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Sleepers, Busts and Bets: The 2022 Los Angeles Rams

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Dan Fornek and Jeremy Popielarz continue with the 2022 Sleepers, Busts and Bets series to preview all 32 NFL teams for the upcoming year. Next up: The Los Angeles Rams.

 

Dan and Jeremy will list their picks with confidence in “The Answers,” Then expand upon their picks with more details reason in “The Explanation.”

The Answers

Favorite Sleeper

Fornek: Van Jefferson
Popielarz: Allen Robinson

Biggest Bust

Fornek: Cam Akers
Popielarz: Cooper Kupp

Boldest Bet

Fornek: Allen Robinson Is a Top-15 WR
Popielarz: Matthew Stafford Is Not a Top-12 QB

 

The Explanation

Sleeper

Fornek: Van Jefferson

The Rams continued to add to their offense this offseason, moving on from Odell Beckham and Robert Woods after their respective knee injuries and replacing them with Allen Robinson in free agency. The addition of Robinson and the continued presence of Cooper Kupp have resulted in a suppressed ADP for Van Jefferson as he continues to be the WR3 in their offense. Jefferson was second on the Rams in targets (89), receiving yards (802) and touchdowns last season (six) thanks to the Woods injury. At this stage, Robinson is an upgrade to both of those players, but Jefferson will still have plenty of opportunities on the field. The Rams played 86% of their offensive snaps in 11 personnel last season, meaning there were three receivers on the field, which was the highest in the league by 9%. Jefferson will be the clear third option in the passing attack, but he’s shown the ability to still earn targets in that capacity as recently as last season.

Van Jefferson 2022 Fantasy Football Los Angeles Rams Sleepers, Busts and Bets

In the first nine weeks of the season (when Woods was healthy), Jefferson operated as the Rams’ third wide receiver but never logged a snap share below 64%. During that stretch, he averaged 5.1 targets, 3.0 receptions, and 48.1 receiving yards per game and scored three touchdowns. That output was enough to make him the WR42 averaging 9.8 points per game. He had five games with at least six targets during that stretch as well. That value isn’t anything exceptional, but he has shown the ability to produce above his current value in drafts (WR67).

Ultimately, the Rams have shown over the past two years they would prefer Jefferson to operate as the third option in their passing attack. But on an offense that is designed to play in three-receiver sets, Jefferson is on the field enough to be worth a flier. At the very least, he’s the cheapest piece of the offense that has shown the ability to produce higher than his current ADP suggests.

Popielarz: Allen Robinson

Coming off one of his worst years as a pro, Allen Robinson has landed in the perfect situation to flourish once again. Over his career, he has finished as a top-12 fantasy wide receiver three times, with his best finish a WR6 finish in 2015 as a Jaguar. He has produced three 1,000-yard seasons as a pro, totaling 6,409 receiving yards and 40 touchdowns in eight seasons. Last year was a disaster, though, as he put up only 410 yards and one touchdown in 12 games, finishing the season as fantasy’s WR83. That has dropped Robinson’s fantasy stock down to the late-WR2/early-WR3 range in drafts this year, but for my money, he landed in just about the perfect situation in Los Angeles, where he doesn’t have to be the No. 1 and can instead be the second option behind Cooper Kupp.

The Rams called pass at an above-average rate last year (59.3%, 14th most) while the Bears were below average (55.8%, 24th). That means even slotting in behind target monster Kupp, Robinson could push over 100 targets in 2022. Topping 100 targets on a good offense with the best quarterback he’s ever had, Robinson could flirt with another 1,000-yard season and maybe score his most touchdowns since the 14 he had in 2015. In other words, the Rams could easily have two top-15 fantasy receivers in 2022. 

Bust

Fornek: Cam Akers

Cam Akers‘ rapid Achilles tendon recovery last season is a fantastic story, but it is increasingly difficult for me to buy in on him with an ADP of RB16 in fantasy drafts. It is very easy to write off his underwhelming performance (2.57 yards per carry) in the playoffs against very strong run defenses after a quick recovery. But there are reasons to believe that the role we all hoped for before last season (a true bell cow running back) may not come to fruition.

The narrative around the Rams is that they will feed their top running back because that is what they did when they ran the wheels off Todd Gurley during his tenure with the team. While that is true, it’s also very important to remember that the Rams were doing that to protect Jared Goff at quarterback. It also helps that Gurley was one of the better running back prospects in recent memory. With Matthew Stafford at the helm and Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson at receiver, the Rams will likely be a balanced offense that skews toward the pass. The presence of Darrell Henderson (and rookie Kyren Williams) also allows the Rams to naturally spell Akers throughout the season to keep him healthy in his first season back.

Cam Akers 2022 Fantasy Football Los Angeles Rams Sleepers, Busts and Bets

Additionally, the history of professional athletes making a full recovery from Achilles ruptures is littered with players who struggled to regain their true explosiveness once they were healthy. Akers is younger (and arguably more talented) than a majority of those players, so he could very well be the exception to the rule. Advancements in medicine have already taken this historically career-ending injury and turned it into something that players can return to play from. But Akers remains the litmus test for players returning to their previous form. Drafting him at RB16 in fantasy drafts is essentially betting that a limited (and ineffective) sample size against good defenses in the playoffs signals that Akers is back to his pre-injury form.

