Last year the St. Louis Rams spent a few weeks early in the season considering signing a local undrafted free agent in Missouri's Danario Alexander. They knew the receiver had serious talent, as Alexander posted an NCAA-best 1,781 yards to go along with 113 receptions and 14 touchdowns during his senior season. His big-play ability, mixed with his large stature at 6'5" and 215 lbs., gave the Rams all the reason to believe he could help contribute.
So why hadn't Alexander been drafted, and more importantly, why weren't the Rams getting down on their hands and knees begging to get this kid to sign? To put it frankly, Alexander's knee is made of glass as far as NFL personnel is concerned. After the 2009 NCAA season, Alexander underwent surgery on his left knee that ultimately kept him out of the NFL combine and his pro day at Mizzou.
It took a lot of time, along with an injury to receiver Mark Clayton, but the Rams finally decided to give Alexander a contract. He would go on to play eight games in 2010, racking up 306 yards on 20 receptions with one touchdown. At times he showed the potential to be a legitimate threat downfield, and at other times he seemed like a lost rookie with hands of stone (see: season finale in Seattle).
It was an up-and-down season that has left many fans wondering the same thing: Where does Danario Alexander fit into the team's future plans? It isn't too difficult of a question to answer—Alexander will be an integral part of this franchise. Why is that so? Well, there are a couple variables that need to be considered to fully understand what the receiver means to the Rams in the immediate and long-term future.
The Rams have collected an interesting group of receivers over the last couple season. Athletes such as Donnie Avery, Mark Clayton and Danny Amendola all have shown the ability to be significant contributors in the Rams offense. The rest of the group, however, is littered with pass catchers ranging from borderline mediocrity to satisfactory contributors. Of that group, Danario Alexander has the highest upside.
We've yet to see what rookies Greg Salas and Austin Pettis can do at the NFL level, but outside of those two we can draw a pretty fair conclusion of the rest of the group:
Brandon Gibson: A receiver with above-average route-running skills, Gibson has shown flashes of being an acceptable fourth or fifth receiver, but he lacks the hands to be too reliable of a target going forward. He is someone that the Rams should keep on board, but not in a starting role such as the one he took on last season.
Mardy Gilyard: Gilyard's NFL career has started out about as badly as possible. He failed to show any redeeming qualities during his rookie season, and his inadequacy in understanding an NFL playbook is a real turnoff. It wouldn't be too much of a surprise if Gilyard failed to play a game with the Rams during 2011.
Brandon McRae, Dominique Curry: Valuable special teams contributors who likely won't amount to much in terms of offensive production.
Joe West: His spot on the roster is a result of the Rams' incredible lack of depth at the position. He shouldn't be with the team much longer.
Laurent Robinson: Robinson is now an unrestricted free agent, and it's unlikely he returns to the Rams. An underachiever in his two seasons with the Rams, he won't be much of a loss.
In just half a season with the team, Alexander flashed more potential than the players listed above. His tendency to create big plays and his ability to stretch the field will be regarded as being far more valuable to the Rams than other receivers who at this point in time may be more NFL-ready.
Tall, well-built receivers are a rarity in the NFL. Alexander stands at 6'5" and 215 pounds, giving him a distinct size advantage over just about every cornerback in the league. With the Rams having as much trouble in the red zone as they did last season, a receiver like Alexander will be very valuable moving forward.
I say this with all due respect to Danny Amendola, who really is the best receiver on this team, but QB Sam Bradford would probably have much more success relying on the 6'5" Alexander in red-zone opportunities rather than his preferred target in the 5'11" Amendola.
So what exactly is the future role of Alexander with this team? If everyone is able to come back healthy next season, he most likely won't be a starter. Avery and Clayton would take over on the outside, but given that they are both recovering from knee surgery, Alexander would still see plenty of playing time (yes, three of the Rams' top four receivers have had knee surgery in the last 18 months).
It could be as soon as the end of 2011, but Alexander will be a starter for this team in the future should he prove to be healthy. His talent is one that is impossible to ignore, and the potential that comes with that talent is exciting, to say the least.
It isn't a guarantee that Alexander will be a star one day, but it is a guarantee that the Rams will give him every opportunity they can afford to become one.