2021 Stats (Rank)
Total Offense: 6,325 (Ninth)
Offensive Touchdowns: 51 (Eighth)
Offensive Plays: 1,058 (18th)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 638 (12th)
Rush Attempts: 420 (23rd)
Unaccounted for Targets: 166 (15th)
Unaccounted for Carries: 224 (Fourth)
What Sean McVay did next may surprise you. The Rams’ 56 percent pass rate was the seventh lowest in the league in 2020. Then they added Matthew Stafford and lost Cam Akers to a torn Achilles’ tendon. Pass-happy offense incoming, no? No. That number increased to merely 59 percent in 2021, good for 14th most in football but hardly the post-Jared Goff freedom fantasy managers anticipated. The trend grew more pronounced down the stretch as a banged up Stafford couldn’t stop throwing interceptions. 13 of Stafford’s 17 picks came in the second half of the season. After reaching 40 attempts four times in his first 10 starts, that number fell to zero for the final seven. Akers, meanwhile, re-emerged to a stunning 67 playoff carries across four games despite averaging 2.6 yards per pop. In between, Odell Beckham came and went and Cooper Kupp made history.
If Stafford wasn’t quite utopia for McVay, he was definitely the missing link in a perfectly-schemed offense that just needed a quarterback who could make some plays of his own instead of having his play-caller hold his hand every step of the way. The Rams attempted only 51 passes of 20-plus yards in 2020. That spiked to 67 in 2021, with Stafford averaging 19.0 yards on his deep attempts to 9.7 for Goff. That difference is quite literally the reason McVay made the trade. Conservative by nature, it is McVay’s preference to remain methodical and balanced. But Goff vividly illustrated the limits of scheme. Eventually, players have to make plays. Goff never could. Stafford relishes the thought.
In fantasy it produced a QB9 finish by average points, Stafford’s highest mark for a full season since 2016. Even if McVay does his best to stay within himself, his quarterbacks eventually get to open it up. They do so in a talent-rich environment, one with some of the best play-calling on the planet. That is more than enough to compensate for the occasional handoff-a-thon. Although age and injury are increasing concerns for Stafford, he remains a cinch, if low-end, QB1 in this offense.
That is due in no small part to his No. 1 receiver, the history-making Cooper Kupp. Although he had the benefit of an extra game to do so, Kupp’s 2021 totals of 145 receptions and 1,947 yards were both the second most in league history. This, after he had previously never surpassed 1,161 yards. Kupp finished below 90 yards one time all season, simply stunning consistency. He was the only receiver in the NFL to average more than three yards per route (3.12) while his target share was an otherworldly 31.7 percent. For reference, Davante Adams’ was 31.6 percent.
All of these numbers smack of an outlier campaign for a 29-year-old who had previously eclipsed 1,000 yards one time, but if you are going to regress, it might as well be off the second greatest receiving season of all time. With his target competition still not terribly robust and his Stafford chemistry second to none now that Adams and Aaron Rodgers have split up, Kupp safely slots in as the No. 1 overall receiver in fantasy.
Kupp’s safety at the top of the overall board is due in part to the musical chairs behind him in Los Angeles. Where once there was Robert Woods and then Odell Beckham there is now Allen Robinson. Coming off a campaign where the Bears essentially dared him to quit on the season and he obliged, Robinson is still only two years removed from a 1,250-yard effort with Mitchell Trubisky at the controls. There is going to be a bump with Stafford and McVay, the only question is how high. Robinson thrives in close quarters and along the sideline, two places Stafford has never been afraid to throw. Those also happen to be the areas of the field where Kupp left others to work in 2021 (119 of Kupp’s 191 targets came in the slot). That means, as was the case with Beckham and Kupp, this receiver corps should be big enough for the two of Kupp and Robinson.
The main question is, how much of Robinson’s 2021 struggles — “struggles” being 410 yards in 12 games and an anemic 10.8 yards per grab — were environment-related and how much were because he’s a physical 29-year-old receiver who isn’t getting any younger? Robinson’s 1.13 yards per route run were 91st in the league, and a new career low by over .2 yards (a big difference with this sort of thing). As we saw with Beckham, the Rams can make a seemingly dead wideout look alive in a hurry. As we have seen with players like A.J. Green, though, a better situation does not guarantee a return to glory. Robinson is a mid-range WR3 with a path to WR2 status.
