.9% share), and he played on 82% of the snaps and ran 368 routes (26.3 per game) in 14 contests. He paced the Rams WRs with 696 snaps despite missing the final three games with a calf injury. Los Angeles’ WR depth chart is completely wide open behind Kupp, but the Rams will be in big trouble if Skowronek is eating up significant snaps again.

Tyler Higbee (Proj: TE15 | ADP: 144 | Pos ADP: TE15)

The Rams had an awful defense of the Lombardi Trophy last season, but Higbee benefitted from Allen Robinson’s pitiful performance and Cooper Kupp’s injury to finish third in TE targets (108) and fifth in TE receptions (72). Higbee has quietly strung together four straight seasons with 500+ receiving yards with 60+ receptions in three of those campaigns. He posted 72/620/3 receiving (8.6 YPR) on 108 targets (19.2% share) to finish as the TE18 with 6.8 FPG. He played on 87% of the snaps and ran 395 routes (23.2 per game) in 17 contests. He had one weekly finish as a top-five fantasy TE, eight finishes as a top-12 option, and nine finishes as a top-24 TE. Higbee survived on volume with .26 targets per route run, which tied Travis Kelce for third among 47 TEs with 25+ targets. He ranked 43rd in YPR (8.6) ranked and ahead of only Ian Thomas in aDOT at 3.1 yards (per Fantasy Points Data). He also saw a disappointing 6 end-zone targets considering his heavy volume, and he’s still yet to top 5 TDs in any campaign — he has 20 TDs on 450 career targets (4.4% TD rate). Kupp is back to hog targets in 2023 but Higbee has a path to finish second in targets while being drafted as a TE2. He’s a floor player in PPR formats with a top-12 finish rate of 47% the last two seasons, but he won’t take teams to the summit with a top-5 rate of just 7%.

Hansen’s Final Rams Points

It kinda feels good to be right on a player two years in a row when it involves two completely different outcomes, but that’s where I’m at with Matthew Stafford, who I liked for 40 TDs in 2021 and to fall off a cliff in 2022. This year, with expectations down, I’m actually on the positive side of the ledger. But unfortunately, I don’t see much of a margin for error, so I can’t say I’m into Stafford. I thought my projection of 3545/24 was fairly optimistic, but it landed him at our QB26, and he’s at QB21 ADP-wise. This could be a very bad team around him, and Stafford’s long-term health is still a major question, so I’d prefer to go with a young guy for my low-end QB2 hunting.

For a second there, I thought Baker Mayfield may stick with the Rams and be a long-term solution, but the Rams let him walk and pursued a Baker-like guy in Stetson Bennett. Like Baker, he could surprise in the NFL — or completely flame out. But if Bennett shows well this summer and is called upon during the season, I’d expect to have confidence that Sean McVay can coax some decent offense with Bennett, so I might be interested for fantasy. We are slightly ahead of his ADP as our QB41 (ADP: QB44) with 430/2 passing in two projected starts.

I understand his career was in the toilet midseason last year and that Cam Akers feasted off some bad defenses late, but I can’t help but be optimistic because I thought Akers was about all the way back from his Achilles injury from 2020. In Weeks 12-18, he was the RB6 in total scoring while catching 11 of 12 targets for 99 yards. Akers did most of this with Baker Mayfield, who was claimed off waivers on 12/6 and desperately thrown into the starting lineup, and they had no choice but to lean on Akers. I’ve said all offseason that HC Sean McVay needed to get back to his bell-cow roots by featuring Akers with 20+ touches every week, and we’re looking good for that happening heading into camp. The timing is also perfect for Akers in the final year of his rookie deal. There are always concerns about RBs on bad teams, but Akers has untapped potential in the passing game, and I look at a guy like James Conner, who was a stud down the stretch on a bad team. Heck, we can look at Akers himself, since he produced big totals late last year on a bad Rams team. From Weeks 13-18, Akers was 12th in explosive run rate (out of 36 RBs with 50+ carries), fourth in missed tackles forced per attempt, and 17th in yards after contact, so the data backed up my eyeball test. I don’t even need the vibes to be good for him to maintain his RB18 spot on our board, which is over his RB24 ADP, but if the vibes are good, then he’ll be even more appealing.

