Fantasy Football: An Ultimate Los Angeles Rams Guide to the 2021 Season

by Vivek Iyer
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With the blockbuster Matthew Stafford-Jared Goff trade, the Los Angeles Rams vaulted from a solid fantasy football offense to one of the leagues’ most explosive, dynamic fantasy gold-mines (queue “Dynamite” from Taio Cruz).

Although Stafford hasn’t had extensive success in the playoffs, he has proven to be a top-10 regular season quarterback who accumulates yards by the boatload. This bodes well for the Rams’ receiving options, and opens up the defense to be killed by Darrell Henderson’s explosiveness and home-run ability.  Let’s investigate the Rams offense from a fantasy lens in more depth, starting with the quarterback position.

Quarterback

Matthew Stafford

Matthew Stafford finally has a new start on an elite team, coming from a Lions team that was in shambles. Stafford has historically been a very fantasy relevant quarterback,  with 6/9 top-10 fantasy seasons (minimum 11 games played, voids 3 seasons).

Taking into account his new situation on a (likely) top-5 offense with stud receivers in Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, it is natural to be excited by Stafford’s 2021 fantasy football appeal. That said, Stafford doesn’t bring the all-important “Konami Code” rushing ability to bolster both his floor and ceiling.

Matthew Stafford will be a massive boost to the Los Angeles Rams offense for their W/L record. However, for fantasy I can’t see him making the same massive impact. While he will be projected for more points than last season, I see Stafford more as a lower end QB1 in the QB 8-12 range. Rushing and potential injury concerns cap his upside. For dynasty, he receives a downgrade due to age, but still falls into the fringe QB1 conversation.

John Wolford

Backup John Wolford shouldn’t be on the fantasy radar in most formats. He does possess some rushing upside that could make him a QB2 if Stafford gets injured. However backup quarterbacks that have no clear path to starting, outside of injury, are almost always not worth rostering in fantasy football.

Runningback

Darrell Henderson

Darrell Henderson’s career has been rocky for fantasy football. Coming off of his 2018 season, Todd Gurley’s disappearance towards the end had many concerned about his arthritic knee. This caused Henderson’s ADP to skyrocket.

Henderson ended up as a mid-late first round rookie selection in most dynasty leagues. There were expectations of true RB1 potential in the event Gurley broke down. In Henderson’s rookie year, his impact was largely muted, with only 43 total touches on the season.

After Gurley departed, Henderson managers were briefly optimistic that he could take over the large vacated workload. However, the Los Angeles Rams quickly dispelled that by drafting Cam Akers in the second round. In the early-mid portion of the season, Akers couldn’t get onto the field consistently.

Henderson seemed to be the more successful back in that running back room, and was a boom-bust option at many times during the year. Towards the end of last season though, Akers began a period of fantasy dominance, leaving him as the clear back to own entering this season. Akers had legitimate upside as the overall fantasy RB1. Then, disaster struck. With Akers tearing his achilles in the offseason, Darrell Henderson was left atop the running back depth chart in an electric offense.

How to Value Henderson

It’s important to note that despite the Los Angeles Rams’ apparent confidence in their depth chart, it’s very likely they add another running back to their backfield. Behind Henderson are Xavier Jones and Jake Funk, two unproven, young backs, which don’t inspire confidence as competent backups.

Factoring in Gurley’s injury history from years prior, Akers’ own injuries, and the departure of Malcolm Brown, it’s understandable that the Rams want insurance at the position. Nonetheless, Henderson looks to be the starter in such a high-end offense, making him an upside mid-late RB22 in drafts. He’s being drafted just ahead of the other 2019 rookie RBs Josh Jacobs, David Montgomery, and Miles Sanders. For dynasty, I view him more as a volatile RB3.

Cam Akers

As Akers is out for the 2021 season due to his torn achilles, I’ll only focus on his dynasty outlook. Historically, running back hit rates coming off of a torn achilles are low. Of course, Akers is very talented and young, which are favorable indicators.

Still, factoring in the overall lack of production he has shown thus far (as he was injured much of last year and started slowly), he is an immensely risky asset to roster in dynasty leagues. There’s a chance that Akers is not the same running back coming off of his injury. Darrell Henderson could take over the starting role for the forseeable future if he performs well this season, with little competition currently on the roster.

Akers should be valued in a similar vein to a mid second round rookie draft pick in dynasty leagues, and although his upside is certainly very high, his downside is extreme too.

