Stedman Bailey began the year on special teams where he thrived on punt returns, helping punter Johnny Hekker put up the best numbers in the league. It might not have been the ideal start for the rookie wideout who was as productive as any player in college during his senior year. He didn’t garner the attention of scouts and teams in the same way that his fellow St. Louis Rams and college teammate Tavon Austin did, but he stayed on the course set before him.
That patience is paying huge dividends for the 23-year old receiver at the end of the 2013 season. He didn’t really get any offensive snaps until Week 9 of the season. That didn’t phase Bailey as he was doing everything he could on the practice field to improve as a receiver while performing tremendously as a gunner on punts, where the Rams have had limited results with a meager 2.9 yards per return.
Since Week 9, his playing time has steadily increased, as have his targets and offensive production. However, his increased playing time has come at the loss of Austin, who was developing into the playmaker St. Louis envisioned when they moved up to no. 8 in the draft to select him.
St. Louis has been forced into a next-man-up mentality with receivers this season, trying to find the right combination from this young group. Bailey’s play of late suggests that he should be on the field more than he is off.
His season total of 13 catches on 20 targets (65 percent catch rate) for 193 yards may not be eye-popping numbers, but he has caught a higher percentage of targets than most receivers on the Rams. Over the last four weeks, he has hauled in 11 catches on 17 targets for 162 yards. In a run-based offense, he is doing pretty well for himself, building off of the chemistry he and Kellen Clemens had from the scout team.
And then you have the 27-yard double reverse for his first NFL touchdown last week that adds to his underrated ability to make big-time plays. Out of college, most said, “he isn’t the fastest, or tallest receiver available.” That may be true. On that reverse, he showed legitimate in-game speed. It is one thing to clock a guy in the 40-yard dash and think he isn’t that fast, but you will never know what he can do until you see him in game against NFL players.
Bailey showed that he can outrun defenders, especially if the right play is dialed up at the right time.
You have to admit that he filled the Austin role nicely on that one. He has either scored a touchdown or gained enough yards for a first down both times that he has been asked to run the ball. When you hear him speak about his role in the offense and how he felt about it at the start of the season, you believe he handled it maturely.
He talks about how he was doing what was asked of him and that he knew his time would come. He looks confident on the field. His performance has done nothing but infuse belief from the team in his abilities.
The Rams might have gotten away with another steal in the 2013 draft with Bailey in the third round and Zac Stacy being the most productive fifth-round back ever in his rookie season. Bailey’s time has come in this offense, and he is showing all of the doubters that he is NFL material.