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Welcome back for Year 28 of the Eyes of the Guru column. We are going to change things up a bit this year. Instead of going by divisions, I will be posting team by team. The goal here is to give our customers a more steady diet of information in smaller doses. I will start with the Super Bowl Champions.
For reference, when I mention where players finished in the rankings last season, my model will be the standard Footballguys scoring system. This is the basic stuff:
- Tackles = 1.5
- Assists = .75
- Sacks = 4
- Forced fumbles = 3
- Fumble recoveries = 3
- Interceptions = 4
- Passes defended = 1.5
- Touchdowns = 6
When tackle numbers are mentioned, solo stops and assists are generally not lumped together Unless there is a reference one way or the other, tackles refer to solo stops. When talking about the total number of takeaways for a player, I am counting interceptions, fumble recoveries, and fumbles forced since all of these are scored very similarly in most leagues. Keep in mind that based on scoring systems, rankings will vary (sometimes greatly) from league to league.
From time to time the rookie corner rule will be referenced. For those who are new to IDP or the EOTG, the rookie corner rule is the basic fact that in the NFL, starting a rookie on the corner is like throwing chum to the sharks. Offensive coordinators will target young and inexperienced players as weaknesses thus these guys have an accelerated number of opportunities. Often these players are the cream of the crop at the position (which is why they are starting so soon) and their numbers will begin to drop steadily after their rookie seasons.
The Rams defense got it done again in 2021, and the defensive line set the pace. Their 50 sacks were the third-most in the league and the run defense ranked fourth at four yards per carry. Los Angeles predominantly runs a 3-4 base scheme so getting 22 of those sacks from their line, was rather impressive by normal standards. With a stud like Aaron Donald on the roster, it is expected by the Rams.
Donald is among the NFL's elite both on the field and in fantasy terms. Entering his ninth year as a pro, he has never fallen short of eight sacks in a season and has at least eleven and a half in each of the last five. Donald does more than sack the quarterback though. With fewer than 30 solo tackles just once in his career and a total of 28 turnovers, he is a consistent, do-everything perennial top-10 defensive lineman.
Donald is a generational talent and one of the best to ever play the game. He won a sack title in 2018 with 20.5 and was the fantasy games' top lineman that season. Last year he was number two in the IDP rankings behind Cameron Heyward. Donald’s 38 solo stops and 12.5 sacks were his norm. What pushed him up to number two was the unusually high number of assists. His previous career-best in that column was 27 back in 2015. Donald shattered that record with 44 last year. The question now becomes, was that a fluke outlier or the result of some change in either scheme or the way stats are kept? Either way, Donald is a safe bet for another top-ten ranking in 2022, with a good shot at making the top five.
Los Angeles runs a strange scheme in that they usually deploy three defensive linemen, with two of them lining up somewhere between the inside shoulder of the offensive tackles, making them defensive tackles by definition. In this alignment, they have one defensive end and two tackles with their hands in the dirt. As a result, league management sites will sometimes have conflicting opinions when it comes to positions. Donald’s production transcends positional designations so it matters little if your league host calls him a tackle, as the Rams do, or a defensive end. For those in leagues that break out the defensive line positions, however, Donald may not be the only IDP contributor here.
Sebastian Joseph-Day was well on the way to a big 2021, racking up 38 combined tackles and three sacks before a season-ending injury in Week 7. AShawn Robinson played sparingly early in the year but still managed 67 combined tackles and 2 sacks. The way is clear for Robinson to be a 70-total-tackle guy. He is not likely to contribute more than 4-5 sacks, but the tackle number should be enough to give him good value, especially if you can play him as an interior lineman.
Greg Gaines took over at nose tackle when Joseph-Day was lost and put up decent numbers as well. He played in every game, starting the final ten and totaled 28-27-4.5. Gaines could prove to be a solid DT2 or at the least should be roster worthy as depth in leagues that start two interior linemen.
The Rams are not a team that rotates a bunch of linemen. Second-year man, Bobby Brown, projects to be the top backup should any of the starters miss time, with Marquise Copeland and Michael Hoecht filling out the depth chart.
- DE/DT Aaron Donald – Elite tier DL1
- DE/DT AShawn Robinson – Solid DL2 or quality DT1
- NT Greg Gaines – Late-round DT3 with low DT2 upside
- DE/DT Bobby Brown – Injury sleeper with limited upside
- DE Marquise Copeland – No impact expected
- DE Michael Hoecht – No impact expected
When a team wins the Super Bowl, its roster is usually vandalized by the rest of the league in free agency. Not only were the Rams able to keep all their vital pieces on defense, but the addition of Bobby Wagner at inside linebacker is a significant upgrade. Likewise, when a perennial fantasy star changes teams, there is often a dip in production or at least a considerable potential for one. While it is hard to project improvement for a perennial top-five player, nothing about Wagner’s move to Los Angeles suggests he will be any less productive.
Wagner will now be playing behind one of the league’s best defensive lines. Not only are the guys in front of him capable of generating a pass rush, but they are strong as point-of-attack defenders as well. Opponents are often forced to commit all five offensive linemen to block the Rams’ three interior defenders, which in turn allows second-level players to flow. This could enhance Wagner’s ability to work through traffic and close on the ball carrier, which is already among his strengths. Then there is the scheme of defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, which has proven fantasy friendly to linebackers over the years. Finally, the stats trends, are also favorable. Wagner has always been a tackling machine, but some of his fantasy value has come from the generosity of a Seattle stats crew that hands out assists like someone throwing cheap candy from a parade float. In 2021, Rams defenders were awarded six fewer assists than those in Seattle, but 64 more solo tackles. The bottom line here: look for another great year from Wagner and don’t hesitate to make him your LB1.
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