Rams fans who have been forced to endure Rams football recently are rightfully jacked about the additions of Tavon Austin and Jared Cook. Unfortunately, Sam Bradford still has to throw them the footballs they desire.
Notable Additions: Jared Cook, Jake Long
Notable Draft Picks: Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Zac Stacy
The Marquee Men (the elitest of the elite)
Tavon Austin (ADP: 73.6): This was difficult, because the Rams don’t really have a marquee fantasy option. That’s not meant as an insult, and instead it’s a compliment. You see, this is a team that offers you a lot of fine mid-round value at multiple positions, at least right now before Daryl Richardson’s ADP begins its ascent (more on him in a minute).
The leader of the fine value parade is arguably Austin, who will get like 852 touches this year, though I may be exaggerating slightly. Austin was a bit of everything during his final year at West Virginia, turning his 72 carries and 114 receptions into 1,932 total yards and 15 touchdowns. It’s that versatility and speed in the slot (4.34 40-yard dash time at the Combine) that prompted the Rams to trade up and secure their next Danny Amendola who’s better than Danny Amendola.
Though he excels in the slot, Austin can be shifted out wide and into the backfield, and it’s the latter ability which is especially intriguing. It leads to thoughts of a Randall Cob or, even better, a Percy Harvin imitation. Last year, the injured Seahawks receiver had 22 carries over just nine games in Minnesota, and in 2011 he was given a career high 52.
But there’s reason to be apprehensive. Austin will be targeted a lot, but since Jared Cook is essentially a slot receiver who happens to be employed as a tight end, he’ll suck back targets too. Then there’s also the cluster around Austin at his own position, with plenty of hands that need to remain happy and cheerful. Due to the salivating over his Harvin-esque skillset, Austin’s ADP has escalated quickly, and often he currently finds himself surrounded by the likes of T.Y. Hilton and Steve Smith. If you draft Austin ahead of either of those names, you’re set to be a victim of hype that far exceeds results.
Jared Cook (ADP: 104.0): We shouldn’t even call Cook a tight end. We should invent an entirely new name, or we should just call him a football player. Yes, that will suffice.
Last year in Tennessee, Cook spent 56 percent of his snaps lined up in the slot. Yet for reasons only they can comprehend, Cook was largely neglected by the Titans in 2012, and targeted only 5.5 times per game. That was a consistent theme throughout Cook’s last three years deep in the heart of Memphis, as his single-season target high topped out at a modest 81.
Now, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher has said Cook will be used with even greater variety, including lining up in the backfield. Then there’s also offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, and his encouraging tight end usage. Denny Carter, who’s among the pioneers of tight end streaming, looked back at Schottenheimer’s TE scheming throughout his time as the Jets coordinator, and his one year so far in St. Louis. He noted that between Dustin Keller and Lance Kendricks, Schottenheimer’s tight ends ran roughly 25 routes per game. That’s plenty of usage to get terrific value on Cook in the ninth or 10th round.
The Middle Men (middle-to-late round options)
Daryl Richardson (ADP: 65.0): Herein lies the beginning of the great Rams running back kerfuffle of 2013, though at least some clarity may be emerging. Richardson is slugging it out with Isaiah Pead and Zac Stacy for the top job in the St. Louis backfield, and with the vast green space opened up underneath by the threats presented by Austin and Cook, and the attention paid to Chris Givens deep, Rams running back X could easily and quickly go boom.
Early in August, it looks like it could/should be Richardson. In his limited playing time in the Rams’ preseason opener against Cleveland, Richardson turned six touches into 44 yards (24 yards on four carries, and 20 yards on two catches). That’s been enough to earn him the “leader in the clubhouse tag” from at least one beat writer, a status being pushed by Pead’s one-game suspension.
Right now, Richardson is the Rams running back to own. And three weeks from now, he’ll likely still be the Rams running back to own, making this a somewhat rare instance when drafting early is beneficial. At the above 65th overall ADP, starting Rams running back X will return great value, especially after Richardson finished with 475 rushing yards last year despite receiving just 6.1 carries per game while being buried behind Steven Jackson for much of the season.
Chris Givens (ADP: 110.9): Givens is a sort of Josh Gordon clone in that he goes deep, and he only goes deep. By blogger law I have to mention this every time we discuss all things Chris Givens: he set a rookie record last year, recording a +50 yard reception in five straight games. No matter how much I type that, it doesn’t get any less remarkable. And neither does his 29.5 yards per catch average during that stretch.
The problem could be any semblance of consistency from Givens, especially in an offense with Austin and Cook demanding targets. If we exclude the severe outlier in Week 13 when Givens had 11 catches against one of the league’s best secondaries (49ers), he mostly hauled in his long ball, and little else. Take, for example, the final there games to end the season. Givens had only 114 yards, which is a poor total over three weeks. But he reached that total on just six catches, one of which was for 37 yards.
When a weak-armed quarterback like Sam Bradford is doing the chucking with his career average of 6.3 yards per pass attempt, a burner like Givens is a WR3 at best.
Sam Bradford (ADP: 151.5): And about that weak-armed Bradford. He’s now in a position to be more successful, at least in theory. The presence of Austin and Cook should lead to a concentration of intermediate throws, which is a fine approach for a quarterback who completed 42 percent of his throws last year on balls that traveled 15 yards or more (though in fairness, some of that came from drops by a young receiver corps).
Notoriously, Bradford broke the rookie record for single-season completions by being a compiler, and averaging only 6.0 yards per pass attempt. But recently we’ve seen improvement, as someone had to throw Givens those 50-yard chucks, and in the Rams’ preseason opener those two also hooked up on a 59 yarder.
Of all the late-round quarterback options, Bradford may come with the most value relative to his draft position due to the sudden fortification around him with Austin and Cook there to turn short passes into long gains, Jake Long finally providing some respectable protection, and Givens continuing to mature.
The Menial Peons (sleepers, flex plays, and matchup plays)
Isaiah Pead (ADP: 136.2): Pead didn’t help himself by getting suspended for one game, but he may have helped you. Even if he doesn’t win the starting job outright over Richardson (again, that seems unlikely at this point, though still possible), he’ll still get touches on the low end of a platoon both conventionally and as a pass catcher. And he’ll still get a chance to showcase the speed he demonstrated at Cincinnati that led to a collegiate average of 6.3 yards per touch.
If he can do that with any consistency at all, you’ve found a fine — and maybe the best — late-round lottery ticket at a position where the bruising usually piles up quick.
Austin Pettis (ADP: Undrafted): Pettis’ hold on the No. 2 wideout job is slippery at best, and even if survives the WR thunderstorm in St. Louis with Brian Quck and Stedman Bailey also looking for footballs, he’ll be limited to being a bench bye-week stash. On the touch hierarchy, Pettis (or Bailey or Quick) will be far behind Austin, Cook, and Givens.
The Mop-Up Men (deeeep sleepers and handcuffs)
Brian Quick/Stedman Bailey (ADP: undrafted): Quick was used sparsely during his rookie year, and he’s now competing with Pettis for a job on the outside, with Bailey also in the mix to complete that mess. For now, Pettis remains the front runner to start opposite Givens, putting Quick and Bailey here by default.
Zac Stacy (ADP: 148.3): There was a time when the Rams’ backfield was a confusing mess, and it feels like that time is slowly and mercifully ending. Stacy could still be a deep sleeper threat to Pead as a Richardson handcuff, or even as a reaching threat to vulture some carries. But right now, his fantasy value is limited to flier/deep sleeper status.