There’s certainly a chance that rookie Zach Evans replaces Cam Akers as the Rams' top back in 2024, but he’s just a sixth-round pick with only an early-down skill set right now. It would be revealing, though, if he didn’t win the #2 job, since he’s probably the best candidate for that. The Rams did bring Sony Michel back, but he may be washed. If Akers does get hurt, they could easily roll with Evans as their early-down back, with second-year man Kyren Williams as the receiving back. If it looks like Evans is the #2 and backup early-down back, then he’d be worth a stash for those who take Akers and can afford the roster space.

I’m assuming that Cam Akers will handle about half of the Rams' receiving work in the backfield, and I’m giving him 36 of their 68 RB receptions, or 53%. The only viable option otherwise is Kyren Williams, whose rookie season was marred by a broken foot in the spring and then some mediocre production when he got out there. Williams is a lot more jag-like than I’d like to see, so while we’re actually well over his ADP as our RB68 with 55/210/0 rushing and 23/180/.5 receiving, I’m not interested in him unless he shows surprisingly well this summer and the rookie Evans does not. In that case, Williams would have to be the Akers handcuff.

Coming off what I referred to as the “busiest” season for a receiver in league history in 2021, I was worried about Cooper Kupp in 2022, which is why I/we had Justin Jefferson as our WR1 for the entire off-season and preseason. I had a bad overall vibe on the Rams, and while I looked very, very wrong on Kupp for two months, my vibe was correct. For what it’s worth, my vibe is better this year. I do worry about the aging Kupp and more so about the advanced age that his QB is, but I also know that as long as Kupp and Matthew Stafford are on the field together, massive production is forthcoming. I am projecting two games missed, but even in just 15 games, I have Kupp with 115/1365/10, which places him as his WR3 ADP on our board. Ultimately, I don’t think Kupp should fall any further than seven overall, and I’d take him anywhere outside the top-5 overall.

I’ve been kicking the tires on Van Jefferson all summer, and my 50/725/3.5 projection for him is probably more optimistic than most out there. I know they had high hopes for him last summer, but his year was seriously disrupted by a tricky knee that required a pair of off-season knee surgeries. He did work his way into the mix, and he did okay, but it was also tough to grade him with shaky QB play. All I need is some good vibes this summer to get fully behind him, but I have basically been just that all year, and we’re currently above his WR66 ADP as our WR55. He’s not a must-have, and it could be a bit of a WRBC after Kupp, but he’s a solid player with inside/outside versatility, and he can get open downfield, so he’s not a bad target for depth around 130 picks into a draft.

There were times last year when Tutu Atwell looked like a legit threat and real part of the Rams' offense, and that could continue in 2023. But he’s going to be a guy whose snaps are limited, and he’s basically a rotational deep threat, and those types are tough to back. I do like him as an available downfield target in this offense, since he can contribute meaningfully, but I don’t see any upside at all, which is why we’re below his ADP with 23/345/2 projected.

I liked how the Rams took some late-round flyers on skill players who were day three picks, but have the talent to produce like day two picks, and I’d include RB Zach Evans and WR Puka Nacua as the best two examples. Nacua looks like a guy who could easily show well and generate some optimism that he can be a long-term #2 WR here, but he’s facing a steep learning curve and will be lucky to settle in as just their fourth receiver. I’m projecting only 18/260/2, which places him 28 spots on our board below his WR92 ADP.

If things don’t work out with their young receivers like Puka Nacua and/or Tutu Atwell, or if Kupp gets hurt again, at least the Rams have Ben Skowronek. Our Joe Dolan calls him, “Cooper Krapp,” which is fair because he’s a much lamer version of Kupp. But if Kupp at 75% was getting a lot of targets, I’d be interested, which means I might be interested in Skowronek if Kupp is out. Of course, Skowronek still wouldn’t be that appealing, since he didn’t distinguish himself with a large role last year. We’re actually a little ahead of his ADP, but I have no interest here even 200+ picks into a draft.

While I had a bad vibe about Kupp and the Rams last summer, I did really like Tyler Higbee’s chances, and was 50+ spots over his 172 ADP and at TE13 (ADP: TE18) last summer. I was all about the targets and catches he was likely to get, and he did end up third in TE targets (108) and fifth in TE receptions (72). I’m not as optimistic this year, but we are over his ADP still as our TE14 with 59/555/3.5. He does stand out if you’re looking for cheap catches around 140 picks into a draft, but I’m not feeling it in terms of him getting volume similar to last year, and volume was really the key to his production, so he’s merely a decent TE2 unless he drops 1-2 rounds from his 140 overall ADP.