QB Sam Bradford
The first overall pick in 2010 proved last season that he is the real deal, leading the Rams to within a game of the playoffs. Bradford displayed veteran poise throughout his rookie season and appears to have the Rams ready to make a run at the playoffs in 2011. Missing the team’s top two wide receivers in Mark Clayton and Donnie Avery and having marginal talent at tight end, Bradford spread the ball around, throwing for 3,210 yards with 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, making him the 19th-ranked fantasy quarterback. Look for more this coming season. He had a solid six-game stretch at midseason, throwing for 1,307 yards with 11 touchdowns and only a single interception. However, he fell off over the final five games, a stretch where he passed for 1,046 yards with six interceptions and only one touchdown as defenses began to focus on shutting down slot receiver Danny Amendola. With new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels running the show, look for improvement in Bradford this coming season. However, the team failed to address its needs for a true No. 1 wide receiver, and while there is talent at tight end, it is largely unproven. Bradford enters 2011 as a mid-tier fantasy backup with upside, and he is a great option in dynasty leagues.
RB Steven Jackson
What to make of Steven Jackson… On the one hand, he’s only 27 years old and is a true workhorse back in a league full of timeshares; he rarely comes off the field, gets the goal line work, and can catch the ball. That’s why it’s no surprise he’s had at least 1,273 total yards every year since taking over as the team’s starter at the beginning of the 2005 season. On the other hand, he’s been used heavily (averaging 25.1 touches per game over the last five years), is coming off a career worst 3.8 ypc season, and has trouble finding the end zone. In fact, since scoring 16 touchdowns during his career year in 2006, Jackson hasn’t scored double-digit touchdowns in any one season, averaging just six scores per season over his last four years. By adding Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood to the fold, the Rams have given SJax his best backups since, well, Marshall Faulk. While Jackson has earned a reputation as a player who often gets hurt, the bottom line is that he has missed just ten games over the last six years and has a willingness to play through pain. He enters 2011 as a reliable, low-end RB1 with some upside if he can start finding the end zone again. With the Rams on the upswing, that just might happen.
After years of having a black hole behind Steven Jackson, the Rams may have finally found a decent backup in former Buccaneer Cadillac Williams. Williams was relegated to a backup role in 2010 after losing his job at midseason to LeGarrette Blount. His prospects for playing time were actually better in Tampa Bay than in St. Louis, however, given Blount’s poor blocking and receiving ability—areas in which Jackson has proven capable. At this point in his career, Williams is clearly a backup, but one who has played reasonably well in most games since his resurgence in 2009. However, he has not been able to produce against the league’s top defenses. He shapes up as a worthy handcuff on your fantasy roster.
RB Jerious Norwood
Norwood comes to the Rams after a pair of injury-plagued seasons in Atlanta. He suffered a torn ACL in Week 2 last year and has missed 20 games over the last two seasons. Prior to that, he enjoyed a career year in 2008, rushing for 489 yards, gaining 338 receiving yards, and scoring six touchdowns. At that point, Norwood looked like a player who just might emerge as a solid time-share back, but the Falcons signed Michael Turner and Norwood couldn’t stay healthy. Norwood will fight with Cadillac Williams for the few scraps Steven Jackson leaves behind, but his main role will be on third downs. He’s only worth grabbing if SJax or Williams gets injured.
WR Danny Amendola
After the 2010 rookie draft, the Rams boasted about how they got a steal in selecting slot receiver Mardy Gilyard with the first pick in the fourth round. Turns out that was a wasted pick since they got a steal when they plucked Amendola off the Eagles practice squad two years ago. Amendola’s willingness (bordering on reckless) to go over the middle and ability to convert third downs helped him develop into Sam Bradford’s go-to receiver. Bradford targeted him 123 times, with Amendola catching 85 passes for 689 yards and three touchdowns. The nifty 69.1 completion percentage pretty much ensures Amendola doesn’t have to worry about Gilyard. Clearly Amendola is a better option in PPR leagues, where he ranks as a lower-tier WR2 or upper-tier WR3. In non-PPR leagues, consider him a WR3. New offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels helped make Wes Welker a star in New England, and the same might just happen with Amendola in St. Louis.
