Jared Goff and Sean McVay
Goff had a historically awful rookie season in 2016. He averaged below 200 yards per game, 5.5 yards per throw, and threw 7 interceptions to his 5 touchdowns with a 54.6% completion percentage. That was under old-fashioned head coach Jeff Fisher and his hand-picked offensive coordinator in Rob Boras.
Now Goff gets to work under the tutelage of Sean McVay, who helped Kirk Cousins achieve two 4,000 yard seasons, one of which approached the 5,000 yard milestone, as well as a completion percentage that hovered around the 70% mark.
Can McVay coax production out of the former number one overall pick?
Goff had a nice pre-season and is about to face an undermanned Colts secondary, tipping the odds in his favor. He still has some issues though, as he threw an ugly interception against the Los Angeles Chargers in preseason play, and still has a serious tell of tapping the ball before he releases it.
This gives Malik Hooker a promising chance of recording his first NFL interception on Sunday, which may be a match-up to keep an eye on.
Speaking of Goff, Kupp has quickly become one of his favorite targets after the Los Angeles Rams selected him in the 3rd round of this year’s draft. Kupp is a shifty slot receiver who has reliable hands and already earned the trust of his starting QB.
The Colts have had trouble covering pass-catchers of this nature, and it only makes matters worse that Vontae Davis is now out for several weeks and the only reliable slot cover man is safety Darius Butler.
Outside of one bad drop, Kupp has showed up this off-season and I expect that to continue this weekend against the fresh faces of the horseshoe defense, he may be a name to keep in mind for fantasy leagues.
Aaron Donald’s replacement Tanzel Smart
With Donald holding out, it doesn’t look like he’ll be playing on Sunday. That means rookie sixth round pick Smart will get the start.
Smart is a similar body type as Donald at 6-foot-1, 296-pounds and was a penetrating presence at Tulane with 19 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks his senior season. He’s not nearly as physically gifted as Donald, but he’s a solid prospect that could make some plays lining up across from Scott Tolzien’s make-shift offensive line.
It’s tough for a sixth-round pick to have an instant impact in the NFL, but he’ll be facing two undrafted free agents in Jeremy Vujnovich and Deyshawn Bond. Smart’s extremely talented teammates along the defensive line will take the attention off of him and allow him to line up one-on-one against a weak interior line.
It’ll be a fight between forgotten draft prospects in the trenches when the Colts have the ball.
One unit with a promising outlook for the Colts is their defensive line. They added Johnathan Hankins, Henry Anderson is another year removed from his ACL tear, Hassan Ridgeway is a year wiser, and they signed Al Woods this off-season to be the starting nose tackle.
The Rams have also made some improvements to their offensive line, adding the always reliable Andrew Whitworth along with center John Sullivan. That begs the question, who will win the battle at the point of attack when Gurley has the ball in his hands?
Gurley is a supremely talented running back that had an abysmal year in 2016 behind a less than stellar offensive line, to work in conjunction with Goff and Case Keenum’s subpar quarterback play. With reasonable improvement from the offense, I expect a bounce-back season for Gurley after averaging 3.2 yards per carry last year.
The Colts unit looks more talented up front, but the real x-factor here will be the inside linebackers. Can Jon Bostic and Antonio Morrison chase down Gurley when the big boys up front create openings for them?
Only time will tell, but Gurley may be another good fantasy bet in week 1.
Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee
I am very curious to see how the Rams deploy their uber-athletic rookie tight end Gerald Everett. However, they already have a sophomore player in Tyler Higbee that could take up the majority of snaps at the position this year.
Everett is similar to what McVay had in Jordan Reed during his time in Washington, so they should both see reps against Indianapolis. They also have the fortune of facing the cringe-worthy inside linebackers brought together by Chuck Pagano’s coaching staff.
Morrison and Bostic are not known for being lock down defenders in the pass game and Higbee and Everett should be able to take advantage of that with the help of McVay. Goff may not have to push the ball downfield too often because his safety valves should be open throughout the afternoon.
This may be a tough one to watch.