The St. Louis Rams had a wide receiver deficiency in 2011 to say the least.
Actually, they had arguable the worst group of receivers in the NFL if you look at statistics such as the team's very low yards per reception average of 9.9. Also, their number of receptions over 20 yards (36) was the third worst in the NFL, and their number of catches over 40 yards (four) was tied for second-to-last.
Mark Clayton emerged as the Rams top receiver for the first four games of 2010 before going down with a season-ending knee injury, and after Clayton was out Danny Amendola stepped up as the new primary target.
Although Amendola had an admirable season, finishing with 85 receptions and leading the NFL in all-purpose yards, he was still unable to get downfield on deep routes and he only averaged 8.1 yards per catch.
So with Clayton not fully recovered from his knee surgery, and with Amendola still incapable of providing a long ball threat, who will step up as the Rams top receiver in 2011?
Surely it has to be someone.
Rams Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels has created six 1,000 yard receivers over the last four seasons as either a coordinator or head coach— Randy Moss (2007, 2008), Wes Welker (2007, 2008), Brandon Marshall (2009) and Brandon Lloyd (2010).
So with McDaniels' ability to squeeze production out of his receivers, combined with stability at the quarterback position, it's likely that one of the Rams receivers will produce the numbers expected out of a No.1 wide receiver, despite the team's lack of overall talent at the position.
Which receiver will break the barrier and develop into the Rams first 1,000 yard receiver since Torry Holt in 2007? But more importantly, who has what it takes to be Sam Bradford's "go to guy"?
At 6'2" and 212 pounds with 4.3 second 40-yard-dash speed, recently acquired free agent Mike Sims-Walker dominates the other Rams receivers in the physical tools department.
He has been closer to 1,000 yards than any other receiver currently on the team as a result of his 869 yard season in 2009, and he's clearly the most dangerous end-zone target with seven touchdowns in each of his last two seasons, which is a significant upgrade considering all of the Rams wide receivers combined for only 10 total touchdowns in 2010.
The only thing really standing in the way of Sims-Walker becoming the top receiver is injuries, but his injury rap sheet is over exaggerated— he missed seven games as a rookie in 2008 due to a knee injury, but has only missed three games in the last two seasons combined.
The only other factor working against Sims-Walker is a possible lack of chemistry between him and Bradford due to the lockout, but that's something that will go away with time. Bradford developed familiarity with Clayton and Amendola rather quickly as a rookie last year.
Although Sims-Walker has a lot more name recognition, that doesn't change the fact that Brandon Gibson is currently sitting at the top of the depth chart as the team's No.1 wide receiver.
Some fans may balk at the idea of Gibson becoming the lead receiver, which is understandable given his mediocrity throughout the first two seasons of his career in 2009 and 2010. However, it takes time for receivers to develop and find their groove, so don't count Gibson out just because of past performances.
Here is a list of well-known receivers and the number of seasons it took for them the reach 1,000 yards for the first time:
Miles Austin (Four Seasons)
Marvin Harrison (Four Seasons)
Reggie Wayne (Four Seasons)
Wes Welker (Five Seasons)
Vincent Jackson (Four Seasons)
Terrell Owens (Three Seasons)
Roddy White (Three Seasons)
Greg Jennings (Three Seasons)
Steve Smith (Three Seasons) *Carolina Panthers
Donald Driver (Four Seasons)
Santonio Holmes (Four Seasons)
Brandon Lloyd (Eight Seasons)
The point being that it's fairly rare for a receiver to enter the NFL and become a 1,000 yard guy within his first two years, especially a sixth-round draft pick like Brandon Gibson.
As you can see from the list, a lot of receivers turn the corner during their third NFL season. That doesn't mean that Gibson is guaranteed to play at a high level, but it's ridiculous to completely judge his ability after only two years in the league.
If the preseason is any indication, then Gibson could have a big year.
Danny Amendola is frequently referred to as a "poor man's Wes Welker", but is that really the case? Why is Amendola not every bit the player that Welker is? After all, when you break it down, the two are practically identical.
Here's is a little bio comparison on the two:
Wes Welker (5'9, 185 pounds) Danny Amendola (5'11", 188 pounds)
Welker's College: Texas Tech
Amendola's College: Texas Tech
Welker's College Stats: 259 receptions, 3069 yards, 21 touchdowns
Amendola's College Stats: 204 receptions, 2246 yards, 15 touchdowns
Welker's First Two Seasons of NFL Action: 29 receptions 434 yards, 67 receptions 687 yards
Amendola's First Two Seasons of NFL Action: 43 receptions 326 yards, 85 receptions 689 yards
In Welker's third season of NFL action he went on to catch 112 balls for 1,175 yards under Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels. Amendola is about the enter his third NFL season... under coordinator Josh McDaniels.
Yes, there is a big difference between the Patriots supporting cast and the Rams, but if those coincidences don't convince you that it's at least possible for Amendola to become the same level of receiver as Welker, then nothing will.
Amendola is Bradford's favorite target, which is why he had 85 catches last year. Except this year opposing defenses won't have the luxury of closing in on him due to the presence of Mike Sims-Walker and Lance Kendricks.
Between the Rams top three wide receivers (Mike Sims-Walker, Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola), each of them are generating signs in their own unique way that they are about to break loose.
So given the maturity of the team, along with a respectable coordinator in Josh McDaniels, a solid offensive line, a decent run game, as well as a capable quarterback in Sam Bradford, it's not really a question of "if" one of the receiver will have a breakout year, it's more a question of "who".
And with the potential of each receiver clear as day, it's anybody's guess in the end.