The chatter in La-La Land with the return of the NFL might center around running back Todd Gurley and new quarterback Jared Goff, but make no mistake — in 2016 the Los Angeles Rams will go exactly as far as their defense takes them.
It’s a defense with no shortage of young talent at all three levels — and no shortage of players who are of interest to IDP drafters.
Numbers in parentheses denote 2015 finish in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring.
The Rams possess arguably the most formidable front four in the NFL, and it all starts with defensive tackle Aaron Donald (DL6). In his two NFL seasons, Donald has tallied 20 sacks and quickly laid claim to the title of the NFL’s best three-technique. Despite everything he’s already accomplished, Donald told Gary Klein of The Los Angeles Times he’s only getting started.
“I definitely have to get better as a pass rusher,” he said, “and that’s what I’ve been focusing on every season, trying to get better at pushing the pocket and getting more pressure on the quarterback.”
As good as Donald is (he’s a legitimate IDP DL1 and the top option at his position in DT-required formats) he might not even be the first Rams defender selected in most IDP drafts. That honor goes to end Robert Quinn (DL67), who rolled up three straight double-digit sack seasons (including 19.5 in 2013) before suffering through an injury-marred 2015. Quinn told ESPN’s Nick Wagoner his recovery from back surgery is proceeding well.
“Fresh out of surgery it was real rough,” Quinn said. “I guess I’m six or so months out now, so it’s starting to feel more normal, in the weight room I’m pretty much full go, out here just playing it slow. They’ve got a good plan set up for me. I just listen to the trainers. Whatever they allow me to do, I go out and do. But again, we’ve still got some time before they really let me go full tilt.”
Assuming that’s true and Quinn is 100 percent for the beginning of the season, he’s a top-five IDP option up front, while batterymate William Hayes (DL29) is a solid bye-week or depth DL3 coming off one of the best seasons of his eight year NFL career.
With veteran James Laurinaitis (LB29) now in New Orleans, the task of prowling the middle of the Rams defense falls to fourth-year pro Alec Ogletree (LB123). It’s a tall task after Ogletree missed 12 games last year, but he told Klein he’s looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s going to be a great challenge for me — probably my biggest challenge that I’ve had my whole football career,” Ogletree said. “I’m definitely excited about it and ready to get the ball rolling. It will be a different experience now that I have to know everything that goes on and basically be the quarterback of the defense.”
Ogletree, when healthy, has shown elite IDP upside to this point in his career. In fact, over the first four weeks of last season only two linebackers tallied more fantasy points than Ogletree. The injury adds a bit of risk to trusting Ogletree as a fantasy LB1, but the reward could be substantial.
Ogletree’s spot on the weak side will be manned by converted safety Mark Barron (DB12), who thrived last year in his first season as a linebacker to the tune of 116 tackles. Barron parlayed that success into a big contract extension, but he told Mark Inabinett of AL.com he still has a lot to learn.
“I’m in the process of learning some new things because last year they just kind of threw me in there and I was just playing based off mostly instincts,” Barron said. “This year, as of right now, I’m in the process of actually learning some of the intricacies of linebacker, because before most of everything I learned has been from a safety standpoint. Now I’m just learning from a different standpoint.”
Barron no longer has the DB eligibility that made him such an IDP darling in 2015 — but what he does have is IDP LB2 value as a three-down WILL.
As Wagoner reported, after an offseason arrest for DUI strong safety T.J. McDonald (DB131) was a no-show at OTAs. “He’s been excused for personal reasons,” head coach Jeff Fisher said, “and we’ve been in touch with T.J. It is quite likely that they will miss the OTA sessions.”
McDonald will all but surely be there when training camp gets underway later in July, and given that this is first dust-up since entering the NFL any suspension that might be levied will probably be short. However, there were enough questions regarding McDonald’s IDP viability already after he spent much of 2015 bouncing in and out of the starting lineup. There’s enough potential present with McDonald to rate a late flier — but not much more than that.
Similarly, there’s a cornerback of interest to savvy IDP owners looking for a late value in leagues that require the position. But it isn’t 2016 franchise tag-ee Trumaine Johnson (DB9). This isn’t to say Johnson has no value — but fantasy owners enamored with Johnson’s seven interceptions last year are risking falling into the trap of paying for things that have already happened.
On the other hand, after missing the entirety of the 2015 season third-year pro E.J. Gaines (DNP) will likely be available on the waiver wire in the overwhelming majority of IDP leagues when the season gets underway. Gaines piled up 70 tackles and a pair of interceptions as a rookie in 2014, finishing the season 11th among cornerbacks. Throw in that he could be targeted a lot playing opposite Johnson in 2016, and you have the makings of a sneaky IDP starter.