Fitz on Fantasy: 2019 Los Angeles Rams Buying Guide

fitz-on-fantasy-2019-los-angeles-rams-buying-guide

With the preseason here, TFG fantasy expert Pat Fitzmaurice is breaking down the prospects for all 32 teams. Click here for a running list of teams, and check back often as teams are added on an almost daily basis. On to the Los Angeles Rams…

The 2019 Rams will be an interesting case study for injury optimism.

At one end of the injury-optimist spectrum are the folks who love a discount and are happy to shop scratch-and-dent sales for players whose value has been depressed by medical issues. At the other end are those who prefer to avoid taking risks on players with injury concerns.

Maybe it’s possible to claim the middle ground between the two poles.

If you’re the sort of rabid fantasy football enthusiast who listens to fantasy podcasts year-round and has been participating in best-ball drafts for months, and you’re drafting against competitors who come out of fantasy hibernation every August armed only with a fantasy magazine that fell of date three weeks after it was published, then it makes sense to fade injury optimism. If the competition is weak, your rivals are going to make a lot of dubious picks, and you’re going to find value throughout the draft. The proper strategy is to avoid unnecessary risk and capitalize on all the value the fish are leaving for you.

But maybe YOU are the owner who comes out of hibernation every August for fantasy drafts. A lot of people are busy raising kids, working demanding jobs, caring for sick relatives, etc. Fantasy football is fun for the less dedicated owners, too. If you’re not as well-informed as your rivals, it might make sense to embrace risk and take some of those injury discounts.

In my home leagues, I’m not taking chances on the injury cases. In “industry” drafts against members of the fantasy football media, I’m far more willing to take injury-related risks because I don’t have an information advantage.

In a nutshell: Strength loves certainty, weakness loves risk.

Todd Gurley is the headliner among this year’s injury risks. He’s finished RB1 in half-point PPR fantasy scoring in each of the last two seasons, but he incurred knee problems late last season, missed the last two regular-season games and was outcarried by C.J. Anderson in the playoffs 46-30.

Gurley reportedly has arthritis in his knee. Dr. David Chao, a former team physician for the Chargers who does sports-injury analysis for several media outlets, says it’s not uncommon for a player who’s torn his ACL to develop arthritis in the injured knee. Gurley tore his ACL in 2014 while playing for Georgia. Chao says the degree to which the injury will affect Gurley depends on the extent of the arthritis – which for us is unknowable. But Chao seems certain that the condition will have to be managed, which probably means a reduction in the heavy workload that Gurley shouldered in 2017 and most of 2018.

I have Gurley ranked RB11 and see him is a mid-second-round draft value, which is just slightly behind his ADP.

If the Rams do indeed plan to scale back Gurley’s workload, Darrell Henderson is likely to be the ottoman upon whom Gurley rests his feet. A third-round choice in this year’s draft, Henderson produced cartoonish numbers at Memphis, averaging 8.9 (!) yards per carry over his last two seasons. He scored 25 touchdowns in his final college season and also averaged 15.5 yards per catch on 19 receptions. Henderson has 4.49 speed, and despite being 5-8, 208 pounds, he’s good at keeping his feet after first contact.

So, what’s not to like? Well, Henderson was often running through gaping holes at Memphis, and he may not have a deep bag of tricks. How will he fare in the NFL, where running lanes are smaller and defenders are faster? Draft analyst Thor Nystrom of Rotoworld says he’s “tentatively bullish”on (Henderson’s NFL prospects but acknowledges the possibility that Henderson could be “just another Ameer Abdullah, an undersized burner who excelled in college but busted in the NFL when he could no longer simply outrun everybody.”

The landing spot can’t hurt. Henderson’s game should play well in Sean McVay’s offense, and I’m on board with the rookie’s ADP of RB33.

The Rams also matched the Lions’ offer sheet to restricted free agent Malcolm Brown in March. A former undrafted free agent from Texas, Brown has logged only 128 carries in four seasons, but Rams believed he was worth a two-year, $3.25 million deal. He’s likely to be No. 3 on the depth chart, but in light of Gurley’s knee condition and Henderson’s size, it’s easy to envision a path to fantasy relevance for Brown.

