As it stands, the Rams are carrying 11 wide receivers on their roster as the team embarks on the second week of organized team activities. With minimal additions to a unit that underachived in 2013, how will the corps shakeout as the offseason program begins?
In each of the last two seasons, head coach Jeff Fisher has gone with a corps of six players at the position. Last season, the corps consisted of Chris Givens, Brian Quick, Austin Pettis, rookies Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, and special-teamer Justin Veltung. The unit was underwhelming as a whole outside of the few big plays mustered by Austin, but they did have some limitations. Quarterback Sam Bradford went down for the season after injuring his knee in Week 7, giving the offensive reins to backup Kellen Clemens. Clemens performed admirably enough, but the team evolved further into it’s run-first identity as the season progressed. With that said, many still expected the team to bring in some reinforcements in the offseason.
Prior to the draft, the team made it’s splashiest offseason signing (“Splashiest” in the most relative use of the word) in Kenny Britt, the sixth year veteran out of Tennessee. All indications are that Britt is making his presence felt at OTA’s, both from a performance standpoint and an attitude standpoint.
Britt has all the proverbial talent in the world, but his time in Tennessee was hampered by injuries, off-field incidents and a subsequent lack of performance relative to the expectations. The one-year deal Britt signed has the Rams smartly positioned to be able to easily cut ties with him if he doesn’t perform up to par.
The other outside addition to the corps was T.J. Moe, a University of Missouri product formerly of the New England Patriots. Moe was a fan favorite during his time at Missouri for being one of the most reliable sets of hand on the team, but went undrafted in 2013 and tore his achilles tendon during OTAs in New England. Moe was brought in to add competition to the offseason program, and it’s unclear at this early point whether he’ll be a factor long-term.
Despite the hype surrounding Clemson standout Sammy Watkins and his availability with the Rams second overall selection, the Rams opted not to bring in any additional competition to the receiving corps through the draft. They did, however, add a pair of undrafted free agents in East Texas Baptist’s Jamaine Sherman and New Mexico State’s Austin Franklin. Emory Blake, formerly of Auburn, is also back in the mix after spending his first NFL season on the team’s practice squad. Any undrafted free agent is a long-shot to make the final roster, but given the unit’s unremarkable level of production last season, I suppose anything is possible.
Last season, there were few bright spots for the corps as a whole. The rookie Austin played a limited role, but broke free on a handful of occasions. Rams fans won’t soon forget his late-season performances against playoff contenders Indianapolis and Chicago, which included four touchdowns of 50-plus yards. Austin was hampered by injuries in the team’s final few games, however he is arguably the only lock to make the final 53-man roster even if he’s quiet in OTAs and training camp.
The other glimmer of hope among the unit was fellow rookie and Austin’s collegiate teammate Stedman Bailey. Bailey didn’t even catch a pass until Week 9, but his apparent determination to gain yards after the catch and battle over the middle quickly endeared him to Rams’ faithful. The knock on Bailey, obviously, is his upcoming four game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing drugs. Bailey has been a source of optimism among pundits throughout the offseason, but we’ll have to wait an additional few weeks to see if he can build upon his rookie performance.
The senior members of the unit are third-year players Brian Quick and Chris Givens and fourth-year man Austin Pettis. Givens is the only of the three to crack 400-plus yards receiving in a season, but despite his corps-leading 569 yards in 2013, his second season in the league was largely considered a disappointing one after coming on strong as a rookie the year before. Quick still has the coaches’ confidence that he can become the Terrell Owens clone he was drafted to be, but neither he or Pettis have emerged as a true No. 1 receiver.
It’s very early in the offseason program, but the receiving unit will be under heavy scrutiny as it remains one of the few big question marks on a team that’s hoping to make a playoff push in 2014.