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Reaction-Overreaction: St. Louis Rams

The ups and downs of any fantasy season can drive you simply mad. A litany of injuries swept through the league’s most-scarce position this weekend, with seemingly reliable running backs falling to the injury imp. Just about everyone you talk to was impacted in some way, whether it be Eddie Lacy’s concussion, MJD’s ankle or Stephen Jackson’s quad–pipe down Jackson owners.. at least you got the touchdown–the injuries are everywhere. Which is why it’s not always how you plan that will win you a fantasy championship, but how you react. In this week’s edition of Reaction-Overreaction, we’re offering very little help to the RB needy (you’ll just have to wait for the waiver wire pickup piece for that) but instead will turn our attention to an emerging aerial attack in St. Louis.

The Situation

The Rams, perennial cellar-dwellers in what has become the most brutal defensive division in the NFC, have shown a little something in the early going. They failed to capture their second win in Week 2 but did give the favored Falcons a run for their money. Sam Bradford put up some nice fantasy totals, tossing three touchdowns to go along with 352 passing yards. Rookie Tavon Austin chipped in a pair of scores on 12 targets. Chris Givens (5-105-0) on eight targets and Austin Pettis (8-78-1) on 11 targets also put together solid performances and though Week 1 stud Jared Cook followed up his debut with a  disappointing one catch for 10 balls, he was targeted six time, a healthy total.

Reaction

With little proven in the backfield and Sam Bradford now in his fourth season as professional quarterback, it is time for St. Louis to figure out what they’ve got moving forward. The team has concentrated on speed on the outside in their last few drafts, bringing in Brian Quick and Chris Givens last season and then spending their top pick on the Tavon Austin in April’s draft. Bradford has been masterful over the first couple of weeks and now has three legit targets in the passing game. If Pettis and/or Quick can continue become consistent contributors, we may be looking at one of the deepest and most-talent young corps of receivers in the league. Daryl Richardson is nothing special in the backfield, but his skill set does mesh well with the quick-hitting west-coast type of offense that best suits Bradford’s game.

Overreaction

The St. Louis Rams are the most-improved offense in the league. Bradford has taken a step forward, Chris Givens will continue to live up to the potential that he showed last season and Tavon Austin is the next Percy Harvin. Both Givens and Austin made owners smile in Week 2, but as this pair develops together, opposing coordinators are basically going to have to pick their poison. Whether it’s the short pass to Austin in the slot, the quick-hitter to Cook down the seem, or Chris Givens stretching the field as Bradford takes the top off, this passing offense is not one to be taken lightly. Bradford’s accuracy and on the short and intermediate routes will keep the chains moving consistently. The QB’s improvement and his litany of weapons will quietly elevate him above the “replacement-level” quarterbacks and in 12-team leagues, he’s a solid buy as he establishes himself as an every-week start. Better yet, at 48% ownership, he’s likely to be sitting on the waiver wire in standard sized leagues and will cost you nothing more than a waiver claim.

Analysis

There is plenty to get excited about in St. Louis and it starts with the stability that Head Coach Jeff Fisher brings to the entire organization. Last season, the Rams’ defense surprised some with their solid play throughout, and in 2013, it is the offense’s turn. Playing on the turf in the Edward Jones Dome, speed will rule the day, and the Rams are not lacking in that area. Givens and Austin both posses game-breaking skills and the fact that Bradford was able to regularly get the ball to the rookie in space is encouraging for fantasy owners. Typically, we shy away from rookie receivers due the difficulty that many young wideouts have in becoming polished route runners, however, Austin’s a bit of a unique case. He’s utilized mostly in the short passing game, limiting the potential learning curve that many rookies face. Austin has averaged just 7.3 yards per catch so far in his professional career, but he’s been targeted 19 times in his first two games, catching 12 balls for 88 yards and the two scores. Both touchdowns passes came within the 10 yard line and, in  fact, all three of Sam Bradford’s scoring strikes tosses were from inside the ten. Given that the Rams don’t have a back demanding of the goal line carries, it is nice to see the team have trust in their quarterback to put the ball up in the red area.

Bradford will continue to put up nice numbers as the Rams rely more heavily on the passing game. In fact, the team has largely turned the keys over to their QB without too many people noticing. Dating back to week six of last season, Bradford has attempted 38 or more passes in 8 of 13 games averaging 256 yards-per-game and tossing 20 touchdowns (and rushing for one more) over that span. He’s had seven mutli-touchdown games in that time. If he were to continue that pace over a full season, we’re looking at 4,000 yards and 26 touchdowns out of the passer with room for improvement. There is reason to get excited about Bradford in 2013 and we are leaning towards the overreaction. Get a stake in this improving young team now, before it is too late.

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