Now's the Time to Buy the Los Angeles Rams' Offense in Fantasy Football
In fantasy football, we'll often talk about buying into individual players. Whether it's due to an expected role change or shifts in the situation around them, it's easy to spot when one player's value shifts.
Most of the time, that's going to be a fine way to play it as volume drives fantasy production, and volume is something that will be specific to that one player. But sometimes, an entire team can shape up as being a value.
Right now, the Los Angeles Rams fit that mold.
In 50 BestBall 10 drafts from March 24th to March 31st, only one Ram has gone in the top 50 picks on average. That was Cooper Kupp at pick 30. To find the next player, you have to dip all the way down to Robert Woods at pick 65.
Prior to 2019, they had four different players within the first 50 picks. Things have swung in a major way.
Part of that is easy to understand. Not only did the Rams' offense take a step back last year, but they've also lost Todd Gurley and don't have much draft capital or salary cap to reload the chamber. We should not expect this team to return to its 2018 levels of production, so the depressed cost around their players is correct.
But it's also possible we've over-corrected a bit, creating a buying window to snag some of their more notable pieces. Let's dig into why.
Not as Bad as Perception
With the way we're treating the Rams in fantasy for 2020, you would think they were a bottom-feeder offense in 2019. That's simply not the case.
numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) model measures the expected points added or subtracted on each play throughout the year. The team-level stats are adjusted for the schedule teams face so that we have an idea of what to expect if two offenses were to face a league-average defense. Once you make that adjustment, the Rams finished 2019 ranked 16th in overall offense and 10th in passing offense. It's certainly not the third-ranked overall offense and fourth-ranked passing offense of 2018, but they were far from terrible.
The schedule adjustment in that algorithm is key because the Rams faced one of the toughest paths of any team.
Jared Goff's average drop back came against the league's 14.5-ranked pass defense, based on numberFire's metrics. That's the fifth-lowest for any quarterback who had at least 200 drop backs last year. Only 24.4% of Goff's drop backs came against pass defenses ranked outside the top 20, second-lowest among full-time starters behind only Baker Mayfield.
The narrative around Goff is that he struggles against tough competition but feasts when he gets an easier foe. For once, the numbers actually do back up the narrative. Here are his Passing NEP per drop back splits based on the season-long ranking of the opposing defense compared to the league average in each split. Passing NEP includes deductions for expected points lost on negative plays such as sacks, incompletions, and interceptions.
|By Pass D Ranking||Ranked 1-10||Ranked 11-20||Ranked 21-32|
Goff was above the league average against both middling and bad defenses but lagged relative to expectation in other spots. That's going to make things tough when the opponents are as brutal as what the Rams faced.
They'll still have to see the San Francisco 49ers twice this year, but the overall schedule is lighter. The average ranking for pass defenses they'll face in 2020 is 16.4, smack dab in the middle of the league. It's an imperfect way to measure this because teams change so drastically during the offseason, but our expectation entering the year should be that the resistance against the Rams will be lessened compared to last year.
The team also made adjustments in-season and improved down the stretch. Heading into Week 11, the Rams' offense was in shambles. They had just lost center Brian Allen and right tackle Rob Havenstein due to injury, so they had to make major changes along the offensive line and tailored their scheme to the new personnel. The Rams got pasted in that game (45-6 at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens), but from that point on -- including the butt-kicking -- their offensive efficiency went up. "Rushing Success Rate" is the percentage of rushes that increase the team's expected points for the drive.
|In 2019||Passing NEP per Drop Back||RB Rushing Success Rate|
|Weeks 1 to 10||0.08||43.4%|
|Weeks 11 to 17||0.20||45.4%|
They did face some cupcakes in that stretch, but in addition to the Ravens, they also matched up with the 49ers. Their two games against the eventual NFC champs show the differences in the early-season Rams versus what they did down the stretch.
In Week 6, Goff threw for just 78 yards on 28 drop backs. It was an abysmal showing and made clear early on which direction the two teams were trending.
In Week 16, the Rams needed a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. There, Goff threw for 323 yards and averaged 0.08 Passing NEP per drop back, well ahead of the league-wide average against tougher opponents. Again, they didn't get the win, but it was a major deviation from what happened the first time they faced that 49ers defense.
