The 2020 NFL season is not officially even over yet and we already have some big news impacting the 2021 season. Even though players can’t officially sign and join new organizations until the new season starts March 17th, the Los Angeles Rams and Detroit Lions have agreed upon a deal to move Matthew Stafford to Los Angeles in exchange for Jared Goff and draft selections.
Detroit is dealing QB Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for two future first-round picks, a third-round pick and QB Jared Goff, per sources. Two former No. 1 overall picks trading places in the first blockbuster NFL trade of 2021.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 31, 2021
Our own Dan Pizzuta already broke down the organizational impact of the trade for both teams and here I am going to dig a bit into the initial production and fantasy fallout surrounding the deal.
First off, the Rams are definitely getting an upgrade. Over the past four seasons, Stafford’s expected points per play (.171) are higher than Goff’s (.091). In 2020, Stafford ranked 14th among all passers in EPA generated while Goff ranked 20th.
The first two seasons of pairing Goff with Sean McVay were a 180 from Goff’s lackluster rookie season. Over the 2017-2018 seasons, Goff’s 60 touchdown passes were the fourth-most in the NFL. His 5.8% touchdown rate was eighth in the league over that span among all quarterbacks with over 100 dropbacks while he averaged 8.2 yards per pass attempt (sixth) and 12.8 yards per completion (fifth).
The wheels then began to loosen as Goff threw 42 touchdown passes (18th) over the past two seasons as his touchdown rate fell down to 3.6%, which was 41st among passers with over 100 dropbacks. Goff’s Y/A fell to 7.3 yards (24th) and his yards per completion dipped to 11.2 yards (23rd).
While Stafford has played above Goff the past two seasons, the primary area where the Rams are likely looking to improve is on downfield performance and attacking vertically.
Over the past two seasons, the Rams are dead last in the NFL in passing touchdowns on throws over 15 yards downfield with just four. The next closest team (Carolina) has six over that span. This past season, they had just three touchdown passes on those throws, which was tied with New England and ahead of only San Francisco and Cincinnati, who had two each.
Scoring through the air outside of the red zone has been a struggle. The Rams have just nine passing touchdowns from outside of the red zone over the past two seasons, which is tied for the fewest in the league. Stafford himself has 17 touchdown passes from outside of the red zone the past two seasons. In 2020, the Rams had just five touchdown strikes from outside of the red zone, ahead of only the Giants (four) and Bengals (three).
On deep targets the past two seasons, Stafford has lapped Goff’s production severely.
Matthew Stafford vs Jared Goff on Throws Over 15 Yards Downfield 2019-2020
Goff himself had nine such touchdown passes outside of the red zone in 2018 when the Rams had a healthy Brandin Cooks, so there may be more middle ground here than expected. Stafford has had the benefit of throwing passes to downfield targets like Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones the past two seasons while the best deep threat the Rams have had on the field over that span was an in and out of the lineup version of Cooks.
That is still the case for the Rams pass catchers right now. Josh Hermsmeyer has shown that depth of target belongs more to the receiver than the quarterback, so even with an improvement at the position, the Rams are still lacking that vertical component among their pass-catching corps. The offseason has not even begun yet, so there is ample time for further calibrations, but as of right now, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Van Jefferson have a lot of overlap in where they have seen their depth of target in the NFL. But even if Stafford does have his depth of target fall back due to the offensive environment, we have already seen a lower-aDOT version of Stafford before over the 2015-2018 seasons paired with Jim Bob Cooter and Stafford was still highly productive.
Another area where it will be interesting to see if the Rams adjust is that they have skewed extremely cautious in the red zone. This past season, the Rams ran the ball 60.5% of the time in the red zone (fourth) and kept the ball on the ground 72.3% of the time inside of the 10-yard line, which was behind only the Patriots. Inside of the 10-yard line, the Rams called 60 run plays to just 23 passing plays.
A run-first approach near the end zone paired with the lack of vertical, quick-striking touchdown passes the offense produced, the Rams only had 52.4% of their offensive touchdowns come via passing in 2019 (31st) and 51.3% this past season (27th). Combined, that 51.9% touchdown rate through the air was 30th in the league over the past two seasons.
