Jackson is the quintessential, "year-to-year" running back in fantasy football. The Rams running back is at an age where the production cliff could take a steep drop at any moment, but he's such a fantastic talent in an offense that Jeff Fisher, the Titans former head coach (think Eddie George-Chris Johnson), will build around Jackson that he's too good to pass up at his current average draft position. If Jackson succumbs to a season-ending injury, there is enough talent in the running back stable to invest as a fantasy owner. However, there are a few factors that could surprise everyone about the offense if some of St. Louis' young offensive weapons in the passing game gel.
Isaiah Pead, RB – Jeff Fisher has compared Pead to Chris Johnson. It's probably best to believe this comparison was on the basis of style and not physical talent. Pead is a good back, if not a very good one, in almost every category. When he's focused, his pass protection is among the best of the rookie runners in this class. He's one of the top receivers at his position and he has enough burst and agility to create big plays on his own. If Pead plays to his potential, he can become the every-down back in this Rams offense if Jackson gets hurt. This makes Pead one of the better rookie backs for fantasy investment in the late rounds in 2012 fantasy leagues.
Danny Amendola, WR – The phrase "short passing game" is synonymous with Amendola in St. Louis. If the Rams have to resort to shorter passing as a variation of the run game because of Jackson's absence, Amendola will benefit. This will especially be the case if the Rams resort to four-receiver and empty backfield sets. He's a PPR buy in this situation.
Steve Smith, WR – The same logic follows for Smith if the Rams opt for multiple receiver sets. Smith continues to demonstrate signs this offseason that his health has rebounded from microfracture surgery. If he plays like he did with the Giants, he could become Sam Bradford's favorite target. In spread sets that will require zone coverage from defenses, Amendola and Smith will find open seams and make tough catches on a routine basis.
Sam Bradford, QB – Because Pead is closer to scat back size than Steven Jackson, there is a chance that the Rams transition to plays that feature Pead in the short passing game. These will be a lot like running plays in the minds of the offensive staff, but these targets will count as passing points for fantasy owners. Generally, there isn't a significant camp in points between a low-end QB1 and mid-range QB2 in leagues with 12-16 teams. This small, but potentially significant bump in points could elevate Bradford to committee QB status for fantasy owners.
Brian Quick, WR – What Quick does best at this stage of his football career is he makes plays on vertical routes off play action. A big-bodied, long-striding receiver in the mold of Vincent Jackson but not yet as physical, Quick might not see as many of these opportunities with Isaiah Pead in the lineup and the Rams opting for shorter passes instead of some power runs it uses with Jackson. The venerable everything back's presence will probably make it easier for the Rams to find situations to feature Quick in single coverage that might disappear once Jackson is gone.
Chris Givens, WR – Givens has big-play speed, but he has issues catching the ball in the face of contact. He even has some documented instances of "alligator arms," and beat writers are beginning to notice his drops over the middle in training camp. Givens and Quick are talents, but without Steven Jackson to create man coverage matchups for the perimeter passing game, it will be time to sell the rookie receivers.
Daryl Richardson, RB – A quick and fast runner from a small school with blood ties to Bernard Scott of the Bengals, Richardson will be in a committee with Pead if Jackson gets hurt.
Lance Kendricks, TE – If the Rams opt for more receivers, Kendricks could find himself the odd man out. Considering that Jeff Fisher has tried an failed in the past with "hybrid players" Ben Troupe and (to this point) Jared Cook and the Rams have a good run blocking, short-yardage tight end in Michael Hoomanawanui, Kendricks could see his opportunities reduced to that of a situational player.
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