Behind Robinson is a grab bag of role players and low-ceiling veterans. Tyler Higbee finally had the Rams’ tight end job to himself in 2021 and proceeded to have his least impressive season yet. Limited to 15 games for the third straight year, Higbee saw a modest uptick in targets (60 to 85) and catches (44 to 61) but increased his yards by only 39 (521 to 560). He remained stuck on five touchdowns and watched his yards per catch fall below 10.0. His 1.13 yards per route run were 31st amongst tight ends, and behind such luminaries as Kyle Rudolph and Foster Moreau. Although Higbee remains the leader of a thin group, there are better fliers to take in the TE14-20 range.
Defaulting back into No. 3 receiver duties — unless the Rams re-sign Beckham — is Van Jefferson. A role-playing deep threat in Year 1 under Stafford, Jefferson’s 14.0 aDOT was 5.4 higher than Kupp’s but equal to Beckham’s. He did turn the increased down-field looks into much greater production, with Jefferson’s 50/802/6/16.0 slash blowing his 2020 rookie marks out of the water. Although this is only his third season, Jefferson is already 26 years old. He figures to be at the outer limits of his production profile. He will have useful fantasy weeks, but they are unlikely to be predictable enough to make him a consistent WR4. He will tumble out of the top 60/WR5 if Beckham returns.
Beyond Jefferson is reserve slot man Ben Skowronek and second-year special teamer Tutu Atwell. A seventh-round rookie, Skowronek was a mistake-prone disaster in 2021, dropping a touchdown in the NFC Championship Game and creating a Stafford “interception” in the Super Bowl. Although he is seemingly a coaching staff favorite — Skowronek got the first crack at replacing Robert Woods last season — there is no fantasy upside here.
Coming off a season-ending shoulder injury, Atwell played 10 offensive snaps in eight games before going down last season. It is hard to ignore a 22-year-old with a second-round pedigree in this offense, but Atwell should be regarded as a third-unit luxury pick until proven otherwise.
One year, one Achilles and one shockingly quick recovery later, the Rams’ backfield is back where it began. Cam Akers is the man after returning a little more than five months after his devastating pre-training camp injury last season. After a training wheels Week 18, McVay committed to Akers for 67 carries and eight receptions during the Rams’ four-game Super Bowl run. That was despite Akers never clearing 3.7 yards per tote in any one contest, and averaging a pitiful 2.6 on the whole. He failed to find the end zone and generated only two rushes of 10-plus yards. After his snap rate climbed to 81 percent for the Divisional Round, that number was dialed back to 39 percent for the NFC Championship Game and 57 percent for the Super Bowl, still robust usage for a clearly limited player in the biggest games of the year.
If Akers’ sluggish production was the bad news, his avoidance of further injury was the good news. He also had the benefit of regaining confidence in his knee before the six-month offseason. Heading into 2022, Akers does not have to wonder if he can trust his leg. That is a precious gift for a rehabbing player. He also doesn’t have to wonder about his coaching staff’s belief. Sony Michel was allowed to depart in free agency, leaving Akers as the only option on early downs. That vote of confidence was followed by a belief amongst Rams media that Akers’ passing-game role could increase. A Peterson-ian type power runner when healthy, Akers is a clear RB2 in this balanced offense, one who could easily become a top-eight weekly option if his health cooperates. Akers has declared himself “100 percent.”
The only show in town behind Akers is third-down back Darrell Henderson. Hendo has struggled to stay healthy on bigger workloads but maintains an intriguing passing-game profile despite last year’s underwhelming 29/176/3/6.1 receiving line. The fear would be that Akers seizes the day on all three downs, leaving few leftovers the way Todd Gurley did before his knee woes set in. Henderson also needs to stay on the field. After McVay questioned Henderson’s durability last summer, he went on to miss five games, handling just 38 total touches after Week 10. Despite Akers’ coaching staff love and post-injury upside, Henderson is worthy of a pick in all PPR leagues. He would be in the RB2 mix were Akers to again go down, but a committee would be likely. The Rams have made it clear they do not trust Henderson to stay on the field.
On that note, fifth-rounder Kyren Williams is at least worth monitoring despite his 4.65 speed and questionable early-down pedigree. A solid if unexplosive rusher for Notre Dame, Williams was a better pass catcher, snagging 78 receptions across 26 career NCAA contests.
The Rams’ over/under is typically set at 10.5. Sean McVay’s squad has reloaded on both sides of the ball, though Warren Sharp does chart Los Angeles’ schedule as the second toughest. That includes matchups with the Bills, 49ers and Cowboys in the first five weeks. Increasingly prone to nicks and bruises, 34-year-old Stafford will be adjusting to life without LT Andrew Whitworth. It’s just hard not to like the over in a division that lost two of its starting quarterbacks over the offseason and does not appear to be the dog-eat-dog group it was a season ago, at least on paper. This team — and this coach — is simply too good.