The Rams were very desperate at the position during the 2010 season after their top two receivers (Mark Clayton, Donnie Avery) were sidelined with season-ending knee injuries.
Some assumed that the Rams would instantly improve at the position after the return of Clayton and Avery, as well as the addition of their third and fourth round draft picks Austin Pettis (Boise St.) and Greg Salas (Hawaii).
However, no one can predict if Clayton and Avery will be able to play at the same level that they were at prior to their injuries and rookies are just too unpredictable, especially mid-round draft pick rookies.
Also, Clayton is a free-agent and has not been re-signed as of yet, although the Rams are reportedly negotiating a deal with him.
But with the addition of Sims-Walker, along with the other receivers, the Rams have an intense training camp battle in the makings, possibly one of the most intense camp battles in the NFL.
Danny Amendola, No.1 Slot Receiver
With the injuries to Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton, Amendola was the only quality receiver remaining on the team. Some of the other receivers had good games occasionally, but lacked consistency.
But Amendola’s quality was not enough— team’s were able to stick double coverage on him and he did not have the size to make a difference downfield on deep routes, although he was stellar on short and intermediate routes.
Amendola will return in 2011 in a Wes Welker type role under offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ offense, which is certainly a role he can excel at. He’ll be an important weapon in the 2011 offense.
Mike Sims-Walker, No.1 Wide Out
The Rams could possibly catch a break with the development of young receivers Brandon Gibson and Danario Alexander, but until they show that they can consistently perform, then Sims-Walker will instantly be the most talented receiver on the team, especially on the outside.
Sims-Walker only has only played three seasons in his career, with 2009 being the only season that really stands out, but that was enough to show that he is a talented receiver.
Remember, in Jacksonville he had an average quarterback throwing to him in David Garrard. There also were not any other receivers to take the attention away from him. Mike Thomas and tight end Marcedes Lewis did not burst onto the scenes until last year.
Sims-Walker will provide a level of talent at the positiono that the Rams have not seen in recent years. Also, at the age of 26, it’s possible that he has not peaked yet, meaning he could potentially be talented enough to be a No.1 wide receiver.
Donnie Avery, No.2 Slot Receiver
Donnie Avery is not a pure slot receiver like Amendola, as we’ve seen him run plenty of routes on the outside in the past.
It’s unclear how McDaniels will choose to utilize Avery, or if he has recovered all of his speed after rehabbing his knee injury from 2010, but his quickness would be beneficial in the slot against slow linebackers.
But even though his role is not cemented as of yet, it will be interesting to see if he can live up to his second-round draft status and have a break out year.
Avery has not had a chance to play with a quarterback like Sam Bradford, so we’ll see if Marc Bulger and the terrible Rams offense were holding him back all along.
Brandon Gibson, No.2 Wide Out
Of course it’s also possible that Gibson will surprise us all, because after all he was the second leading wide receiver with 620 yards and 53 catches.
Actually, he already is surprising people—there hasn’t been enough time for Sims-Walker to get settled in, but as of now, Gibson is supposedly the unquestioned top receiver so far in training camp.
While his stats were not too impressive, it’s also easy to forget that he lacked playing time in the beginning of the season, and it was also only his second season after entering the NFL as an undrafted free-agent with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009.
He’ll get competition, but for now, it’s his job to lose.
There’s a chance that second-year player Danario Alexander could earn himself a starting job in 2011, but he still has a few hills to climb before that will happen.
Alexander impressed fans during his NFL debut last October against the San Diego Chargers in St. Louis—he had four catches for 72 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown reception. He also had a 45-yard catches against the Denver Broncos in Week 11, as well as a 46-yard catch during Week 16 against the San Francisco 49er’s.
His 6’5” 220 pound frame could be put to great use by Sam Bradford and the offense, but he needs to do something well other than the long ball.
For the most part, Alexander was not a major threat to opposing teams because the long ball was the only route he was able to run.
If Alexander wants to be a starter, then he needs to become a weapon on short and intermediate routes, as well as the long routes.
Alexander also has a lengthy history with knee injuries, which is another factor working against him. It’s something the coaching staff will carefully watch.
Pettis was the Rams third round pick last April and he’ll bring a fairly wide skill set to the group if development pans out.
The Rams struggled with dropped passes in 2010, so that is something they wanted to fix. Forget speed, size and other traits, the Rams just wanted to find someone capable of hanging on to the ball no matter what, because they are confident that Bradford can hit his targets.
That’s exactly what Pettis was drafted for—his sure hands. Although, he also brings decent size at 6'3" and 209 pounds.
Pettis was also drafted because he at the tools to play each wide receiver position, which greatly increases the chance of him earning playing time.
Expect him to see the field in 2011 and expect his playing to increase towards the end of the season, but don’t expect any major contributions, at least not yet.
Salas and Pettis are very similar prospects who were drafted for almost the exact same reasons.
Like Pettis, Salas has decent size at 6’1” and 210 pounds, but he lacks dangerous speed. However, he has dependable hands and is capable of playing each wide receiver position.
It’s clear that the Rams drafted guys like Pettis and Salas because they feel they don’t need an elite receiver to excel.
They feel that they can get by with just surrounding Bradford with multiple targets that are reliable, but not overwhelming, which is basically the same strategy that has been used recently by the New Orleans Saints and the New England Patriots.
However, Gilyard barely saw the field last year after he struggled to learn the playbook and he only recorded six catches for a modest 63 yards all season long.
Gilyard has mostly been an afterthought, but recent training camp reports have suggested that he’s showing up ready to play, so there’s a chance that he can turn it around.
However, it’s still early in training camp, so there’s time for things to change. Also, there’s a lot of competition at the position this year, so nothing is going to be guaranteed for Gilyard, no matter how regenerated he is.
Gilyard is ineligible for the practice squad, so it's do-or-die time for him this preseason.
Dominique Curry joined the Rams in 2010 as an undrafted rookie with promising potential.
His size (6’2” 224 pounds) and strength makes the coaching staff hopeful that he’ll be able to contribute at some point in his career.
Actually, he was already contributing as a rookie, just not as a receiver—he was a valuable asset on special teams throughout the preseason and for part of the regular season.
His season was cut short after Week 3 in 2010 due to a torn ACL , which is particularly unfortunate because the Rams had multiple wide receivers go down with injuries in 2010, so he would have been given a chance to show off his skills as a receiver.
The Rams will try to make room on the roster for Curry, they would love to have him on special teams if nothing else, but the most likely scenario is a trip to the practice squad.