Sammy Watkins Is Still a Fantasy Football Asset With the Los Angeles Rams

With Sammy Watkins being traded to the Los Angeles Rams from the Buffalo Bills, his fantasy football stock seemingly takes a tumble. What's his new outlook for 2017?

Thursday night, everything was fine and dandy in Sammy Watkins land.

By Friday afternoon, houses were burning, screams were echoing through the streets, and the cries of fantasy owners could be heard across continents.

One minute, you've got Tyrod Taylor chucking you taters down the middle of the field, and the next, you're the crutch attempting to loft Jared Goff from the crypt. This is fine.

In fantasy football, we know that touchdowns mean everything because they account for such a large percentage of the scoring. Going from playing with a competent offense with the Buffalo Bills to a rebuilding Los Angeles Rams team has to put a major dent in Watkins' season-long potential, correct?

In a way, yes. Of course this change will negatively affect Watkins. But that effect may not be as large as you would think it is off the bat, and it's entirely possible that Watkins is still worth something near his current average draft position.

Let's take a look at Watkins' new team and situation out in Hollywood to see what we should expect from him in 2017. Sure, it's worse, but we shouldn't kick him to the curb just yet.

Offseason Changes

There's no hiding the fact that Goff was horrendous in his rookie season.

He finished the year with -64.56 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP), more than 40 points worse than any other starter in the league. NEP is the numberFire-specific metric we use to track efficiency, showing the expected points lost or gained on every play throughout the season. This helps us to illustrate the difference between a five-yard completion on 3rd and 4 and that same completion on 3rd and 6. For comparison, Colin Kaepernick finished with 14.70 Passing NEP, 79.26 points ahead of Goff, and dude can't find a job.

But this is looking at the 2016 version of Goff, a guy who entered midseason, saw his coaching staff get canned before the end of the year, and had wretched surroundings. We should expect big differences in the 2017 version.

First of all, the team brought in Sean McVay from Washington to be its new head coach. McVay inherited a similar situation when he became Washington's offensive coordinator in 2014, taking over a team that had been spewing incompetence on the offensive side of the ball. McVay helped turn them around.

This table looks at Washington's offensive ranks the year before McVay took over (2013) through his three years as coordinator. The rankings cited are based on numberFire's schedule-adjusted NEP metrics, which look at a team's overall efficiency throughout the season and account for the strength of their opponents.

Season Overall Rank Passing Rank Rushing Rank
2013 26th 25th 15th
2014 20th 25th 14th
2015 9th 4th 28th
2016 6th 5th 8th

Washington went from being the 25th-best passing offense in 2013 to being a top-five unit in each of McVay's final two seasons with the team. There were certainly other factors at play, but McVay's hiring presents reason for hope in the Rams' offense.

The other big boon over the offseason was the changes along the Rams' offensive line. They kicked things off by signing tackle Andrew Whitworth to a three-year contract in free agency. They later added veteran center John Sullivan, who had worked with McVay in Washington in 2016.

Those two signings are in an attempt to neutralize what was arguably the Rams' biggest weakness in 2016: sacks. Passing NEP includes the expected points each team lost due to sacks throughout the season, and only the Cleveland Browns lost more NEP on a per-drop back basis to sacks than the Rams.

If Whitworth -- and, to a lesser extent, Sullivan -- can help keep Goff aloft, that would likely play a major role in making his advanced metrics less vomit-inducing. This would lead to more scoring opportunities for the Rams and, thus, more fantasy potential for Watkins.

That's before you account for the addition of McVay at head coach and all of the other moves the Rams made to support Goff in the offseason. They used three picks in the first four rounds of the NFL draft to add pass catchers and signed Watkins' former-now-current-again teammate, Robert Woods.

There's abundant ground to make up between what Goff did in 2016 and what Watkins got out of Taylor before that. But simply assuming Goff will stay stagnant at his rookie-year levels seems pessimistic based on all of the changes that were made, and it should help maintain the sanity of those of you who have already added Watkins onto your fantasy rosters.

What Should We Expect?

So, with all of that in mind, what exactly should we expect out of Watkins heading into 2017? And what does this mean for his fantasy stock?

Because he's clearly the top option on the Rams' offense, you know he's going to get plenty of targets. That helps give him at least a respectable floor, keeping him in the discussion as being an early-round selection.

The concern here is around his touchdown potential, and that concern is validated by numberFire's season-long projections. Prior to the trade, Watkins was projected to score 7.44 receiving touchdowns this year. With Watkins now in Los Angeles, that number has dropped to 6.47. We can't ignore that.

But realisitically, that's not a major dip. Among wide receivers, Watkins is still projected for the 17th-most touchdowns on the season. What's his current average draft position? It's as the 17th-ranked wide receiver, according to Fantasy Football Calculator in 12-team, PPR drafts.

Yes, we should be shifting Watkins down our draft boards due to the trade. It would be ignorant not to do so. But we also want to be sure we don't overreact.

In the same ADP range as Watkins is Allen Robinson, who has similar concerns to those of Watkins. Should we place Watkins below Robinson just because Watkins' sub-par situation is fresher in our minds? It's a question we must ask ourselves, necessitating a longer look at what Watkins provides. You could conduct a similar thought experiment with DeAndre Hopkins, who is going a full round before Watkins.

Watkins should be a target monster in a poor offense. But that poor offense has the potential for growth based on all of the moves made this offseason. With that being the case, you can easily craft an argument in favor of using a fourth-round selection on Watkins in a 12-team, PPR format. That's not much lower than where he's currently going, meaning the impact of this move could be less than it appears on its face.