I had the honor of chatting with ESPN Fantasy Football Senior Analyst Matthew Berry this past week about his early PPR rankings and what he thought of the Los Angeles Rams’ players in fantasy this season.
The topics started with the backfield depth where veteran Malcolm Brown and second-year back Darrell Henderson will both be vying for fantasy relevancy after the team released the star-studded Todd Gurley. We finished up with his thoughts on whether or not quarterback Jared Goff will continue to regress in 2020 or take a step forward closer to his 2018 form.
On the Ram’s backfield situation:
Michael: The Rams lost Todd Gurley this offseason. Two running backs, Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown, are ready and able now. What do you see in 2020 in terms of how this backfield is going to work out. What do you expect from both in 2020?
Berry: “I think both guys are going to be viable. I certainly believe the Rams’ offensive line is better than it was last year. It almost has to be, right? So, if they get healthier they’ll address that and so, it’ll be a better offensive line (in 2020) and I think the interesting thing here is you’ll see a split between the two. Of course, this is assuming the Rams don’t add anyone significant in the draft or free agency because there’s still a couple of big-name guys out there. But, my expectations are that both guys will be fantasy-relevant and both guys will likely end up in the top 25-30 range among running backs as high-end RB2, RB3 types. But, what I will say is that, you mentioned the upside of Henderson and there’s no question about that. Like the quote from Sean McVay on Darrell Henderson, he said Henderson was the most-electric player coming out of college last year and that he really wanted him. And certainly for fantasy purposes, if Sean McVay is designing plays and packages for you, that’s a good thing. First of all, small sample size, but last year (around) 10% of Henderson’s plays went for 10 or more yards. So he’s a big play waiting to happen.
“But I will say that I think the value in fantasy might be Malcolm Brown. The reason I say that is because I think Henderson is going to get a lot of hype and deservedly so. You can certainly see a scenario where he breaks out and becomes something special in this offense with his skill-set. I think he’s going to be a trendy sleeper. And everyone is going to be like, ‘Hey! Malcolm Brown! He’s going to be sexy!” But I don’t see, at least initially, the Rams going with Darrell Henderson as their workhorse. I think Brown is much more likely to be their workhorse and Henderson get eight, 10, or 12 touches a game where they’re going to try and get him in space, ya know, use that big-play ability and try to get him a bunch of yards after the catch.
“Brown had five touchdowns in just 15 red zone touches (in 2019). He’s a guy that has a nose for the end zone and he’s a guy they trust near the goal line so I sort’ve think like, who do I think touches the ball more of the Rams running backs? I think it’s Brown, so I think he might be the better fantasy value even if Henderson is ‘the better fantasy player’ if that makes any sense.”
Michael: So would you then say you’d pick Brown over Henderson?
Berry: “No, because I don’t think Brown has the upside of Henderson. I think Brown is a good NFL running back, they brought him back for a reason, they like him and they trust him. But Henderson COULD be special. We’ll see if he turns out to be, but Henderson could be special. I guess I don’t necessarily see that out of Malcolm Brown. Again, above average player and will do a good job.”
Michael: Understandable. You can’t really imagine Malcolm Brown breaking off a 60- or 70-yard run or taking a screen pass for a long gain in the way Gurley did and you can easily see Henderson do that.
Berry: “Yes, exactly.”
On Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and Tyler Higbee:
Michael: Let’s talk about these wide receivers. Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods are WR17 and WR24 in your early rankings. Do you see either of them exceeding those marks in 2020?
Berry: “I love Cooper Kupp. Love Cooper Kupp. I joke a lot about him being ‘my little Cooper Kupp’ but I love Robert Woods, love them both. But that ranking is based on a couple of things. But first, those are still pretty good rankings. But it’s based on two things: Number one is I still think the Rams, mostly towards the end of last year, they ran so much when they got close to the end zone. They are just run-heavy in the red zone. So what are the scoring opportunities going to look like for those guys? Again, Goff looked for Kupp in the red zone and not so much Woods. I think Woods had three touchdowns last year, something like that, not a lot. He had a great year but it’s still one of the reasons he didn’t score more touchdowns. So, certainly I can see them both exceeding that (their rankings) but I’m nervous about Jared Goff who obviously took a step back last year, second half of the year, he certainly struggled. Honestly (it was) a decent chunk of the year.
“And also the emergence of Tyler Higbee. I think Higbee has certainly demanded getting the ball more going forward and will have a higher target-share so where is that target-share coming from? So that’s the reason why Kupp and Woods are where they are. It’s a combination of a lack of confidence in Jared Goff although Goff certainly likes both players and looks for them often.”
On Jared Goff:
Michael: What are your thoughts on Jared Goff in general and why wasn’t he included on your top-20 list of quarterbacks? I know his stats were a little inflated with a few huge performances, including around 500 yards passing against Tampa Bay last year. Was that part of the reasoning?
Berry: “From the eye test he did not look great last year. Certainly struggled in high pressure situations. Definitely took a few steps back. Didn’t put it all together like you would have hoped. He had weird home/road splits. He lost Todd Gurley. But whatever you think of (Gurley and Cooks), you’d definitely want them or not when you’re a quarterback. But also, whoever they replace those two with, it’s certainly going to be a downgrade. He also doesn’t run so that affects his floor, as well.”