It is a well-known fact that the St. Louis Rams have one of the best young quarterbacks in football, Sam Bradford. It is also a fact that their wide receiving corps were among the worst in football last year. The Rams didn't have a big-name receiver to start the year, but things got worse when Donnie Avery, probably the most talented receiver on the team at that time, tore his knee up and was out for the rest of the year.
Needing to add more talent to that group, they made a trade with the Baltimore Ravens to bring Mark Clayton on board. He played very well, until he also blew his knee out and missed the rest of the year. The rest of the Rams receivers not named Danny Amendola were, for the most part, just too inconsistent to be counted on all the time.
Brandon Gibson had some problems with drops and drew the ire of head coach Steve Spagnuolo, spending some time in the dog house. Rookie free agent Denario Alexander showed flashes of big-play potential, only to also have knee problems. Hey, somebody check the turf already! How many knee injuries can one team have?
Laurent Robinson just wasn't effective. Rookie Mardy Gilyard could not learn the playbook, and despite being pretty talented he didn't get on the field much. The whole year was just a mess. The only guy that produced was Amendola, who had 85 catches for 689 yards and three touchdowns. Amendola is a small, quick, aggressive slot receiver in the Wes Welker mold. He is a solid player.
But what does it say about your football team when Danny Amendola is your best receiver?
It says you need more talent. So where do the Rams go from here? Well, here is a list of the guys who have a legitimate chance to make the team:
Mike Sims-Walker: Picked up as a free agent, he has a lot of talent. He is big (6'2"), strong and he has been productive. He caught 63 passes for 869 yards and seven touchdowns two years ago in Jacksonville. His numbers took a dip last year, but the Jags were awful. With Sam Bradford throwing to him, he could have a huge year.
Mark Clayton: He is not under contract yet, still trying to get his knee healthy. He averaged more than 13 yards per catch last year and seemed to have great chemistry with Bradford before he got hurt. At this point, with so many bodies in camp, he might be on the outside looking in.
Danny Amendola: He is a lock to make the team and will excel in the new offense being installed by Josh McDaniels. This is the same offense he ran in New England with Wes Welker. Amendola had a great season last year as a possession receiver, and I expect him to be a solid player again this season.
Greg Salas: Rookie has shown great potential, especially in the red zone. He is a strong guy with good hands and a good work ethic. I think he has a great chance to make the team.
Donnie Avery: Speedster had 47 catches, 589 yards and five touchdowns catching passes from Marc Bulger. He was the first receiver taken in the 2008 NFL draft, ahead of DeSean Jackson (ouch!) and could be a good player. This might be his last chance in St. Louis.
Austin Pettis: Another rookie in camp, he is about 6'3" and has great hands. He comes from a program (Boise State) known for a strong work ethic, but so far his work ethic has been less than impressive in the Rams' camp. He has a great chance to make the team for this reason alone: Josh McDaniels pulled the trigger to get him drafted. That would give him a slight edge if it is close between him and another player on the cut line.
Brandon Gibson: Gibson is a young guy who has just been inconsistent, especially with dropped passes. His work ethic has been questioned, but he came to camp ready to work. I think he knows he better produce, or else. He had 53 catches for 620 yards and two touchdowns last year. He doesn't have a specific skill that would keep him on the team. He has to have a great camp.
Denario Alexander : Coming out of the University of Missouri, health concerns kept him from being drafted in the first place. Signed as a rookie free agent, he showed flashes of big play ability last year. Injuries slowed him down, but when he did get on the field, he averaged more than 15 yards per reception. He is 6'5" and a legit deep threat. Unlike some other guys on this list, that specific skill might keep him on the team if it's close between him and the next guy.
Mardy Gilyard: Gilyard was a fourth-round pick last year. Despite the Rams spending a pretty high pick on him, and so many other players suffering season-ending injuries, Gilyard barely got on the field. That is not a good sign. Work ethic and professionalism have been questioned with Gilyard. I think he might be looking for work by the end of camp.
The Rams will probably keep six receivers. My money is on Sims-Walker and Avery starting as the outside receivers, with Amendola in the slot. Salas will make the team as the fourth receiver, with Alexander being the fifth receiver, simply because he is a genuine deep threat. The sixth receiver might be a special teams guy, but if all things are equal, I think Pettis could get the nod.
This group, along with an impressive group of young tight ends, a beefed up offensive line and a deeper corps of running backs should lead the Rams to the playoffs this year. If Sam Bradford can stay healthy this could be a 10-win team.