This is a weekly series where I break down the best contrarian stack options for the upcoming NFL week. For preseason purposes I’m focusing on largely ignored players, teams or offenses who could have a big impact early in the daily fantasy season.
There’s no doubt that the NFC East is still going to be one of, if not the toughest division in Football. Seattle managed to get better on offense while holding court with their insanely talented defense. The Cardinals drafted a nice RB themselves in David Johnson (although he’s now hurt) and will be getting Carson Palmer and Tyron Mathieu back after injuries near the end of last season. San Francisco definitely sustained losses but their offense should still be have some bite with the option tandem of Colin Kaepernick and Carlos Hyde.
But what about St. Louis? Anytime someone brings up the St. Louis Rams and “offense” you get the same reaction… eye roll, chuckle… “offense? More like no-fense”… After last season I’ll admit this sort of response is justified. Watching a year of Austin Davis and Shaun Hill throw for 45-50% completion rates to receivers who look like they’ll all be in a “footballs greatest draft busts” DVD soon, makes the Rams easy to dismiss them. However, we need to remember that this is the NFL and parity still rules. For 2015 the Rams have made some of the biggest and best changes on offense in the entire league. They also still have a budding, borderline dominate defense which means many weeks they will benefit from consistently good field position. So why haven’t we heard much about St. Louis possibly “making the jump” this year. Can they actually flip the switch and become a potentially explosive, potentially fantasy relevant offense?
Let’s look in at some of their key players on offense and see if all or any of them are worth keeping an eye on for daily fantasy.
The St. Louis Rams
Nick Foles sucks, that is literally all I hear anytime Nick Foles gets brought up in conversation with someone or by the media. He sucks, oh and that 27 TD, 3 int season he had two years, complete fluke! Let me throw a comparison down that will hopefully make you think differently about Nick Foles:
Nick Foles key stats over 3 years
27gp—46tds—17ints—61.6comp%—250.1yards per game
Other QB who is going first in most season long drafts this year
48 gp (reg season)—86tds—33tds—58.6comp—269.9yards per game
Both Andrew Luck and Nick Foles came into the league back in 2012, and since that time they’ve put up shockingly similar numbers. Foles has a slightly higher completion percentage and a slightly better TD/Int ratio, and Luck has a slightly better average yards per game and TD per game rate. But they have both been very productive and very similar in their production. However when talking about Elite QB’s bringing up Nick Foles will most likely get laughed out of the building, while bringing up Andrew Luck will most likely get you a ton of head nods and some dialogue straight out of the Matrix trilogy (he is the one!).
Regardless of what you think of him however, the fact is Nick Foles is great downfield passer. In just 8 games last year he completed 29 throws of 20 yards or greater and 5 throws of 50 yards or greater. In 2013, in 13 games, he had 53 completions of 20 yards or better. Compare this to the St. Louis Rams QBs from last season who in 16 games only completed 43 passes that went for more than 20 yards. Even if Foles fails to repeat the efficiency he showed in 2013 he is undoubtedly going to give this offense a dynamic they simply did not have last year. The more traditional, less explosive offensive scheme employed by the Rams might mean less passing plays overall, but Foles’ ability to get the ball down field should still open up this offense to bigger plays. All-in-all the addition of Foles should mean bigger fantasy potential for the Rams offense as a whole and open them up to usage as a contrarian stack in certain weeks.
The question then becomes, who do you stack Foles with and when? The Rams are tough for fantasy because they don’t have a true number one WR and so any given week a different player might have a huge game for them at that position. However, they do have some other potential stud options to consider.
The Stud RB
When talking about what we can expect from the rest of the Ram’s offense there is probably a tendency for most people to start and end the conversation with Todd Gurley. I have no doubt that by the end of the year we will likely be talking about Gurley as a must play for fantasy and I expect his ability on the ground to somewhat mute the full potential of the passing game in this offense. Still remember that game flow and the fact the Rams might limit Gurley’s usage to start the season could both have negative impacts on his early season fantasy totals. Gurley was never a huge pass-catcher in college, although he did pull in 37 catches over ten games in his second year so there’s the possibility he might be viable to use with Foles eventually. However, with Benny Cunningham still there—a very capable 3rd down back—the likely scenario to start the season is Gurley getting the majority of the early down work while Cunningham or Tre Mason takes the rest. Until Gurley consistently starts seeing full series, my advice would be to either use him at RB alone and avoid the Rams passing game altogether, or fade Gurley and consider a Rams passing-stack as an option.
The Potential Stud TE
If you are going to employ a Rams passing stack, one of the best receiving options to consider might be Jared Cook. Early reports have Foles and Cook “clicking” and even though Foles tended to spread the ball around in Philly he did love his TE’s (over 20% of his completions went to his TE’s last season). Cook has the metrics to be a top 5 TE in this league and that is not an exaggeration. Cook ran a sub 4.5 40m coming out of college (faster than many WR’s) and is listed at 6’5 and well over 240lbs. He is a mismatch nightmare. The problem of course is that he has failed to live up to his potential (except for the odd huge fantasy game here and there). However, with the improved downfield accuracy Foles will bring Cook might improve on his 57% percentage caught stat—the lowest of all the TE’s ranked inside the top 20 on Pro Football Focus—and become a more consistent fantasy option. With even a little bump up in opportunity, Cook could have some big games in 2015 and end up as a big upside play in any given week.
The Low priced-Low owned WR’s
The real boom or bust option in this offense will be Kenny Britt. Britt showed he still had some gas in the tank last year and is now another year removed from major knee surgery. Last season, Britt led the Rams with 748 yards including 5 plays of over 30 yards or more. With a QB who is more comfortable throwing downfield Britt should have more opportunity to land some big plays and might be a huge fantasy factor in weeks where the game flow forces St. Louis to play catch-up.
Outside of Britt, Tavon Austin still exists and while he hasn’t shown much, Foles might be able to extract some of the huge playmaking ability Austin so consistently showed fans in college. Stedman Baily also came on last year and proved to be a very reliable young receiver. He could develop into a nice PPR target if Foles develops some early chemistry with him.
Daily Fantasy Conclusion
The Rams are probably not going to turn into the next version of the greatest show on turf overnight but with Nick Foles at the helm this year you should see some improvement. More importantly I think you’ll see certain weeks where the team becomes a viable option to use for stacks in large gpps. While Todd Gurley is certainly going to be a dominate force at some point, low ownership will be assured with Rams passing options almost every week and identifying the games where garbage time or shootouts could develop might be a very good time to take a shot with this up and coming offense.