Xavier Jones, Jake Funk, and ?

While I do believe the Los Angeles Rams will add someone to fill out their running back depth chart, as of now Xavier Jones and Jake Funk are the immediate beneficiaries of the injury to Akers. Jones is a second year UDFA out of SMU, and possesses some receiving skills out of the backfield. He also has the requisite size and past production to handle a significant workload on the ground.

For me however, I am more intrigued by Jake Funk, seventh round rookie out of Maryland. Although his production profile is limited, his athletic profile and pro-day testing are intriguing. Funk could climb the depth chart and carve out a role for himself in this offense. Coupled with his physical profile, he offers more upside than Jones.

Neither are redraft options, however I’d look to roster both in dynasty leagues, with Funk taking the No. 1 priority. It’s important to keep in mind that both of these options are definitely not guarantees. Current free agent backs like Todd Gurley, Duke Johnson, or cut candidates like Mark Ingram could be signed to the No. 2 role in an instant.

Wide Receiver

Cooper Kupp

Cooper Kupp is one of my favorite targets in all of fantasy football right now. With an average draft position of WR21, his upside is a top-5 fantasy football wide receiver. That grossly outweighs his downside. In a season marked by career lows in yards/reception and touchdowns, Kupp still finished as the WR26. While this would be disappointing considering his ADP of WR21, his WR4 overall finish the year prior demonstrates his upside.

With a projected increase in pass attempts and yardage due to the Rams’ quarterback change, I project Kupp to have an outstanding year this season. What makes me most excited however, beyond volume and yardage, is his redzone prowess and touchdown upside.

Kupp has shown himself to be a weapon in the endzone, evidenced by his 10 touchdown season in 2019 and his six touchdowns in eight games played in 2018. With Cam Akers’ injury, the Rams running back depth chart doesn’t have a large redzone weapon to rely on consistently. This opens up more touchdowns opportunities for the team’s receiving options.

The Matthew Stafford Effect

Furthermore, investigating Matthew Stafford’s historically fantasy relevant receivers, he has preferred large targets like Kenny Golladay and Calvin Johnson. Both players were known for their high-touchdown seasons. Of course, Kupp is nowhere near the level of Johnson. However he has the closest body type to these two at 6’2 and 208 lbs.

One difference between these receivers is the role they fill. However, both Golladay and Megatron were “alpha” X-role receivers for the Lions. Kupp primarily profiles as a big-slot receiver and does play on the perimeter occasionally. He may have to do so more this year given projected increases in Van Jefferson’s role and the team drafting Tutu Atwell.

Still, even if Kupp is in the slot more than Johnson and Golladay, I’m not worried about his fantasy success. In fact, Golden Tate was among the league’s top slot receivers during his time in Detroit. Regardless of role, Kupp seems to be positioned for fantasy success, and I value him as the WR1 in this offense. He’s a high-end WR 2 with upside overall, which is drastically different from his WR21 ADP.

In dynasty, I value him closer to his redraft adp due to age (although 28 isn’t old, youth and rookies get a boost).

Robert Woods

Robert Woods is as consistent as they come. He continually outperforms his draft cost, yet never surpasses the mid-WR 2 range in ADP. While Woods doesn’t possess the same overall upside as others, his ADP is appropriate as his end-of-season finish as a solid WR2.

For dynasty, again, I downgrade him due to age (29), as he falls into the early-mid WR3 range in my rankings.  From a real NFL perspective, I’m curious how Woods will be used creatively as a weapon on jet sweeps and out of the backfield.

Darrell Henderson’s receiving profile is present, however definitely not elite. This opens up potential opportunity for Woods to be schemed creatively as an occasional “third down back” of sorts. From a real NFL standpoint, Woods’ versatility makes him a key cog to this offense’s overall success, especially after Akers’s injury.

DeSean Jackson

DeSean Jackson was an overlooked offseason addition for the Los Angeles Rams. While Djax is certainly not the same wide receiver he was in his twenties, he can still stretch the field when healthy. If he is healthy, I believe he will have a much larger impact on the Rams offense from a real-NFL perspective than a fantasy football perspective.

Jackson will be able to open up routes underneath and make the defense respect the deep ball.

For fantasy football, he can still be a boom-bust WR3 in this offense. However, given his extensive injury history, I wouldn’t bet on this. Djax should be on your waiver wire watch/speedial in redraft leagues. Unfortunately, hshouldn’t be drafted. I do like him in bestball drafts however as a late round option. For dynasty, he is merely an expiring bye-week fill-in option.

