Juggernaut Index, No. 24: The St. Louis Rams

The Juggernaut Index is our annual preseason ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FANTASY PURPOSES. Here, we care about yards and points, not wins and losses. This isn’t your standard NFL power ranking. If a team’s roster features upper-tier fantasy assets, that group will rank near the top of the J.I.

Under normal circumstances, if a franchise lost its all-time leading rusher and a brand-name receiver in the same offseason — as the Rams just lost Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola — then we'd say its offensive outlook was bleak. But Jeff Fisher's team deserves a longer look. This roster isn't bereft of talent, even if it's short on household names

If you're a St. Louis fan, you have a few reasons to be hopeful, such as...

Quarterback Sam Bradford. He's coming off his best pro season (3,702 yards, 21 TDs, 13 INTs), one in which he performed well in tough matchups. This year, for the first time in Bradford's career, his OC is actually returning to the team, which means he'll finally spend a second season in the same system;

The upgraded O-line. This unit added four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long in free agency, plus Alabama's Barrett Jones on draft day;

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Rookie wide receiver Tavon Austin. He's a fantastic all-purpose talent, a player with a clear chance to be star, soon;

Tight end Jared Cook. Perhaps he's burned you before in fantasy, but he landed in a great situation and he's quickly building rapport with his new QB;

Second-year back Isaiah Pead. This kid was a monster at the collegiate level (6.0 career YPC, ridiculous highlight reel), so you'd be crazy to give up on him. And if Pead can't break through, then America's sleeper Zac Stacy probably will.

I could give you a bunch of additional bullets filled with Rams sunshine, but let's rewind to the Bradford discussion. He's a strong candidate to make a value leap in 2013, and he'll be dirt-cheap at the draft table (Yahoo! ADP 124.8, QB21).

Even Bradford's detractors would have to agree that St. Louis hasn't exactly set him up for success in prior years. During his three NFL seasons, he's had no continuity, no protection, and few playmakers. Bradford has absorbed 105 sacks in 42 career games, and, according Pro Football Focus, he's been hit while throwing more than any QB over the past three years (43 times since 2010). I won't try to convince you that the Jake Long addition transforms the Rams' line into an elite unit, but Bradford's blindside protection has at least been addressed and enhanced. So that's an obvious win.

St. Louis will of course need to find replacements for the never-healthy Amendola and collapse-after-catch specialist Brandon Gibson, but the team has plenty of options on this year's roster. Austin is frightening weapon, a 5-foot-8 burner (4.34 speed) who should line up all over the field for the Rams. (Here's some Austin hype via Greg Cosell.) You'll see the kid in the backfield, in the slot, on the outside, returning kicks, selling nachos, wearing the Rampage suit ... he'll be everywhere. Harvin-like, without the headaches (literally, figuratively). Bradford has never worked with a receiver quite like this. At Austin's current average draft position (94.5), he offers clear profit potential. He'd be my top pick in a rookie dynasty draft.

The Rams also used a third-round pick on Stedman Bailey, Austin's former West Virginia teammate. Bailey was a hugely productive college player — 114 catches for 1,622 yards and 25 TDs(!) in 2012 — who underwhelmed at the combine. He should find himself in mix for targets along with second-year wideouts Chris Givens and Brian Quick, and third-year receiver Austin Pettis. Givens led the Rams in receiving yardage as a rookie, catching 42 balls on 80 targets for 698 yards. He demonstrated big-play ability early in the season, hauling in a 50-yard reception in five straight games (Weeks 4-8). He's reportedly added muscle over the offseason, toward the goal of expanding his usage in 2013.

Quick had a quiet first year for St. Louis — not a surprise, since he was an inexperienced player making the jump from Appalachian State — but he has terrific size (6-3, 220) and he made some noise during OTAs. But no receiver on this team earned as much praise as Pettis during offseason practices...

"Quite honestly, [Pettis] is probably having the best camp of all the skill players," [OC Brian] Schottenheimer said. "He’s just a tireless worker. Very competitive. ... He’s having a tremendous spring."

Pettis closed 2012 in style, too, with touchdowns in his final two games.

And then there's Cook, the Rams' new $35 million tight end. He was merely a supporting player in Tennessee, an every-year sleeper who never quite blew up (except in the final weeks of seasons, to tease us). No one has ever questioned Cook's athleticism, just his blocking. If we can believe the St. Louis coaching staff, Cook's new team is committed to using him to create matchup problems all over the field. There's a decent chance that drafters will pay an expectant price for this guy in August, because the hype has been constant. But at the moment, Cook looks like a filthy steal (ADP 126.9).

The hierarchy in the Rams' backfield was never murky during the S-Jax era, because one guy dominated the workload. Jackson averaged 22.64 touches per game from 2005 to 2012. It's entirely possible that we'll see a three-headed committee in 2013, featuring Pead, Stacy and Daryl Richardson. To me, it seems clear that Pead has the highest ceiling of the three — go click that highlight clip up above, in the bullets — but he's also coming off a do-nothing rookie season. He was barely a rumor last year, limited to garbage-time work in an ugly loss to New England (3 carries, 32 yards), then playing two series in the finale at Seattle (5 carries, 21 yards). He did little as a receiver after catching 39 balls in his final FBS season. And he's suspended for the first week of 2013, punishment for a year-old weed-related incident.

So Pead is no sure thing, but I think he's the biggest talent in this pileup. Richardson had some nice moments last year, though he figures to be a rotational runner, an outside specialist. Stacy is a fifth-round rookie from Vanderbilt who topped 1,100 rushing yards in back-to-back collegiate seasons (big assist to Wake Forest, Presbyterian, Army), and who's been fully embraced by the global community of fantasy gurus. Brad Evans has referred to him as "the best rusher on the Rams roster." Personally, I think Stacy moves like a lawn tractor. When the first adjective we use to describe a runner is "decisive," then we're probably talking about a player who has no physical tools that jump off the screen. I'm not willing to side with the majority opinion on Stacy just yet, but I'll try to enter the preseason with an open mind, willing to be convinced. Again, Pead's opening week suspension will create an opportunity for someone. In the NFL, opportunity is everything.

The Rams defense tied for the league lead in sacks last year (52), they intercepted 17 passes, and they scored five defensive TDs. Thus, they were a top-10 fantasy D/ST in most scoring systems. St. Louis has talent at every level of the defense, so this roster is rich with IDP options. LB James Laurinaitis is a tackling machine (142 last year), DEs Chris Long and Robert Quinn both recorded double-digit sacks in 2012, and CB Cortland Finnegan can still play a little (101 tackles). You'll want this group in Week 1, for the matchup with Arizona.

And because so many commenters seem to care: Yes, Greg Zuerlein has crazy range. He went 16-for-18 inside 50 yards last season, and 7-for-13 from 50-plus. I don't normally mention kickers who aren't Sea Bass in these Juggernaut posts, but you guys really seem to care about Legatron. So consider him mentioned.

OK, with that, all open questions regarding the Rams should be resolved. I trust you now agree fully with this ranking. If you have any additional concerns, here's a video. Re-watch as needed.

2012 team stats: 18.7 points per game (25), 236.4 passing yards per game (18), 107.1 rushing yards per game (19)

Previous Juggernauts: 32. NY Jets, 31. Oakland, 30. Jacksonville, 29. Buffalo, 28. Cleveland, 27. Tennessee, 26. San Diego, 25. Miami

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