Sleepers, Busts and Bold Predictions: The 2023 Los Angeles Rams
Welcome to Sleepers, Busts and Bold Predictions for the 2023 fantasy football season. All summer, our analysts, two at a time, will preview all 32 NFL teams for the upcoming season. We’ll pick a pair of sleepers, a pair of busts and a pair of bold predictions. Sometimes they’ll be the same pick! Sometimes they will directly disagree! And that’s fine. Today: The Los Angeles Rams.
2023 Sleepers, Busts & Bold Predictions: Los Angeles Rams
Dolan: Tyler Higbee
For those who like to punt TE until the later rounds of the draft, Tyler Higbee is a player worth targeting. Outside of Cooper Kupp, there’s not really an exciting option in the passing game for the Rams. Last year Higbee finished No. 2 on the team in receptions (72), and that ranking feels repeatable in 2023.
There’s not a ton of upside in Higbee this year. The offense likely won’t be great, and his pedestrian 8.6 yards per catch means he likely won’t do much creating on his own. Still, for a high-floor TE you can get in the later rounds, Higbee should see enough volume to make him a solid TE sleeper.
Kelley: Matthew Stafford
We’re a year removed from Matthew Stafford being the fantasy QB5 over a full season, putting up nine games of 20-plus fantasy points and at least 10 in every game but one. Yes, the time between the Rams’ Super Bowl season and what they are now feels like about five generations given how much everything has changed, but if he’s healthy (admittedly a big “if”), Stafford himself should still have that level of performance in him. He’ll still have Cooper Kupp, maybe one of the league’s best receivers. He’ll still have Tyler Higbee, one of the stronger safety blankets. The secondary weaponry is much worse, obviously, but it’s important to note that the Rams’ defense is, Aaron Donald aside, set up to be one of the worst ever, which should lead to Stafford throwing the ball so, so, so much. If he’s healthy, he’ll stumble into fantasy numbers just on sheer volume.
Dolan: Cam Akers
Finding a bust on the Rams isn’t easy, because everyone not named Cooper Kupp is ranked low following a disastrous 2022 season. Still, even though his price tag is suppressed, I’m not buying into Cam Akers for 2023. His price tag is reasonable right now – currently priced as a low-end RB2 to RB3 – yet I don’t see him finding a way to outperform that position in 2023.
It wasn’t long ago that the Rams had Akers on the trade block, and it appeared there was tension between him and the coaching staff. Sure, he ended the 2022 season on a heater, but I’m not rolling the dice on that production being repeatable. It feels like the Rams are ready to move on, and the distaste from the organization paired with what’s likely going to be another down year for the offense means I won’t be drafting Akers much in 2023.
Kelley: Cam Akers
We’ll never know what Cam Akers’ career would have looked like without his torn Achilles. What we do have is the Akers we’ve seen for parts of three seasons now, and it’s 25 underwhelming games followed by a ridiculously hot month to close the 2022 season. Until Week 15 last year, Akers had 1,004 career rushing yards on 3.8 yards per attempt and 6 touchdowns. He’s also never been much of a receiver, averaging only a target a game and 152 total receiving yards.
Then over the last four games last year, he ran for 5.5 yards per carry over 75 carries (5.5 YPA). Maybe he figured it out. Or maybe teams were wrecking the Rams (they lost three of those four games) and didn’t care about letting a running back do some work. In 2023, he has the league’s worst offensive line, in a bad offense, with a bad defense. The gamescript won’t be conducive to running. Akers isn’t much of a receiver. What are his selling points, exactly?
Dolan: Puka Nacua Is the Team’s No. 2 Receiver
While Tyler Higbee may finish No. 2 on the team in targets, I believe it’s Puka Nacua who will carve out a role as the No. 2 receiver in this offense. Outside of Kupp, there’s not a ton of competition in the Rams’ WR room. Van Jefferson and Ben Skowronek are the early favorites to claim the Nos. 2 and 3 roles, but both jobs feel like they’re up for grabs.
Puka Nacua is a lesser-known name, but the fifth-round pick has apparently made an early impression this offseason. One of the common comps you’ll see for Nacua is Robert Woods, and we’ve seen Woods thrive in this Sean McVay offense historically. It’s not common for fifth-round WRs to dominate in year one, but even without being a dominant force, Nacua has every opportunity to be the No. 2 WR in this offense, and I think come season’s end he’ll be firmly entrenched into that spot on the depth chart.
Kelley: Puka Nacua Is a Top-Three Rookie WR
Look through this year’s rookie receiver draft class. How many of the group has a good chance at being a top two receiver on his team? Jaxon Smith-Njigba should be behind DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Quentin Johnston behind Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Zay Flowers, maybe, but he could also be behind Rashod Bateman and Odell Beckham. Jordan Addison vs. K.J. Osborn. Rashee Rice in Kansas City, maybe, but that discounts the bajillion targets going to the tight end position because of Travis Kelce.
Puka Nacua, though, looks like close to a lock to be his team’s No. 2 receiver, unless you are buying in a seems-unlikely-at-this-point breakout from Van Jefferson, Ben Skowronek and/or Tutu Atwell. As I’ve mentioned multiple times above, this Rams team promises to be really bad, and that includes a really bad defense, which should lead to plenty of pass-friendly gamescripts. He put up 3.53 yards per route run in college last year and a 90.1 PFF receiving grade, both second in the class. His fifth-round draft stock is frustrating, but Nacua could see an explosion as a rookie as the Rams scramble to find anyone they can count on in the future.