Written by Sal Conti Follow on Twitter @SC2sports
The St. Louis Rams came out of the 2013 NFL Draft as big winners. Rave reviews for their selections were given, from local Ram fans to the “big shots” like Mel Kiper Jr. The ‘big ticket’ pick was former West Virginia wide out Tavon Austin, the 8th overall pick in the draft. St. Louis traded up with Buffalo to acquire him.
While Tavon is undoubtedly the most electric player in this class, he also won’t be the only rookie to make a fantasy impact next season.
His former teammate and fellow wide receiver Stedman Bailey was also drafted by the Rams in the third round. St. Louis also may have found its running back of the future in 5th round with DFW darling, Zac Stacy out of Vanderbilt.
All of these players drafted were picked with one intention in mind: to give quarterback Sam Bradford more weapons to utilize on offense.
How much of a fantasy football impact will these rookies make on the Rams? Can they help increase Sam Bradford’s production? Let’s take a look.
Importance of a Game Changing Slot Receiver
Sam Bradford has been nothing more than average ever since being drafted by St. Louis. That isn’t entirely his fault; his receivers have never been anything to jump for joy about, specifically his slot receivers.
That is up until the NFL Draft, when the Rams drafted a beauty of a slot option in Tavon Austin.
Austin has good hands, but his finest attributes are his speed, acceleration and ability to make plays in space. He eats up chunks of yards every time he catches a pass. A true game-changer.
In order to find out how the addition of a game-changing slot receiver affects a quarterback’s production, let’s compare New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s stats before and after the addition of WR Wes Welker.
First, here’s some background on Pre-Patriot Welker.
Before Welker joined the evil empire, he was little-known to the public. He had only 1 career touchdown, and barely surpassed 1,000 receiving yards combined in the 2005/2006 seasons with the Miami Dolphins.
So, how did Brady perform in 2006, his last season before Welker joined?
Brady threw for 24 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and 3,529 yards in 2006. Not too shabby. But, in the following offseason, Brady’s stats would rise to an all-time high.
In 2007, Brady threw for 50 touchdowns, 8 interceptions and 4,806 yards.
Is it just a coincidence that Brady’s numbers meteorically increased in one year, the same year that Welker was added? Absolutely not. Welker caught almost one-third of Brady’s passes that season.
The reason why Brady had such improved numbers was simple: he had a target over the middle almost every single play that was open. In return, this also freed up the outside receivers, making for some mismatches and very easy touchdown passes to Randy Moss (another decent receiver ).
I believe the addition of Tavon Austin will contribute to a significant statistical increase for Sam Bradford this upcoming season. Tavon may not have Wes’ elite-level catching ability, but his agility and speed is far superior. His ability to create plays for himself will give himself and the receivers around him opportunities to score.
Knack for the End Zone
We now switch our attention to Tavon’s less heralded West Virginia teammate, Stedman Bailey. While Bailey didn’t have the pre-draft hype that Tavon had, he did out-produce Austin last season.
Here’s a table to compare some statistics between the two:
Red Zone Catches
Red Zone TDs
Stedman, while catching the same amount of passes, brought in almost 400 more receiving yards and 13 more touchdowns. He thrived in the red zone, turning 66% of his red zone catches into touchdowns. Even if you took away Bailey’s 14 touchdown catches in the red zone, he’d have only 1 less touchdown than Tavon.
Outside of the stats realm, Stedman is still really impressive. He runs his routes on a professional level, competes hard, can make any catch, and most important for Sam Bradford, he’s reliable.
He won’t beat defenders with speed. But he’ll almost rarely drop a pass.
Bradford needs the security blanket of Stedman Bailey.
The leading returning pass catcher on the Rams, Chris Givens, only had 42 catches last season. Bailey can move the chains and build Bradford’s confidence.
He may not begin the season as a starter, but he’ll contribute by moving the chains and keeping the offense in rhythm. Maybe he’ll have an expanded role by season’s end.
Ground and Pound
Knowing who would lead the Rams’ running game next season was a crap shoot heading into the NFL Draft. Multiple 1,000 yard rusher and St. Louis fan favorite Stephen Jackson headed to the Atlanta Falcons.
The Rams’ returning leading rusher, Daryl Richardson, ran for 475 yards, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. However, he hasn’t ran very hard, and his pass blocking abilities are nothing to jump for joy about.
Isaiah Pead is loved by many, but have never seen a back his size and with his skill set, become anything more than a change of pace option for a team. He could make a nice compliment option for St. Louis.
This is where the Rams 5th round selection from Vanderbilt, Zac Stacy, comes into play.
Stacy reminds me of fantasy football stud Doug Martin. Both have a surprisingly good ability to change direction without losing speed.
Their closeness in this attribute can be shown in their 3 Cone Drill times at the NFL Combine. Stacy ran a 6.7, while Martin ran a 6.79 at the 2012 Combine.
At 5’8”, 216 pounds, Stacy is not the biggest back. But its a build that has proven to hold up at the NFL level and one that makes Pead’s 5″11/ 195 lbs frame look frail and weak. Stacy’s can “bulldoze” and loves running over defenders in his path.
His raw power earned him many rushing yards. Stacy had 1,000+ yard rushing seasons in 2011 and 2012, behind mediocre offensive lineman in a very tough conference.
Strength also is a key ingredient in Stacy’s pass protecting abilities. Just check the tapes of him pass blocking for Jordan Rodgers and his bench press results from the combine (27).
If Stacy performs up to how I’m (reasonably) hyping, he’ll be the starting running back by a mile. Call him a sleeper if you will, but he’ll make himself an instant fantasy football weapon, as well as give another bump to the fantasy production of his quarterback. The Rams no have someone who can get first downs by pushing the pile and can pass protect at a high level.
Tavon Austin will be a big time play-maker for the Rams, and will statistically improve Bradford to a point that he’s never reached before in the NFL.
Zac Stacy and Stedman Bailey, whether it be by holding a starting position or contributing as a backup, will contribute together just as much as Tavon will. Stedman is a sure-handed crisp route runner that is more than NFL-ready. Stacy is a flat out bruiser that can give St Louis someone dependable to hand the ball off to when times get tough and give Bradford that extra second on blitz pick-ups.
Bradford should be mentioned as a solid QB-2 this upcoming fantasy season with the help of the new draftees. His maturation process as an NFL starter has hit its peak. Now, he has to perform.
Only time will tell how much Tavon, Zac and Stedman will help Bradford elevate his game next season.
But the possibilities are endless.