Evaluating the LA Rams’ Quarterback Situation

Evaluating the LA Rams’ Quarterback Situation

Editor’s Note: The guest post below breaking down the Los Angeles Rams’ preseason QB battle was written by Ethan Harwood. Follow him on Twitter @ethan_harwood. … 

As good 2QBers, it is our duty to stay well-informed on all 32 of the league’s starting quarterbacks and, preferably, their backups as well. For most teams the delineation between starter and backup is very clear. But for a couple of teams this year, you might as well roll a 20-sided die. I’m looking at you, Broncos and 49ers! Well no, today I’m looking at the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams sold out their future for the chance to draft California quarterback Jared Goff with the first pick of the 2016 draft. Most assumed Goff, touted as an NFL-ready prospect, would instantly become the Week 1 starter over clipboard connoisseur Case Keenum and walking disaster Nick Foles. However, the talk coming out of the Rams’ training camp suggests a very different approach.

The QB Battle

In mid-June it was reported Case Keenum would open training camp as the Rams’ starter, and that he was the favorite to start opening week. We all chuckled to ourselves, probably muttered, “Oh, Jeff Fisher” and kept scrolling down the Rotoworld player news page. Nick Foles was released, as expected, and we all went on with our lives, sure in our assumption the Rams’ shenanigans would end with Goff solidified as the starter by Week 1.

As training camp progressed, those initial reports began to ring true. Jared Goff is reportedly having a rough start and isn’t ready for NFL action just yet. Rumors came to a head as NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport  indicated “the plan, as of now,” is for Case Keenum to start in Week 1.

Keenum & Goff have plenty of time to battle each other with preseason games pending, so what happens if Keenum wins the job? Can he be fantasy relevant for those of us in 2QB and Superflex leagues?

A Look at Case Keenum

After a disastrous 10 weeks as the starter, Nick Foles was benched in favor of Case Keenum in Week 11. Unfortunately, Keenum sustained a concussion in his first start and was sidelined for two weeks, returning in Week 14 to play good real-life football and lead the Rams to three consecutive victories against Detroit, Tampa Bay, and Seattle.

Alas, good real-life football does not always equate to good fantasy football. In his five games as the starter, Keenum averaged a dismal 11.6 fantasy points per game, the 46th-ranked quarterback in PPG for 2015. Keenum fared much better in 2013 and 2014 with the Houston Texans, where he managed 17.1 fantasy points per game in 10 starts. Rather than revealing hidden upside, this simply serves to highlight the game manager role Keenum has taken on and embraced with the Rams.

As a Ram, Keenum averaged 25 pass attempts per game, which projects out to 400 pass attempts over a 16-game season. This would have been the lowest number of pass attempts by any quarterback to start 16 games in 2015 – the closest comparison would be Teddy Bridgewater with only 447 attempts in 16 games (more on that later). As a fantasy starter or even a fantasy backup in a 2QB league, 11.6 points per game and a QB46 ranking just won’t cut it. You have to aim for better. The Rams seem to think Jared Goff can be better. Which begs the question…

Will Jared Goff Start in 2016?

Jeff Fisher coyly says “maybe” but history overwhelmingly insists “yes”. By looking closely at the data collected in this fantastic article by Chase Stuart, we see history is on Goff’s side to get off the bench at some point this season. First-round quarterbacks very often start in their rookie season, especially number one overall selections. Of the 101 first-round quarterbacks drafted since 1967, only 20 failed to start a game in their rookie seasons. If history is any indication, Goff has a better than 80 percent chance of starting at some point in 2016.

But Goff isn’t any old first-round pick; he was the number one overall pick. Given his lofty draft position, I decided to dig into the starting weeks of other first-overall quarterbacks. There have been 21 quarterbacks selected first in the draft since 1967, and all but one started at some point during their rookie seasons. Carson Palmer was the lone bench-rider. Two-thirds of those quarterbacks started in the very first game of their rookie season. The remaining third started at various points during their rookie season, ranging from Week 2 to Week 16.

Given this information, the idea of Goff sitting on the bench the entire year seems extremely unlikely. We can safely cross that possibility off the list. Whether he starts Week 1 or later in the season, it seems certain Goff will take the field in 2016. So just how well can he perform from a fantasy perspective?

Jared Goff is the New Teddy Bridgewater

For a realistic expectation of what Goff can do this year, look no further than Teddy Bridgewater’s 2015 campaign. Both are young quarterbacks leading offenses which primarily flow through a stud running back (Todd Gurley and Adrian Peterson, respectively). In Bridgewater’s 2014 rookie season, he put up uninspiring yet backup-worthy numbers of 17.6 fantasy points per game in the absence of Peterson. With the return of AP in 2015, Bridgewater saw his PPG plummet nearly two full points from 17.6 (QB28) to 15.9 (QB35), transforming him from a usable QB3 into waiver material. Teddy’s 13-game pace in 2014 projected 494 pass attempts for a 16-game season, but his attempts dipped to 447 in 2015, as the Vikings could once again lean on their star running back for offensive production.

Unfortunately for us 2QBers, Teddy’s 2015 is the kind of season we should expect from Goff as a rookie. Todd Gurley is here to stay and it’s no secret the Los Angeles offense will run through him. The Rams’ quarterback, whether he be Keenum or Goff, will primarily function as a game manager with both a low floor and a low ceiling due to passing deficiency. However, should Gurley become injured, there is potential for a 2014 Teddy Bridgewater type of season as the Rams should look to pass more often on offense. This scenario still only offers QB3 upside, but is worth keeping in mind should the unthinkable occur.

Strength of Schedule Doesn’t Help

If you hope Jared Goff may have some easy match-ups this season, there’s some bad news. The Rams have the 25th-ranked strength of schedule for QBs in 2016. It’s not too surprising, considering they’re in the highly competitive NFC West. Goff is an even worse stash for the fantasy playoffs. In Weeks 14-16, the Rams face the toughest schedule for QBs of any NFL team based on 2015 data. While defenses do change in their effectiveness from year to year, dead last in playoff scheduling is not a good place to start for a rookie quarterback. Playing a position where match-ups really do matter, Goff has got a lot of tough ones on his schedule, which further limits his upside.

My Recommendation

The Rams’ quarterback situation is not an attractive one from a fantasy perspective. Based on his 2015 per-game pace, Case Keenum projected to attempt a league-low 400 passes in a full season, making the Rams’ game plan plain for all to see. They will run the ball as often as possible. In a full season with Goff starting, they will probably throw a bit more often. However, I think the 447 attempts thrown by Teddy Bridgewater in 2015 with his run-first offense is a good benchmark for what we can expect, which led to a QB35 finish in terms of fantasy points per game, well below the scoring threshold we look for in a QB2.

The preseason games will be important to watch for these two. Case Keenum and Jared Goff will likely split the games so each can show what he can do. This could be Goff’s chance to pull away and solidify himself as the Week 1 starter – or conversely, to fail and bury himself behind Keenum for another couple of weeks.

As things stand, I cannot recommend drafting Case Keenum or Jared Goff as anything other than QB3s in 12-team 2QB leagues. I wouldn’t even go that far with Case Keenum, as a wealth of historical evidence suggests he will not finish the season as the starter. If you absolutely have to select one of these quarterbacks, the pick is unquestionably Jared Goff, who has some upside as an unknown rookie commodity and projects to finish the season as the starter. At their ADP range I would much rather draft higher upside QB3 picks like Brock Osweiler, Robert Griffin III, and Blaine Gabbert, all of whom should throw significantly more passes in 2016 than either potential starter for the Rams.

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