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Monday, September 8, 2003
Fantasy Spin: Rams Struggle

By Graham Hays
ESPN Fantasy Games

One week in, and fantasy owners still don't know what to make of the St. Louis Rams. The Greatest Show on Turf has become The Most Perplexing Show on Turf, and it all looks mighty familiar.

After a brilliant preseason and talk of a revitalized passing game, Kurt Warner completed 34-of-54 passes for 354 yards against the Giants in the opener. The bad news is he was responsible for four turnovers, threw just one touchdown pass and spent Sunday night in an area hospital with a concussion following a 23-13 loss. And if that sounds familiar, it's because it looks a lot like last year's opener -- when Warner completed 32-of-41 passes for 315 yards, no touchdowns and one interception in a 23-16 loss to Denver.

You already know how 2002 turned out for Warner and the Rams. Let's look at what we know -- and what we don't know -- about the principles and their 2003 fantasy prospects.

Kurt Warner
St. Louis Rams
Kurt Warner
Warner hasn't won a start since the final week of the 2001 regular season -- when he threw three touchdowns and three interceptions against Atlanta. But do the losses necessarily negate Warner's fantasy value? In four of the six games in which he has taken the majority of snaps since the end of the 2001 season, he's thrown for more than 300 yards. Of course, he's also thrown just four touchdowns against 11 interceptions in that span.

But of even more concern -- considering he can't put up any points if he's on the bench -- is Warner's health. The offensive line was rebuilt in the offseason, but Warner still took a pounding against New York's pass rush. Reports out of St. Louis suggest at least some of that was because he was holding onto the ball too long. He won't start this week and who knows how long the concussion might "linger" if Marc Bulger plays well.

Marc Bulger
Was it Warner or something more complicated? St. Louis' offense was at its best with Bulger at quarterback last season, creating an interesting fantasy scenario if the offensive line really is improved this season. Might Bulger actually be even more effective this season? Bulger's 2002 stats are further evidence that it's not just playing catch-up that limits Faulk's touches in Martz's offense. Despite winning his first six starts, including three by double digits, Bulger averaged 35.5 pass attempts. And that number jumped to 41 pass attempts in the last three of those starts.

Marshall Faulk
Running Back
St. Louis Rams
Marshall Faulk
Forget Warner's health. Nothing about the Rams is more confounding than Martz's inability to consistently get Marshall Faulk touches. Faulk carried just nine times against the Giants -- the fourth time in the last six regular season games that he's logged fewer than 10 carries. He carried the ball 20-plus times in just three games last season, all games in which Warner was out of the lineup.

And while Faulk has never been a 30-carry workhorse in the St. Louis system, he's no longer playing as big a role in passing game, either. Faulk hasn't totaled more than three fantasy points out of his receiving stats in his last seven regular-season games.

So while Martz was quoted after Sunday's game as saying he needed to get Faulk more involved in the future, there are no guarantees the coach will actually follow through to the extent expected by many fantasy owners. And that holds true even with Bulger behind center. Faulk enjoyed his most productive rushing days last season in Bulger's initial starts, but once Martz was comfortable with his new quarterback, Considering the Rams have topped 30 points just twice in their last 17 games, Faulk isn't likely to make up for lost yards with a bevy of short-yardage touchdowns.

Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce
To look at the numbers from Holt and Bruce in Week 1, you wouldn't know anything was wrong. That's often the case when a team passes 55 times, especially when there is still no clear-cut No. 3 option. Holt's only fantasy downfall last season was a lack of touchdown productivity, something that has plagued him throughout his career. But he caught Sunday's only St. Louis touchdown and now has three scores in his last four games. Considering Martz is a virtual lock to keep throwing the ball, Holt could be in for a fantasy bonanza, no matter how the Rams fare. Bruce is less of a sure thing, although his best performances in 2002 came with Bulger at quarterback.