The St. Louis Rams’ season – and that of fantasy owners who have already invested in their offense – seemed to end before it started Sunday, when the news broke of Sam Bradford’s ACL tear. After all, the team has already announced it won’t be pursuing significant QB help before the season starts. Bradford will be replaced in the lineup by 34-year-old career backup Shaun Hill, who hasn’t started a game since 2010 . For the doom-and-gloom prognosis, let’s examine the career numbers for the two as starters:
Well, never mind. Career backup Hill has outperformed Bradford in every measure, save for a slight discrepancy in the ever-fickle INT category.
Of course, projecting starter production from backups is a fool’s game; Hill could faceplant as the Rams’ starter just as easily as he could reach those Bradford-beating numbers. But Bradford has long been one of the league’s worst passers, a bizarre mix of inefficiency and aversion to attacking downfield. Some point to his truncated 2013 as evidence of growth, as he posted the best completion, sack, TD, and INT rates of his career, but look closer. He still put up a pathetic 6.4 YPA, good for 35th in the NFL, nestled behind 2013 nightmares Brandon Weeden, Matt Schaub, and E.J. Manuel. Four years into his career, Bradford still has the look of a frightened dink-and-dunker, one terrified of the Bad Play and incapable of leading fantasy owners – not to mention the Rams – to the next level.
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In short: I contend that Bradford’s loss is no real loss at all. It may actually be addition by subtraction, especially for his supporting cast, which will no longer be restrained by his inefficiency and painfully shackled quarterbacking.
A look at the prognosis for his fantasy teammates:
Starting RB – Zac Stacy (ADP: 3.08). Here’s the main statistical beneficiary of Bradford’s injury. Stacy already had the look of a true 300-touch workhorse, and the insertion of a backup QB into the lineup only seems to cement that. The Rams will run the ball early and often, and Stacy’s arrow now points even higher. He’s a value pick even at this price tag.
Starting X – Kenny Britt (ADP: 11.07). Britt’s history with Jeff Fisher is both a blessing and a curse to his 2014 prospects. It was Fisher’s Titans squad that drafted Britt 30th overall in 2009, then coaxed 17.5 yards per catch and a dazzling 14.9% touchdown rate from the gifted wideout in their three years together. It was also Fisher’s Titans squad that dealt with his multitude of injuries and legal run-ins. In flashes, Britt has looked the part of a true, dominant #1 wideout in the Vincent Jackson mold; a 70-catch season at his ratios would net 1,225 yards and 10 TDs. By all accounts, he’s been healthy and dazzling onlookers in preseason and camp, and on a depth chart lacking real play-makers, there’s plenty of optimism that he’ll outproduce his more conservative projections. He’s absolutely worth a flier as the 52nd WR off the board in PPR leagues.
Starting Z – Stedman Bailey (ADP: None). Probably the most polished and sure-handed wideout on this roster, Bailey looks likely to return from his four-game suspension as the Rams’ go-to-possession guy. What makes Bailey intriguing is his dazzling West Virginia career opposite Tavon Austin, particularly in the red zone. There’s real potential for Bailey to emerge as a chain-moving, touchdown-scoring Anquan Boldin type in a conservative, backup-led offense. Keep your eye on the PPR waiver wires once Bailey returns to action.
Package Guys – Tavon Austin (ADP: 10.03), Brian Quick (None) Chris Givens (None), Austin Pettis (None). I wouldn’t draft any of these guys, but all three have WR3 potential somewhere deep inside. Austin was woeful as a rookie, maladroit on offense (he struggled mightily with the playbook) and only fantasy-valuable as a dice-roll on punt returns. It’s hard to expect much offensive growth, especially with new/developing weapons on board, so there’s no way I’m taking him over Cecil Shorts and Greg Jennings. Quick has been a tease thus far; a size/speed freak taken 33rd overall in 2012, he’s notched all of 29 catches in 31 NFL games. Britt is the far more proven mismatch guy at the X spot; there’s a chance Quick carves out a role this year, but I won’t be paying more than a waiver claim to find out. Givens plummeted in 2013 from promising #1 option to inefficient deep threat, recording just 34 catches and failing to find the end zone. Barring an injury to Britt, I seriously doubt he regains a prominent role. Pettis looks unlikely to crack even this depth chart.
Starting TE – Jared Cook (ADP: None). The book on Cook in Tennessee was that Fisher simply needed to unleash the beast, that Cook was the next athletic marvel to take the TE position by storm. He joined Fisher’s Rams in 2013, and after a 7-141-2 debut, the fantasy world was abuzz over his limitless potential. Cook landed with a thud, topping 50 yards just once and finding the end zone just three times over his final 15 games. If you want to chase the beast again, at least the price is right: he’s widely going undrafted, according to Fantasy Football Calculator’s ADP data. I guess I’m in for a bottom-round flier, but not without an established TE already on my roster.
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