Thursday, May 5, 2011

Looking Ahead: Who Do the Rams Keep at WR for 2011?

The overall performance of the 2010 St. Louis Rams was less than spectacular, but there are still a hand full of receivers on the team that fans are excited about, and the drafting of Austin Pettis and Greg Salas will send some of those receivers packing. It is safe to say that there will at least be an interesting training camp battle amongst the unit.

Here is a quick summary of the current receivers, just in case you're not acquainted...

Danny Amendola- He was the the leading receiver for the Rams in both yards (689) and receptions (85). He is also considered one of the most hard working players on the team. Amendola is probably a lock for the 2011 roster, but it still would not be wise for him to let his guard down.

Brandon Gibson- Gibson was the second leading receiver in both yards (620) and receptions (53). He was acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009 (the Rams sent linebacker Will Witherspoon to the Eagles for Gibson, plus a 5th round pick). Gibson is one of the more underrated players on the team, and people constantly forget that he is still developing, but he is by no means a lock for the 2011 roster.

Mark Clayton- Clayton shined for the Rams in 2010. He accumulated 23 catches for 306 yards in just over four full games before going down with a season ending knee injury. He is a free agent this year, so the Rams will have to offer him a brand new contract if they want to keep him. The main question is- was his four solid games with the team enough to make people overlook his five seasons of mediocrity in Baltimore? That question still needs to be answered, but the Rams will likely bring Clayton back for another season, as his price tag will be reasonable.

Danario Alexander- He was an undrafted rookie out of Missouri, and he missed the entire 2010 training camp. He made his debut during Week 6 against the San Diego Chargers, where he made a beautiful 38-yard touchdown reception. He has undeniable talent, which makes it hard to cut a guy like him, but his discouraging history with knee injuries is something to keep an eye on.

Donnie Avery- Avery has been forced to live under the shadow of DeSean Jackson for some time now, considering the team passed on Jackson to get Avery. The two had pretty equal rookie seasons, especially when you consider that Avery played on a terrible offense, but Jackson separated himself during the second season. Many felt that Avery was about to have a break out season before he went down with a season ending knee injury during the 2010 preseason.
Laurent Robinson- The Rams acquired Robinson in 2009 by simply swapping 5th round picks with the Atlanta Falcons. He came on strong in 2009, acquiring 13 catches for 167 yards in three games before going down with a season ending injury. The flash of potential in 2009 was enough to get fans excited for his 2010 campaign, but he was nothing short of a disappointment last season.

Mardy Gilyard- He had a lot of hype surrounding him after he was drafted in the 4th round in 2010. However, he struggled to learn the playbook, resulting in him spending the majority of 2010 on the bench. Considering the position will see some intense battles at this year's training camp, he will have to do a complete 180 if he wants to remain on the team.

Dominique Curry- Curry is an impressive physical specimen, and he made solid contributions in 2010 through special teams before landing himself on the injury reserve list.
If the past is any indication, the Rams will likely keep six receiver on the active roster, and they will keep at least one on the practice squad.

Curry is the only receiver on that list eligible for the practice squad, as players must have appeared in less that nine regular season games to be eligible. So assuming the Rams want to keep both of the receivers they drafted in 2011 on the active roster, then they will have to cut at least three players on that list.

In this writer's opinion, at least of two options are painfully obvious.

Mardy Gilyard greatly struggled to learn 2010 offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur's playbook, so there is no reason to think that he will immediately grasp a more complex Josh McDaniels' offense. Not to mention, he showed absolutely nothing in 2010, not even a slight flash of ability. Consider him gone.

The other obvious option is Laurent Robinson. Robinson struggled to get regular playing time last season, which is saying a lot considering how bad the team's receivers were. He also struggled with dropped passed. Overall, he doesn't have a role to play on this team.

Brandon Gibson is a guy the team would like to keep, especially since he has experience, but if the team does not expand the number of receivers on the roster to seven, then Gibson will be in hot water. 
The next option would be to let Mark Clayton walk without offering him a new contract. However, him and quarterback Sam Bradford had great chemistry together, especially considering that Clayton didn't even practice 
with Bradford in training camp. So it's hard to see the team letting Clayton walk.

The team might decide to put either Pettis or Salas on the practice squad (depending on who wins the training camp battle), as they would both be eligible. The team wants to see these guys play, but it is not realistic to expect rookies to immediately catch on. There might be a steep learning curve for at least one of them.

But the best option, in order to ensure that the team in not cutting loose any solid receiver talent, would be to increase the number of the receivers on the roster to seven, instead of six.
Here is the likely group of receivers in 2011 for the Rams, assuming they wise up and keep seven receivers...

Flanker #1: Danario Alexander

Slot #1: Danny Amendola

Flanker #2: Mark Clayton

Slot #2: Donnie Avery

Rotational #1: Austin Pettis

Rotational #2: Brandon Gibson

Back-up #1: Greg Salas (He is either an all-around back-up, or a practice squad player, depending on if the team expands the number of receivers they keep).

Practice Squad: Dominique Curry

This would result in the team sending both Gilyard and Robinson packing, but this is probably the best line-up if the team wants to increase the amount of talent this at the position this season.

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