Juggernaut Index, No. 3: Rams have reloaded, remain fantasy goldmine

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/teams/lar" data-ylk="slk:Los Angeles Rams">Los Angeles Rams</a> fans have a ton to be excited about heading into 2018. It’s a loaded team with an inventive coach and high-end talent at the skill spots. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Los Angeles Rams fans have a ton to be excited about heading into 2018. It’s a loaded team with an inventive coach and high-end talent at the skill spots. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Twenty months ago, the Rams were lurching toward the end of a four-win season in which the offense would rank dead-last in the NFL in both scoring and yardage. The team had just signed its overmatched, unimaginative head coach to a two-year extension. Rookie quarterback Jared Goff was struggling, restrained by game-planning that appeared hostile to big plays.

And then in mid-December, the dark clouds cleared…

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Today, Los Angeles is a clear Super Bowl contender with a clever and aggressive head coach, an ascending young QB and a talent-rich roster. Sean McVay’s work with the Rams has been astonishing. His team went from worst to first in scoring, more than doubling the prior year’s point total (224 to 478). Goff’s yards per attempt jumped from an abysmal 5.3 to an exceptional 8.0 and he led the league in yards per completion (12.9), earning Pro Bowl recognition.

McVay has basically devised a way to implant his consciousness into Goff’s human form at the line of scrimmage, sci-fi style, which is both sinister and brilliant. Goff seemed hopeless as a rookie, then threw 28 touchdown passes and just seven picks in his second season. This team’s offense was ruthless.

In recent drafts, Goff has been selected well outside the top-12 at his position (QB16, ADP 126.2), which says quite a bit about the depth at quarterback generally, but also something about our skepticism regarding the player. He was a terrific collegiate passer, deserving of his draft status, and he’s now at the controls of a stellar offense. If you buy the Rams as a great team (as you should), it’s tough not to like the value on Goff. He gets a late bye-week (12), too, which is always nice.

Also, Goff gets a bunch of cheap and easy passing yards via this dude…

Todd Gurley was a cheat code last season, unbeatable in the fantasy playoffs. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Todd Gurley was a cheat code last season, unbeatable in the fantasy playoffs. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Todd Gurley, the reigning fantasy MVP, is top-pick material

Gurley clinched league titles (and paydays) for thousands of fantasy owners last December, during an unreasonably productive end-of-season binge. He gained 591 scrimmage yards and reached the end-zone eight times over just three games, in the most important three-week stretch on the fantasy calendar. It was absurd. In Week 16, he rushed for 118 yards and caught 10 balls for 158 and two TDs. Gurley led the league in scrimmage yards (2093), total touchdowns (19) and rushing scores (13) last season, averaging 4.7 YPC. He also caught 64 balls on 87 targets for a ridiculous 788 yards.

Essentially, Gurley was a perfect fantasy weapon in any format. He’s the No. 1 overall pick in most drafts and should never slip outside the top-three. We can have a reasonable debate about Gurley vs. Bell vs. DJ vs. Zeke, but there’s simply no question about the potential of the Rams’ offensive centerpiece. Gurley’s rushing productivity jumped by a yard-and-a-half per carry from 2016 to 2017; life is better when you play in a scheme that isn’t brutally predictable, threatening defenses at all levels.

John Kelly looks like the proper handcuff for Gurley, as the Tennessee rookie has absolutely crushed the preseason (120 rush yards, 3 TDs). Here’s a look at his tackle-breaking ability. If Gurley is sidelined by injury at any point, Kelly will immediately become our game’s buzziest add.

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/27548/" data-ylk="slk:Brandin Cooks">Brandin Cooks</a>, <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/26664/" data-ylk="slk:Robert Woods">Robert Woods</a> and <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/30182/" data-ylk="slk:Cooper Kupp">Cooper Kupp</a> are a stellar trio of receivers. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp are a stellar trio of receivers. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Brandin Cooks, polarizing fantasy asset

Cooks was surprisingly dealt to LA in early April, then signed a mega-deal with the team in July. Many analysts have suggested that Cooks will simply slide into the low-volume role previously occupied by Sammy Watkins, which resulted in an annoyingly boom/bust season. Watkins never saw double-digit targets in any game and was held below 40 yards nine times.

Let’s recall, however, that Watkins didn’t actually join the Rams until mid-August last year, giving him very little time to get acquainted with the team’s offense or establish a substantial role. Cooks isn’t in a comparable situation; he’s spent a full offseason with Goff, immersed in McVay’s playbook. He’s not guaranteed to match his target total from last season in New England (114), because the Rams had a spread-the-wealth passing game in McVay’s first year. The target distribution looked like this:

Cooper Kupp – 95
Todd Gurley – 87
Robert Woods – 85
Sammy Watkins – 70

LA ranked near the bottom of the NFL in total attempts (518), but no one really noticed because Goff was so efficient. We should not that Woods only appeared in a dozen games last year, so he saw more weekly volume than Kupp (7.1 targets vs. 6.3). It’s reasonable to expect the Watkins workload, plus a few Woods/Kupp chances, to shift to Cooks in 2018. Expect 95-105 targets for the new guy. In LA’s offense, that likely translates to 950-or-so yards and 6-8 spikes.

Woods and Kupp remain bankable WR3s in fantasy terms, each capable of topping 55 catches and 800 yards assuming good health. Somewhat quietly, Kupp finished with the second-most red-zone targets among all wide receivers last year (23), so he offers sneaky upside. Tight ends Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett combined for 77 targets and three scores last year; neither player needs to be drafted in leagues of typical size, considering the depth at the position.

The Rams’ D is full of monsters

Aaron Donald just got paid (in a large way), so that drama is finally behind us. Donald is of course one of the NFL’s most dominant, disruptive players, essential to this team’s success. LA ranked fourth in the league in sacks last season (48) and fifth in takeaways (28), making this group a useful fantasy entity. The team has since added Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, which seems unfair.

2017 Offensive Stats & Ranks

Points per game – 29.9 (first in NFL)
Pass YPG – 239.4 (10)
Rush YPG – 122.1 (8)
Yards per play – 5.8 (7)
Plays per game – 62.6 (19)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) Buffalo, 31) Miami, 30) NY Jets, 29) Baltimore, 28) Oakland, 27) Cleveland, 26) Indianapolis, 25) Washington, 24) Chicago, 23) Tennessee, 22) Jacksonville, 21) Dallas, 20) Tampa Bay, 19) Cincinnati, 18) Denver, 17) San Francisco, 16) Arizona, 15) Seattle, 14) Detroit, 13) Carolina, 12) Houston, 11) Philadelphia, 10) Green Bay, 9) Atlanta, 8) Kansas City, 7) NY Giants, 6) LA Chargers, 5) New England, 4) Minnesota, 3) LA Rams

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