Monday, May 9, 2011

Rams: Where Do They Go From Here With Mark Clayton?

There is no denying that wide receiver Mark Clayton enhanced the play of quarterback Sam Bradford, and vice versa. But was their connection authentic, or merely a mirage?

The Rams traded a sixth round pick for Clayton following Donnie Avery's season ending knee injury at New England during the the 2010 preseason. So Clayton was basically forced into the mix despite not practicing with the team during training camp.

Regardless, he answered to the pressure.

In only four complete games, Clayton was able to accumulate 23 receptions for 306 yards, including two touchdowns. He also had at least one reception of 30 or more yards in three of those four games, and served as a reliable "bail out" option for Bradford.

So is it safe for fans to invest some faith into those four games? Wide receiver Laurent Robinson says 'no'.

In 2009, Robinson played in only three games before going down with a season ending leg injury. During those three games he had 13 catches for 167 yards and a touchdown, which was impressive enough to get fans excited for his return in 2010.

The anticipation was somewhat similar to what the fans are feeling now regarding Clayton.

But Robinson was nothing short of disappointing upon his return. He had 34 catches for 344 yards in 14 games, and he struggled to get playing time (which is saying a lot, given how bad the team's receivers were in 2010).

Now the team drafted Austin Pettis (Boise St.) and Greg Salas (Hawaii), so Robinson is not expected to make the team, which begs the question- Will Clayton's situation play out in a similar fashion?

Clayton was a first round draft pick by Baltimore in 2005 (No.22 overall), and it is safe to say that he hasn't lived up to his first round status. His five seasons of mediocrity in Baltimore are hard to overlook based on his four games in St. Louis.

Here are his stats from his career in Baltimore...

  • 2009: 14 Games  34 REC  480 Yds  2 TD
  • 2008: 16 Games  41 REC  695 Yds  3 TD
  • 2007: 16 Games  48 REC  531 Yds  0 TD
  • 2006: 16 Games  67 REC  939 Yds  5 TD
  • 2005: 14 Games  44 REC  471 Yds  2 TD
Those are indeed some pretty pedestrian numbers for a first round draft pick.

However, those numbers might not indicate his true talent. Notice that the one adequate season (2006) was his only season in Baltimore with a decent quarterback- Steve McNair. The rest of those seasons were played with Kyle Boller and a rookie Joe Flacco (and St. Louis fans know how ineffective Boller can be).

We know that Clayton is not a Randy Moss caliber talent that can singlehandedly carry a quarterback to greatness. But he might be talented enough to be a No.1 receiver in this league- but only if he has a legitimate quarterback, which could be Sam Bradford.

So are the Rams getting a four game fluke that might have lingering effects from a devastating knee injury?

Or were those four games his true form? Was his talent simply cloaked beneath a streak of sub-standard quarterback play?

Either way, it would be beneficial for the Rams to find out.

Clayton will come at a reasonable price, especially since he is returning from a knee injury. He would not significantly hurt the Rams financially if he doesn't pan out- but he will be an extremely good value for the team if he does.

This is a situation where the gamble is worth the risk. The Rams need to re-sign Clayton. But if they have their eyes on a top free-agent receiver (Sidney Rice, Braylon Edwards, Santana Moss), then Clayton should not discourage them from pursuing.


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