If the Rams can run it back with those scheme adjustments entering 2020, it's possible they'll maintain the offensive gains. They'll also add competition along the interior of the offensive line with Allen back healthy along with Joseph Noteboom, and Austin Corbett, David Edwards, and Bobby Evans will have a full offseason with the team (Corbett was acquired via trade in October while Evans and Edwards were rookies). It's not going to be the league's most talented unit, but we should expect it to be better than it was last year. Once you bake in a softer schedule, the path to scoring points on offense is easy to visualize.
And they're going to need every point they can get.
Recipe for Shootouts
In the NFL, you need two things for a shootout to occur. You need fast paces and bad defenses. The Rams seem likely to have both.
The pace aspect has always been there. They've ranked in the top three in Football Outsiders' situation-neutral pace in all three years with Sean McVay at the helm. We can check that box.
The defensive box gets at least half a check. Although they'll have a full year of Jalen Ramsey paired with Aaron Donald, the salary cap crunch has led to the departures of Dante Fowler Jr., Cory Littleton, and Nickell Robey-Coleman. They released Clay Matthews, and Eric Weddle retired, meaning five major contributors on the defensive side are now gone. That's bad for the Rams as a team, but it's great for the offense in fantasy.
We can't expect they'll be able to pedal down and coast to victories often because the defense is likely to prevent that from happening. But the offense should also be able to score enough points to keep themselves from falling so far behind that they give up late in games. That's the ideal formula if you want shootouts, and the Rams fit that mold well in their current state.
How to Proceed
With all of this in mind, it looks like the Rams as a whole are worthy of investment in fantasy this offseason. That's the easy part. Now we just have to decide which assets are most ripe for the plucking.
Kupp seems to be appropriately priced, if not potentially a bit inflated. His role was erratic in the time where the offensive efficiency ticked up as he played less than 65% of the snaps in three of the final four games. It seems the mid-range options are the more desirable route.
Our most relevant sample for the Rams is going to be from Week 12 on, after Woods returned from his absence and after Tyler Higbee's role expanded. This is the target distribution Weeks 12 through 17 with a "deep" target being any target at least 16 yards downfield.
|Weeks 12 to 17||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
Both Woods and Higbee had massive roles down the stretch but are still going well behind Kupp (the 65th and 69th picks, respectively). They seem to both be high-quality ways to get exposure to the Rams in the event of a rebound.
Even before his first concussion last year, Cooks' role was down from 2018 with 18.0% of the overall targets through four games. If he gets back to that number -- given the percentage of those targets that are downfield -- he'll be fantasy-relevant again. You can take swings on Cooks later if you're banking on a rebound, but with the risk tied to him, he's less of a priority than Woods and Higbee.
Even though all 50 of these drafts have taken place after Gurley's release, both Darrell Henderson (pick 90) and Malcolm Brown (pick 173) are coming off the board relatively late. As mentioned at the time of Gurley's release, the Rams don't have a ton of wiggle room to beef up this backfield via the draft, especially with all the holes they now have to fill on defense. That allows us to pick up shares of both of these guys now (favoring Brown because he's essentially free) before we see how the draft plays out. They're still cheap enough where it won't kill you if the team does decide to take the plunge on a back early, and they will be even bigger values if the team (smartly) allocates its resources elsewhere.
Perhaps the biggest winner, though, through all of this is Goff himself. He's the QB16 in recent BestBall10 drafts, going in line with major injury risks in Matthew Stafford and Ben Roethlisberger and well behind Daniel Jones. If the Rams do get into higher-scoring affairs this year, that's going to steadily increase Goff's volume, and his efficiency last year after the scheme change was solid. If you're looking for a later-round target in single-quarterback leagues, Goff fits the mold well as someone with upside given the potential scripts this team could be in.
It's fair to be down on the Rams after last year, especially when you consider the obstacles they face going forward due to a lack of resources. But they weren't as bad as perception last year, improved as the year went along, and now are going to be called upon to light up the scoreboard. With the market keeping costs capped on everybody here except for Kupp, it's a good time to buy low on what could be a fun team for fantasy again this upcoming year.