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NFL Team Preview: Addition of Matthew Stafford opens up Rams offense

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We’re previewing every NFL team to get you ready for the 2021 season. Our analysts will tackle pressing fantasy questions and team win totals, in order from the squad with the least amount of fantasy relevancy all the way to the most talented team. Next up, the 6th-ranked Los Angeles Rams.

1. Despite being a veteran with virtually no rushing upside, what is the percentage chance that Stafford (currently ranked 12th) finishes as a top-10 quarterback in 2021, considering he hasn't finished in the top-10 since 2017?

Liz: I think we can all agree that Matt Stafford has a more electric skill set than Jared Goff. And in Jared Goff’s four years with Sean McVay, he posted top-10 fantasy numbers exactly once, in 2018. (He was close in 2019, though, closing out the year as FF’s QB11.)

The game has evolved since then, and the top-producers certainly have a rushing ability that Stafford doesn't. Still, I think there’s a 40 percent chance the former Lion (who has cleared 4,000 passing yards in 8 of his last 10 campaigns) can creep into the top-10 (and average close to 300 passing yards per game in the process).

Andy: I've run the simulations, folks. He has a 36.4 percent chance. Take it to the bank. 

Scott: Liz and Andy's numbers feel about right. You can only be so excited about a quarterback who has no running juice, and the Rams will control some games with their backfield or their defense. Stafford isn't a bad fantasy QB on a budget, and I think this version of the Rams is going places, but the upside has a modest cap on it, too. 

2. Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp are once again similarly ranked. Two-part question: 1) Does the addition of Matthew Stafford change their ceilings and 2) Which one (or both, or none) are you targeting in drafts?

Liz: Over the past two seasons both receivers have averaged over 8 targets per game. While Kupp owned the red area of the field in 2019, recording 10 TDs, the roles reversed in 2020 when Woods posted a career-high 8 scores (6 receiving, 2 rushing). Kupp might be the flashier option but Woods can be used in a variety of roles, hence his higher snap total (over 1,000 for three consecutive seasons).

Replacing Jared Goff with the aggressively-minded and strong-armed Matt Stafford should lift this offense considerably. While the receiving corps has grown to include DeSean Jackson, Van Jefferson, and second-round speedster Tutu Atwell, the pace and efficiency of the squad also figures to increase with the addition of Stafford. This should allow both Woods and Kupp to maintain a healthy volume (flirting with 150 looks a piece, assuming health). Because of his versatility (and Stafford’s willingness to push the ball downfield, something Goff struggled mightily with), I’m prioritizing Woods over Kupp by a slight margin. They’re both top-20 options with top-15 potential.

Andy: Both of these guys caught 90 passes last season, yet somehow neither of them finished with 1,000 receiving yards. That ain't happenin' with Stafford. Without question, the QB upgrade matters. Jared Goff finished near the bottom of the league in intended air yards per target last season (6.5). We should all expect a more interesting, multi-level passing game from the Rams. It helps that Stafford was dealt to LA way back in January, so he'll have something close to a full, normal offseason as Sean McVay's quarterback.

Woods vs. Kupp is pretty close to a coin flip. These guys are similar in age, skill and projected workload, belonging to the same rock-solid WR2 tier. I'm happy to land either at their ADPs.

Robert Woods #17 of the Los Angeles Rams and Cooper Kupp #10 of the Los Angeles Rams
Robert Woods or Cooper Kupp? (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)

Scott: It's definitely go time on both of the LA wideouts. Sean McVay not only has an upgrade at quarterback, he has a quarterback he fully trusts — this opens up the playbook. And the Rams have a narrow passing tree, without a notable third option on the outside. I'm happy to draft Kupp or Woods at their current market.

3. Cam Akers finally got the keys to the backfield in the second half of the season. Are you buying the upside of the RB1 in a Sean McVay offense or looking for more proven options in the 1st/2nd round of drafts.

Editor's note: This preview was written before news of Cam Akers suffering a torn Achilles. Darrell Henderson is now the presumed starting running back for the Rams, and is likely a fantasy RB2 for the season barring the team adding major competition in the backfield.

Andy: To be perfectly honest, I wasn't overwhelmed by Akers during his December binge. He was plenty productive, but it's not as if he was doing anything that Darrell Henderson had not. But when Akers erupted in the postseason, running over and around various Seahawks and Packers, I was fully sold. He enters 2021 as a workhorse runner tied to a potentially elite offense, so I'm happy to take him almost anywhere in the second round. He's a great bet for 1,500-plus scrimmage yards in a healthy season.

Scott: We've seen Sean McVay roll with a bell cow before; Todd Gurley bankrolled a lot of fantasy champions. Akers is capable of being the rare modern runner who almost never comes off the field. Second round, sure, I'll strongly consider Akers. And he might percolate into the first round by the time draft season really kicks in.

Liz: It’s no secret that Sean McVay plays favorites… and that Cam Akers is currently his favorite. Averaging 22 attempts over 93 rushing yards per game from Week 13 through the Divisional Round of the playoffs, he’s earned the top spot in this backfield. His ability to create was obvious at Florida State. Even with a pace of 2.22 (QB14, down from 2.30, QB6 in 2019) in last year’s Goff-led campaign, Akers managed a yards created per touch average of 1.43 (RB20).

In what figures to be an up-tempo and on-target offense this go-around, that number should skyrocket. However, Akers’ running style — which certainly invites injury, as evidenced by the rib and ankle jobs he sustained in 2020 — brings into question his ability to sustain a heavy workload. That’s why, personally, he’s my RB12. But his situation and subsequent upside are undeniable ... and justify a reach inside the top-eight for those ceiling-driven managers.

Los Angeles Rams projected 2021 fantasy contributors

QB: Matthew Stafford

RB: Darrell Henderson Jr. (Cam Akers suffered torn Achilles before training camp)

WR: Robert Woods / Cooper Kupp

TE: Tyler Higbee

Los Angeles Rams O/U on 10.5 team win total from BetMGM

Scott: I'm not going to punch a ticket at this number, but if forced, I need to lean under. It's a shame, because I'm a McVay believer and he finally has the quarterback he wants. The defense has difference-makers, too. But the NFC West looks like the strongest division in football, and the Rams also picked up a nasty road matchup (at Baltimore) for their extra game, the added match to the schedule per the new 17-game edict. It's not about the Rams team or the Rams upside, it's about the number. It's shaded an eyelash too high. 

Follow Scott: @scott_pianowski

Follow Liz: @LizLoza_FF

Follow Andy: @andybehrens

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