Lastly, the Rams have had turnover across their offensive line. Andrew Whitworth retired after winning the Super Bowl and was one of the best left tackles in the league despite also being one of the oldest players in the NFL. The team also let Austin Corbett walk in free agency and will likely be replacing him with third-round rookie Logan Bruss. Losing arguably two of the best linemen after your team isn’t a great sign, especially when the team struggled in the playoffs creating running lanes with them last season.

I’d love nothing more than to see Cam Akers return to the form he showed during his efficient rookie season. However, given his current price tag of RB16, I’m more than happy to see him do it on somebody else’s team during the 2022 season.

Popielarz: Cooper Kupp

Coming off a career year where he saw 191 targets and caught 145 of them for 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns, Kupp is a likely regression candidate. Last season, the Rams lost explosive second-year running back Cam Akers to an Achilles injury before training camp, forcing Darrell Henderson and Sony Michel into larger roles and leading to a mere 4.0 yards per carry and 1,683 rushing yards on the season – both bottom-10 numbers in the league. That meant the Rams passed more often than they had in previous years, which meant Kupp’s targets were artificially high, a significant driving force behind his amazing season. 

With Cam Akers now reportedly healthy, it’s likely the Rams try to get the ball into his hands more. More carries mean fewer passes, which means Kupp will see fewer targets. On top of this, the Rams added the aforementioned Allen Robinson to the offense. He steps into the Robert Woods role this season and could easily see more targets per game than Woods did. Kupp’s not going to disappear by any means — he’s still a WR1 — but if he sees somewhere between his 191 targets last year and the 124-134 he had in 2019-2020, he might struggle to repeat at or near the overall WR1. 

 

Bet

Fornek: Allen Robinson Is a Top-15 WR

Allen Robinson had a forgettable 2021 season with the Bears. He played in just 12 games, catching 38 of 66 targets for 410 yards and one touchdown. After outperforming his history of bad quarterbacks, putting up that age-28 season had some wondering if he had wasted his prime. But the Rams clearly believe, giving Robinson a three-year, $46.5 million contract this offseason (despite limited cap space) to serve as Cooper Kupp’s running mate in this offense.

It’s no secret Robinson was frustrated at the end of his tenure with Chicago when the team decided to use a franchise tag on him instead of signing him to a long-term contract. After three seasons in Chicago playing with bad quarterbacks and questionable playcalling, nobody could blame him for taking advantage of an injury ahead of what could be his last big payday. But Robinson has shown the ability to be highly productive at the NFL level despite catching passes from Blake Bortles, Mitch Trubisky, Nick Foles and a bad rookie season from Justin Fields. Matthew Stafford will be the best quarterback Robinson has ever played with, even dating back to college. Additionally, he’ll have the ability to work as the team’s WR2 while teams find ways to try and slow down Cooper Kupp.

Last season, the combination of Robert Woods and Odell Beckham combined to produce 72 receptions on 117 targets for 861 yards and nine touchdowns. That comes out to 12.3 PPR points per game, which would have finished as the PPR WR30 (min. 12 games played). Those are strong numbers, especially considering Beckham was essentially learning the offense on the fly after joining the team midseason. Robinson will have an entire offseason and training camp to gel with Stafford and have Sean McVay design ways to get him the ball. At this stage of his career, he’s arguably more talented than Woods or Beckham. The Rams also made it a point to sign him despite having other holes to fill on the roster and plenty of wide receiver talent on the team.

Adam Thielen, last year’s WR15 in PPG, averaged 15.4 fantasy points per game. Robinson has shown the talent to produce at that level and now will get the chance to do so with the best quarterback he’s had in his career while playing alongside one of the best wide receivers in the NFL.

Popielarz: Matthew Stafford Is Not a Top-12 QB

Cooper Kupp was the headline of the Rams’ offense in 2021, but Matthew Stafford had an excellent season as well. He finished as the QB5 with 346.74 points, throwing for 4,886 yards and a career-high-tying 41 touchdowns. His 67.2% completion percentage also tied a career high, and he posted a 102.9 passer rating, his best in a full season. All of this was impressive, but we should expect some regression this season as the run game should be more involved. Last season, the Rams finished bottom 10 in every major rushing category, something we are not used to seeing out of a McVay-led offense that has finished top 10 in rush attempts in three out of his five seasons in Los Angeles. Getting Cam Akers back from his Achilles injury should help to solve much of that all by itself. 

Every extra rush the team attempts in 2022 is a pass Stafford won’t throw, and that will make it hard for him to repeat his 2021 production. Add in fewer overall games missed at the position — Jalen Hurts, Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, Aaron Rodgers all averaged more fantasy points per game than Stafford, but Stafford was one of only 11 quarterbacks to play all 17 games — and he’s likely to fall down the boards a bit. Less efficiency for Stafford and better overall totals from some of the quarterbacks who were behind him last year, and Stafford could fall outside the top 12 quarterbacks. 

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