Sam Bradford is simply one man. He can only do so much. And quarterbacks, for better or worse, get way too much credit when things go well and way too much blame when things don’t.
Football’s a team sport with 53 guys on a roster. The man needs help. He needs an offensive line to protect him, he needs a running game to keep the defense honest and he needs weapons around him to throw to.
For the last who-knows-how-many-years fans in St. Louis have been clamoring for wide receivers galore to get signed and/or drafted. A Mike Sims-Walker here and a Steve Smith there plus an Austin Pettis/Greg Salas draft followed by a Chis Givens/Brian Quick one.
Nothing is ever enough.
Well, following a very productive 2012 season for the Rams - not so much offensively - the same cries will be heard once again. So with that in mind, let’s go through (player by player) what the Rams have exactly in their current stable of receivers. Then we can assess what is needed going forward.
1.) Danny Amendola
A free agent whose signing is of the utmost priority this offseason. I can’t think of a single player on this team - that includes Steven Jackson - whose return is more critical to the future here. Point blank. Sam Bradford trusts him. No, wait, scratch that. Bradford knows exactly where Amendola’s going to be on every play and delivers the ball well before he arrives at that spot. If Bradford has to delay, say, a fraction of a second he’ll be too late and disaster could strike. You can’t hesitate in the NFL. You need to make quick decisions and fire. If there’s even just a little bit of doubt in your mind that the receiver you’re throwing to won’t make it to where you need him to be then that’s got failure waiting to happen.
Danny Amendola has not been the perfect picture of health. He’s played in just 12 games over the last two seasons. But he did play in 30 out of a possible 32 the two years before that (2009-2010) so his injuries haven’t been going on for as long as it seems like they have.
Despite health concerns he’s produced as consistently as anyone on this roster. Amendola hauled in 63 catches for 666 yards this year and three touchdowns. Considering he missed five full games that’s actually pretty darn good. Even better when you consider he was one of a select few weapons defenses were concerned about.
2.) Chris Givens
The crown jewel of the rookie class in my opinion. Everyone knew Janoris Jenkins was going to be good and as a first round pick Michael Brockers had high expectations. So grading on a curve they simply did what they were supposed to do. Anything less would have been a modest disappointment. Givens, though? Please. No one had any idea what to expect out of the 6’0” rookie from Wake Forest. He was a 4th round pick - not even the first receiver drafted by the Rams - and by all accounts simply a speed guy.
My how we were all taken by surprise. Givens needed three games to really get going. He did next to nothing against Detroit, Washington and Chicago but exploded in the first game against Seahawks. He started a streak of five consecutive games with a reception over 50 yards. Talk about a guy who can blow the top off a defense.
In total, Givens caught 42 passes for 698 yards and three scores. Granted, he needs to improve on the intermediate routes and be more than just a stretch guy down the sidelines. But there is absolutely a role for someone like that in the NFL. Just ask Mike Wallace of the Steelers. Speed kills in this league and Givens has it.
A full offseason of getting stronger, running better routes and knowing what to expect next season should only make him better. He’s got a chance to be very very good. He just needs the opportunity.
3.) Brandon Gibson
Can become a free agent and is kind of a wild card for this team. He’s got good size (6’0”, 205 lbs) and runs very good routes. He’s virtually the definition of solid. He won’t do anything to just make your jaw drop and say “wow” like Givens or Amendola can and will do...but he’s quite consistent. Gibson caught 51 passes for 691 yards and a team high five TDs this year.
I’ll get into this more in a bit but his return is an X factor. With other young, developing receivers on the roster and additions necessary, how much of a role will there be for him? It’s something that needs to be asked.
4.) Brian Quick
The 2nd rounder came into this season with mighty high expectations. He was raw out of Appalachian State, yes, but his size, speed and athleticism was supposed to translate into instant production. In fact, he was supposed to do what Chris Givens ended up doing.
Unfortunately, Givens was supposed to provide what Quick actually did. 11 catches for just 156 yards and two touchdowns.
Going from Appalachian State to the NFL is about the same as going from pre-Algebra into AP Calculus. It’s just not really fair. But if you’re good, you’re good. And the Rams thought highly enough of Quick to draft him in the second round last April.
Why didn’t he get on the field more? Well, he just didn’t adjust to the level of competition quick as fast as the team had hoped for one. But also he was passed over by other, more experienced, guys. Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson obviously were more capable of performing right away than him. But Chris Givens’ performance leaped Quick on the depth chart pretty quickly.
Next year is a big year for Brian Quick. He needs to use this offseason to get himself ready to really contribute next season.
5.) Austin Pettis
The Steve Spagnuolo/Billy Devany draft pick progressed as much from year one to year two as anyone on this team. His final numbers don’t look spectacular (30 catches for 261 yards and four scores) but he got better and better and better as the year went along. Pettis’ final touchdown, a shoestring grab off a deflection against Seattle, was a perfect example of the weapon he can be in the red zone.
At 6’3” and 207 pounds, Austin Pettis should be a humongous target for Sam Bradford inside the 20. It’s hard to predict what progress he’ll continue to make going from year two into year three...but if he can make a similar jump...the Rams must may have something here.
So there you have it. Those are the receivers (Steve Smith doesn’t count because he bombed on a one year deal and won’t be back). If you were to ask me, I’d say the need here is for a more established, experienced free agent to join this class and provide some explosiveness in addition to mentoring the young kids.
Givens, Quick and Pettis need reps. They’ll be three of the top five receivers next year. I’d like to believe Amendola will return and be one of the top guys as well. That’s four. Maybe someone gets drafted at some point to be the 6th receiver but another guy is necessary in the top three. Will that be Gibson? Not sure he’s explosive enough but then again it’s hard to predict what will be out there on the free agent market with regards to their asking price.
I don’t think another youngster drafted in the first round or second round is the answer here. It’s a free agent. It’s taking another chance on someone like Steve Smith - but not Steve Smith. It’s a savvy veteran who knows how to get open.
That will allow the kids to mature while giving Sam Bradford the weapons necessary to get the Rams back to the postseason.