WR Mike Sims-Walker
Conventional wisdom is that the Rams are desperate for a No. 1 wide receiver and Sims-Walker is the player most likely to fulfill that role, given his size-speed combination and his accomplishments in Jacksonville. The only hiccup with that theory is his production in 2010, where he caught just 43 receptions for 562 yards and seven touchdowns. That’s not No. 1 wide receiver production to most folks. More likely, the Rams will spread the ball around among several wide receivers because, while they don’t have a true No. 1, they have several that are NFL caliber. Sims-Walker is worth taking on as a WR4 or WR5, but he’s not a player you want to rely on in your starting lineup until he proves otherwise.
WR Danario Alexander
While Mike Sims-Walker is getting all the pub as the Rams receiver most likely to replicate Brandon Lloyd’s breakout season in Denver with Josh McDaniels running the offense, Alexander has far more potential if he can stay healthy. However, the odds of that happening cannot be considered good. Alexander is a solid 6’5”, but he went undrafted due to his numerous knee injuries. Although he joined the Rams near the end of preseason last year, he quickly picked up the offense and had three double-digit fantasy point games despite playing in just eight contests. Unfortunately, he was in and out of the lineup with those same knee problems. Alexander has the potential to be one of the top receivers in the league if his knees would just hold up. He’s worth a late-round flier in larger leagues.
WR Donnie Avery
The Rams made Avery the first wide receiver taken in the 2008 draft, using the first pick in the second round to acquire him. With DeSean Jackson still on the board at that point, let’s just say St. Louis may regret that one. In three years, Avery has proven injury-prone and inconsistent, missing all of last season with a knee injury. He’s a burner but his route running doesn’t seem to have improved much since he entered the league. While the Rams are stacked at wide receiver with no clear-cut No. 1, Avery’s size and poor route running don’t bode well for his becoming quarterback Sam Bradford’s go-to guy in 2011. He’s far more likely to be used as a deep threat. See what Avery does in the preseason before wasting a roster spot on him.
WR Brandon Gibson
What’s a guy have to do to get some respect? After being plucked off the Eagles practice roster in 2009, Gibson stepped into the lineup and caught 34 passes for 348 yards and a touchdown in ten games, including three starts. Last season, he was the Rams’ most consistent outside threat with 53 receptions for 620 yards and two touchdowns. Unfortunately, the Rams weren’t impressed, bringing in Mike Sims-Walker and drafting two wide receivers in the middle rounds of the draft.
WR Mardy Gilyard
Gilyard was considered a steal when the Rams used the first pick in the fourth round of the 2010 draft to acquire him. A few picks later the Bucs grabbed Mike Williams. You don’t need a degree in rocket science to figure out who got the real steal. With a plethora of wide receivers worthy of roster spots and Danny Amendola having cemented his position as the team’s slot receiver, Gilyard has no chance of making the Rams roster. He’s trade bait for the Rams and not worthy of a roster spot in your dynasty league.
TE Michael Hoomanawanui
The Rams’ 2010 fifth-round pick had an up-and-down rookie season. He performed well in training camp and appeared to be on the verge of claiming the starting position by midseason, only to suffer a high ankle sprain to his left ankle on opening day. He returned in Week 6 and had 12 receptions for 138 yards and three touchdowns over the next six games before suffering a right high ankle sprain. Hoomanawanui will battle rookie second-round pick Lance Hendricks for playing time but has the edge to open the season as the team’s starter given his superior blocking ability. Monitor the situation and consider Hoomanawanui a low-tier backup with upside, provided he beats out Kendricks.
The Rams haven’t gotten much out of their tight ends in recent years, and new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ system calls for a tight end with the ability to get downfield. Hence, the selection of Hendricks in the second round of this year’s draft. More receiver than blocker, Hendricks will likely spend his rookie season playing mostly on passing downs, but he could be a solid fantasy backup if he can win the starting position, which just might happen considering his play in training camp. If it doesn’t happen, he isn’t worth owning in redraft formats but is still a decent option in dynasty leagues.