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Fantasy football 2014 draft prep: St. Louis Rams team preview

Zac Stacy rushed for 973 yards and seven touchdowns in his rookie season with the St. Louis Rams last year. Photo:

Zac Stacy rushed for 973 yards and seven touchdowns in his rookie season with the St. Louis Rams last year.

Fantasy football draft season is rapidly approaching. Prep to have your best draft ever with SI.com's arsenal of content, including team-by-team previews that break down key fantasy story lines, undervalued and overvalued players and much more. We kick things off with the St. Louis Rams.

For most of you out there, fantasy football prep season is just beginning. With the Fourth of July in our rearview mirror, we’ve passed the unofficial halfway point of the summer and draft season is just about six weeks away. For those of us in the industry, however, study sessions began in earnest shortly after the NFL Draft last May. One supposed truism of the 2014 season puzzled me then, puzzles me now and will likely puzzle me when I sit down for my drafts at the end of August. Why does everyone love Zac Stacy?

There’s no doubting that Stacy had a fine rookie year for the Rams in 2013. Despite not getting any significant playing time until the first week of October, he ran for 973 yards and seven touchdowns on 250 attempts and finished the year with the 12th-most fantasy points per game in standard-scoring leagues among running backs. Stacy is typically viewed as a low-end RB1 or high-end RB2, as well as a top-25 overall player. Even though the team used a third-round pick on Tre Mason, he’ll carry the load and undoubtedly be St. Louis’ go-to weapon on the goal line. Admittedly, it’s a seductive formula that usually leads to fantasy success. Yet I still have him as one of the most overvalued players in the league and a prime bust pick.

First, while Stacy produced the 18th-most points at the running back position, he wasn’t terribly efficient. He ran for just 3.9 yards per carry and topped 80 yards just five times in 14 starts. Second, he is not a threat as a receiver. Stacy caught 26 passes for 141 yards last year, both of which ranked outside the top 35 among running backs. Essentially, he brings nothing to the table as a pass catcher. Third, is the presence of Mason, who will undoubtedly pose more of a threat to Stacy’s workload than Benny Cunningham or Daryl Richardson did last year. Fourth and finally, Stacy is not an explosive player. He had five runs of 20-plus yards last year -- the same as Alex Smith -- and his longest run was 40 yards. The only players to get at least 200 carries with a shorter top rush were Chris Johnson, Knowshon Moreno, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Rashard Mendenhall. Unsurprisingly, Moreno was the only one in this group to have a very strong fantasy year, due to playing a key role in the Denver offense.

Given his lack of home-run ability, Stacy needs to do his scoring from a close range. However, there’s little reason to believe he has much room for growth in that regard this season. The Rams ran 141 plays in the red zone last year, 15th most in the league. Stacy got 58.2 percent of the team’s red-zone carries, which is just about the maximum a player can realistically get. For comparison’s sake, Adrian Peterson had 60 percent of Minnesota’s red-zone carries, while the Chiefs gave Jamaal Charles 58.3 percent of theirs. Stacy had plenty of opportunity last year, yet he turned that into just seven touchdowns. And don’t discount that the team plays six of its games against the Seahawks, 49ers and Cardinals, three of the toughest defenses in the league. That, too, will make it tough on a player whose best skill is the way he can run through contact.

Right now, Stacy is rubbing elbows with Giovani Bernard, Doug Martin, Alfred Morris, Alshon Jeffery, Jordy Nelson and Antonio Brown on player rankings lists. That is, in a word, outrageous. Stacy will not live up to his draft-day price.

Most overvalued player

Zac Stacy, RB: This one should be pretty obvious from the intro. Stacy is quite simply not worthy of a top-25 selection or being considered an RB1. Stay away from him at his current price.

Most undervalued player

Jared Cook, TE: I’m no Cook apologist, and the tight end position is as deep as it has ever been for fantasy purposes. Still, once you get past the first 12 or 13 guys, you need to start thinking about upside, and few tight ends ranked as low as Cook have the upside he possesses. While he hasn’t been able to put it together for an entire season, he has the athleticism inherent in the new-age tight end. If he were ever to find the consistency, he could easily be a regular starter in 12-team leagues.

Depth chart

QB: Sam Bradford, Shaun Hill, Austin Davis
RB: Zac Stacy, Tre Mason, Benny Cunningham, Isaiah Pead
WR: Austin Pettis, Chris Givens, Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, Stedman Bailey
TE: Jared Cook, Cory Harkey

Defensive analysis

  Total vs. Pass vs. Run Points allowed
NFL Rank 15 19 9 13
  vs. QB vs. RB vs. WR vs. TE
Fantasy Rank 12 27 14 2

The Seahawks and 49ers defenses get all the attention in the stacked NFC West. Even the Cardinals’ unit gets its fair share of love from fantasy owners and the press. However, the Rams scored the third-most fantasy points among defenses last year, trailing only the Chiefs and Panthers. A lot of that owes to their 53 sacks, which also ranked third in the league. Robert Quinn racked up 19 of those sacks, and he’ll once again be wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks from his customary right defensive end spot. Chris Long had 8.5 sacks on the other side of the line, and he, too, is back, giving the Rams two strong, attacking ends. They bolstered what was already a great line by adding University of Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald with the 13th overall pick in the draft. Considered the best interior lineman available, he’ll start from day one alongside Michael Brockers between Quinn and Long.

St. Louis’ back seven is good, though not great, led by linebackers James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree, and cornerback Janoris Jenkins. The team’s pass defense is buttressed by its excellent pass rush, and no one in the secondary is expected to make a major impact in IDP leagues. Overall this is a strong group that should be one of the first defenses selected in most leagues. Quinn is an elite IDP player, and Laurinaitis and Ogletree are both top-15 linebackers. Long and Donald deserve consideration, as well.

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