32 Questions: St. Louis Rams
Thirty-two teams, 32 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each NFL team. Be sure to check out all 32 questions.
Every summer, it seems to me like Drew Bennett should be a better player than he is. The former quarterback from UCLA is 6-foot-5, more than 200 pounds, runs very well and looks the part of a powerful downfield receiver. But he's not. Let me just say: Bennett has bad hands. He logged five official drops for Tennessee last year, but I promise you, Vince Young believes Bennett could've caught more balls than he actually did. For the season, Bennett caught 46 of 98 targets, just 46.9 percent, which is dreadful. (Bobby Wade, Young's second-most-productive wideout in 2006, caught 56.9 percent.) Bennett had four games where he caught zero passes, and this was on a team with not much else at his position. Can you lay some of that at the feet of Young? Maybe. But Bennett was having hands problems with Steve McNair (remember that terrible drop against the Patriots in a 2003 divisional playoff game?) when Young was swaddled in burnt orange.
Add to this equation the presence of Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce (still), and Bennett is the slot guy in a high-octane Rams offense, which also has to get passes (and lots and lots of handoffs) to Steven Jackson. Bennett will be useful in the red zone, and Scott Linehan loves to throw in close. In '06, Marc Bulger had 18 touchdown passes inside the 10-yard-line, tied with Peyton Manning for most in the NFL. At age 73 (okay, he's 34), Bruce can still burn, as he proved grabbing 74 and 68 passes the past two years, but he's not any sort of red-zone threat. Bennett's got the big body and should line up in the right place (i.e., close to the middle of the field) to lure some short scoring targets. (Whether he'll actually catch them is anyone's guess.) But there's no way you should take Bennett to be a fantasy starter on your team, because receivers who rely mostly on short touchdowns for their value are too up-and-down. Because he'll be in the slot and because Bulger still has Holt and Bruce, I think long scores will be few and far between for Bennett.
And if the third wideout is going to struggle to see consistent looks, the Rams' new tight end, Randy McMichael, should also suffer through some droughts: He's the fifth option in an offense that has ignored the tight end for years. McMike looks like a stud tight end, and he sure makes a lot of noise about wanting to play the role of a stud tight end, but a whole bunch of fantasy teams have been burned by his unfulfilled promise. He hasn't had a 100-yard receiving day since Week 7 of 2003, and if you take away the first four games of '05 (he scored in each of those, setting up a career's worth of unreasonable expectations), he's got 14 touchdowns in 76 games. Yes, he grabbed 62 passes last year (on 96 targets), but he scored just three times, and parlayed the seventh-most catches by a tight end into the 11th-most fantasy points by a tight end, or barely more than half Antonio Gates' total. In this offense, with all these weapons, I don't see McMike getting anything close to 96 targets again (six a game? don't see it), even if Linehan was his offensive coordinator in Miami. He'll have his useful weeks, and he should play most of the time over Joe Klopfenstein. I've got McMichael bunched up with guys like Heath Miller, Owen Daniels and Desmond Clark just on the borderline of starting in a 12-team league. If you just have to own a piece of what should be an impressive Rams attack, and you do take McMike, you'll want to get a pretty good backup, just in case he winds up more decoy than darling.
Don't get me wrong: I think Bulger is a very good fantasy draft pick in 2007, Holt continues to be a top-five receiver, and Jackson is the No. 2 player on my entire board. But I can't get excited about either Bennett or McMichael as a solid fantasy starter.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com.
You can e-mail him here.
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