Stafford himself stands to gain more opportunities with the use of play-action in McVay’s scheme. Under McVay since 2017, Goff used play-action on 33.1% of his dropbacks, where he averaged 9.1 Y/A compared to 7.0 Y/A without the use of play-action. Over the past four seasons, Stafford has used play-action on just 21.5% of his dropbacks despite averaging 9.6 Y/A on those throws as opposed to 7.1 Y/A without. Stafford’s highest use of play-action came in 2019, when 26.9% of his dropbacks were under play-action and averaged 12.0 Y/A on those attempts.
While there is potential for coaching, scheme, and game script improvements in place to elevate Stafford and the Rams offense in reality, the fantasy side does not move a ton. This is largely just due to the fantasy landscape having more dual-threat options at the position, which makes it harder for a pure pocket passer such as Stafford to crack relevancy. 95.3% of Stafford’s 2020 fantasy production stemmed via passing. His 15.5 passing points per game were more than usable (15th), but among the 11 quarterbacks this past season to average at least 20 fantasy points per game, only Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady had single-digit percentage of their fantasy production come via rushing while the average among those players was 20.1% even including those two veteran passers.
Stafford is more than capable of getting there via efficiency, but his passing-only production is what will have him as a floor-based option firsthand in the move. He gets an uptick, but is still in a tier of passers such as Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins, Brady, and Baker Mayfield among others that need passing volume to be high or sustain high efficiency per pass attempt to churn out high-scoring weeks to combat the influx of quarterbacks that can both run and pass.
Goff is in the same boat as a fantasy asset, but is being placed in a really tough position. The move is a complete downgrade for him. In what is a fresh start, Goff also has a short window to prove he is the answer for Detroit in a climate where the team is clearly rebuilding, and has an entirely new coaching staff. Goff is trading McVay as a head coach and play caller for Dan Campbell and Anthony Lynn and as of this moment, the only wide receiver the Lions have under contract for the 2021 season is Quintez Cephus, their fifth-round selection from a year ago. We are far from knowing exactly what wideouts Goff will have to work with outside of T.J. Hockenson, but both Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones are unrestricted free agents when the offseason begins.
Hockenson is already being drafted as a top-half TE1 after his second-year improvements. There is no real change in that department on where to value him.
78.7% of the targets for the Rams wide receivers a year ago were catchable, which was third in the league. We largely know what we have in both Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp as players and how they are going to accrue fantasy points, but Stafford is an improvement on play, and both Woods (10.4 yards) and Kupp (10.6 yards) posted career-lows in yards per reception this past season. We would gladly trade some hyper-efficient, low-risk targets for some higher variance targets that come with more upside.
Both Woods and Kupp do not have their stations greatly altered from a floor stance. Woods is coming off a WR13 scoring season in totality and WR19 in points per game. He is a steady PPR-WR2 that has 130, 129, and 129 targets over the past three seasons.
Kupp was already looking like a potential buy for progression. In their 16 games played together this season, Kupp out-targeted Woods 134-to-131 with 96 catches for 1,052 yards on those targets compared to 90 receptions for 947 yards for Woods, but Kupp scored a career-low three touchdowns this season while Woods scored a career-high eight (six receiving) in creating the fantasy scoring difference between the two. This with both players each seeing the same amount of end zone targets (four) on the season. I have no qualms with what you are drafting from Woods at sticker price, but I will be more interested in Kupp at market asking price between the two.
Behind those top-two options, both Van Jefferson and Tyler Higbee not only have the Stafford upgrade in play, but also stand to benefit from an opportunity stance with both Josh Reynolds and Gerald Everett set to be unrestricted free agents.
We have already seen an elite TE1 ceiling potential from Higbee for a small stretch to make him an option as a lower-TE1 swing and TE2 upside play while Jefferson (last season’s 57th overall pick) closed the season with a 6-46-1 line on seven targets in the playoff loss to the Packers. With Reynolds potentially gone, Jefferson will have a path to 75-plus targets in his second season.