What are we to make of Jared Goff? For much of the 2018 season he helmed McVay’s offense masterfully. Through the first 11 games of the season he was QB5 in fantasy points per game, completing 67.7% of his throws with 26 TD passes and six interceptions. Then came December, and Goff turned into a puddle of goo. Over five regular-season games in December and three playoff games, his completion percentage tumbled to 57.7%, he had only seven TD passes and eight interceptions, and he threw for fewer than 230 yards in six of eight games.

Did NFL defenses finally figure out McVay’s offense? That seems like far too easy an answer, and surely the Gurley injury was a factor. Gurley’s replacement, C.J. Anderson, was a reasonably effective proxy in the running game but had 7-34-0 as a pass catcher over five games.

I still believe in McVay’s offensive architecture, and Goff is still surrounded by an impressive array of skill-position talent. The late-season slide is disconcerting, but we shouldn’t dismiss the brilliance he displayed earlier in the season, either. I rank Goff below his ADP, but I consider the QB talent to be pretty flat, and Goff is part of a big tier of similarly valued passers.

Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods are typically ranked close together and are often selected within a few spots of each other in drafts. Some people believe more strongly in Woods, but Cooks has a slightly higher ADP, and I have a slight preference for Cooks, too. He’s finished in the top 14 in half-point PPR fantasy scoring for four consecutive seasons, with three different teams. Cooks has a late-third-round ADP and makes for a terrific value pick if you can get him in the fourth.

Woods is a fine fourth-round choice, too. Over his first four seasons in Buffalo he was an unremarkable possession receiver who topped out at 65-699-5 in 2014 – although, granted, the Bills didn’t exactly have a high-flying passing attack during Woods’ stay in Buffalo. Since coming to the Rams, Woods has been a playmaking stud and a remarkably consistent contributor. He had at least 70 receiving yards in 10 consecutive games last season, and only twice did he have fewer than 60 receiving yards. Woods finished just ahead of Cooks in fantasy points per game last season, though Cooks had a slight edge in 2017. Woods is a solid value at WR17.




Gurley isn’t the only test of injury optimism on the Rams. Cooper Kupp has an ADP of WR21, not far behind Cooks and Woods despite having torn his ACL in November. Although it seems as if players are making faster returns from ACL tears these days, Kupp buyers aren’t getting a noticeable injury discount.

Granted, Kupp averaged more fantasy points (14.4) over the eight games he played than Woods (13.9) and Cooks (13.5) averaged for the season. But Kupp trailed his two teammates in fantasy points per game in 2017, and the ceiling might be somewhat limited for a guy with 4.6 speed playing alongside two talented teammates. Kupp is an obvious fade at his current cost.

After Kupp ripped up his knee, Josh Reynolds took over as the third receiver and had five TD catches over the Rams’ last five regular-season games. A fourth-round draft pick out of Texas A&M, Reynolds is tall (6-3) and athletic, with a big catch radius. He probably won’t get enough snaps to be fantasy-relevant if Cooks, Woods and Kupp are all healthy, but an injury to any one of them would open the door for Reynolds to be a potentially useful contributor to what should be a pretty good passing attack.

Tyler Higbee has played significantly more snaps than Gerald Everett at tight end over the past two years, but Everett still has the far higher ceiling as a pass catcher, with better numbers and superior athleticism. Everett could have a breakout season at some point, but the (annoying) presence of Higbee makes it imprudent to draft Everett in normal-sized leagues.

 

PLAYER FITZ RANK ECR ADP ADVICE
Jared Goff QB15 QB11 QB12 Possibly
Todd Gurley RB11 RB11 RB9 High-risk
Darrell Henderson RB32 RB41 RB35 Tempting
Brandin Cooks WR16 WR16 WR16 Invest
Robert Woods WR17 WR18 WR17 Solid buy
Cooper Kupp WR28 WR22 WR20 Overpriced
Gerald Everett TE28 TE25 TE28 Flyer

 

ADP = Average Draft Position  ECR = Expert Consensus Ranking  (based on half-PPR scoring)