Since Jeff Fisher and Les Snead took control over the St. Louis Rams they have spent four picks on wide receivers to build talent around Sam Bradford. While the Rams have improved over the last two years they really haven’t found a legitimate go-to guy for Bradford. The receiving corps has been completely overhauled with only Austin Pettis surviving the transition.
It started with Brian Quick being the first player taken in the second round of 2012 because of his big body and potential. He started as a project and is still behind the curve for a receiver taken in the second round. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound receiver was supposed to be a red zone threat that could use his size as an advantage against smaller corners. In two seasons he has collected just 29 catches and struggled to move up the depth chart as hoped.
Then Chris Givens was a speedy receiver that could burn defenders deep to blow the top off of defenses taken in the fourth round of 2012. His rookie season was promising after five catches of 50 yards or more gave him the look of a future star. Instead he regressed this season with only 34 catches and none going for 50 yards. In the 2012 draft the Rams made a mistake by passing on Alshon Jeffery who turned heads this season with acrobatic catches and big plays among others taken after Quick.
The 2013 draft featured them moving up to select Tavon Austin at No. 8 overall. While Austin struggled with drops early he came on strong in the second half of the season to make big plays on punt returns, catches, and gadget runs. Austin won’t be a No. 1 receiver due to his lack of size, but he will continue to make the splash plays that an offense needs to be explosive. His ability on punt returns will make him more valuable to the team setting the offense up with better field position. He finished 2013 injured, but he provided a solid 40 catches to lead the receivers on the team.
His college teammate Stedman Bailey came off of the board in the third round after a stellar college career. Bailey probably won’t become a Larry Fitzgerald no matter what offense he is in, but he has a great pair of hands and knows how to get open. His play in the final quarter of the season was promising for a team that needs a player to hold onto catches. He could develop into a solid No. 2 and a more than capable third-down receiver. That role has been filled by Pettis for a few years, but he could be expendable if the others develop and step up next season.
The Rams’ receivers were being used early in the season to the tune of 66.5 percent of the offensive snaps, but the change in schemes led to their usage dropping down to 54.3 percent. The change was expected after Zac Stacy exploded onto the scene by bursting through tacklers and the inaccurate Kellen Clemens taking over for Bradford. St. Louis started using more multiple tight end sets over the final 12 games, and that is a huge reason for the low number of receptions and yards produced by the receivers. The pass attempts dropped from 46 per game over the first four games to a lowly 27 per game over the last 12 contests. Fewer pass attempts and fewer snaps made fewer opportunities for receptions.
Still, when they were passing more the receivers weren’t catching a high amount of their targets and leading the league in drops. There is a need for sure hands and big plays from the outside options. Will the receivers on the roster be able to provide steady production next season? If the current regime believes that then St. Louis probably won’t bother looking for an option in the draft.
After watching Sammy Watkins absolutely decimate his opposition in the Orange Bowl, I would have to think St. Louis would at least be interested in him. He is the top receiver in the draft according to just about every scout and was able to haul in 16 catches for 227 yards and two touchdowns. He demonstrated excellent agility and strong hands during his performance while working with an injured knee. He hobbled around between plays, but he was able to explode downfield on vertical routes over the top of defenders and attack the ball at the highest point on jump balls. He was at his best on screens taking off up the field like he was shot out of a cannon.