Van Jefferson

Entering year two, many have high hopes for Van Jefferson. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same. Jefferson has shown his talent and overall polished route running. However, analytically, hit rates on such prospects for fantasy are low, especially given his breakout age.

Occasionally, there are outliers to this, helped by a combination of talent and opportunity. While Jefferson’s film is solid, the situation isn’t prime for future success. With Van Jefferson’s preference for the slot combined with the Rams’ second round selection Tutu Atwell, I don’t see an easy route to consistent opportunity.

He is not on my redraft or bestball radar, and in dynasty I don’t have high hopes. This is especially given his age (25) relative to him just being a second year player.

Tutu Atwell

Tutu Atwell has draft capital and electric speed on his side. Unfortunately, that’s almost all that bodes in his favor from a purely fantasy football perspective. Tutu Atwell left a lot to be desired as a second round selection given his frame. Atwell measured in at just 149 lbs at 5’8” tall at the Indianapollis medical combine.

While he put out a video later on showing his weight to be just over 160 lbs, this is still a very slight frame by NFL standards. Due to this, he will be restricted to the slot when lining up as a receiver. For real-life football, his ability to be schemed touches creatively could produce large, chunk plays. However, these are too difficult to predict on a consistent basis for fantasy football.

While his special teams capabilities bode well for him making the 53 man roster, this was all but assured anyways due to his second round draft equity. Atwell is completely off my radar in redraft and bestball leagues. He is worth a (very) late round flier in dynasty leagues due to his draft capital and potential for success in a gadget-type role. Although hit rates on gadget players aren’t great – a la Tavon Austin.

Tight End

Tyler Higbee

Tyler Higbee is a solid post-hype sleeper this year. After his 2019 season ended with a wildly productive stretch, many had high hopes for his 2020 season. Unfortunately, while his snap counts rose year over year, his production was still largely irrelevant for fantasy football.

The offense as a whole had a down year, and Gerald Everett continued to be a thorn in Higbee’s side. This offseason though, both of these factors seem to be nullified. Stafford is now under center for the Los Angeles Rams, and Everett left for Seattle in the offseason.

Tight ends in Detroit didn’t always hit under Stafford, nonetheless his large frame and vacated opportunity bode well for fantasy football success. His ADP on Underdog is TE8 which is ahead of Noah Fant and Logan Thomas. I’m curious to see how that changes come redraft season. At TE8, Higbee doesn’t present too much value. However, if his price point falls to the high end TE2 range, I would be more enthusiastic about drafting him. In dynasty, he falls into the mid-TE2 range.

Johnny Mundt

Johnny Mundt is not a receiving TE, with only nine receptions in his four-year career. Due to this, he is not relevant for fantasy football in any format.

Brycen Hopkins

Entering his second season, Brycen Hopkins is in a rough spot for fantasy football. With Tyler Higbee ahead of him and new rookie Jacob Harris challenging his role as a receiving tight end, Hopkins will be in a difficult competition for snaps and targets. Due to this, he is completely off my redraft and bestball radar. To be honest, I’d pass on him in most dynasty leagues as well.

Jacob Harris

Jacob Harris is the only tight end on this roster aside from Tyler Higbee that I’d be interested in rostering in any fantasy football format. The UCF tight end has an incredible physical and athletic profile. This is evidenced by his 4.39 pro day 40-yard dash and over 40-inch vertical.

He profiled as a large wide receiver out of college. It seems that the Los Angeles Rams view him as a developmental TE. With his physical gifts, Harris certainly has upside. However, it may take some time to see a breakout. With that in mind, he is off my radar in redraft and bestball leagues. Harris is certainly worth stashing in dynasty leagues.

Final Thoughts

The Los Angeles Rams enter 2021 with heightened expectations with Matthew Stafford under center. For fantasy football, this team projects as a high end offense captained by Stafford as a low-end QB1, strong WR2s in Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, an upside RB2 in Darrell Henderson, and a post-hype TE-sleeper in Tyler Higbee.

In season, I will be watching how the Rams delegate touches within their backfield, as well as who steps up as the preferred wide receiver target(s) in this offense. Additionally, I’d love to see their run-pass splits in the redzone, and who Stafford gravitates towards in this area.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article, feel free to follow Vivek Iyer for more fantasy football content!

 

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