Each weekday from now until Rams rookies report to training camp on July 21st, we’ll be profiling a Rams position group. Today we look at the wide receivers.
Despite all the effort they’ve put into improving at the position over the past several years, the St. Louis Rams’ wide receiver position is undoubtedly the biggest question mark going into 2014. There’s potential for it to be a highly talented corps, but at the same time none of the wideouts currently on the Rams’ roster did anything to prove themselves as elite in 2013.
The lone veteran addition this offseason was former first-rounder Kenny Britt, who played for the Tennessee Titans from 2009 to 2013. The 6-foot-3, 223-pounder has loads of athletic ability, and at times he’s really been able to take advantage of that. He had the best year of his career in 2010, catching 42 passes for 775 yards and nine touchdowns. Unfortunately, off-the-field incidents have destroyed Britt’s reputation; he’s been involved in nine incidents with the police since he came into the league, and since signing with the Rams he’s had an Instagram sex tape scandal and a fight with cornerback Trumaine Johnson on the first day of OTAs. Britt didn’t exactly do a whole lot to cement his reputation on the field either in 2013, starting just three games and catching 11 passes for 96 yards.
There have been positive reports on the 25-year-old during OTAs, however, and if he keeps up that progress and gets his mind right, he has plenty of potential to be a serious contributor to the Rams’ offense. It’d be rather easy for him to break into the starting lineup, and if he can do that he would be a quality matchup for the big, physical cornerbacks of the NFC West such as Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson.
Chris Givens also needs to have a bounce-back year after regressing significantly in 2013. After racking up 698 receiving yards on 42 catches as a rookie and setting a rookie record with catches of over 50 yards in five straight games, Givens came into the year with plenty of talk that he was ready to break out and become a legitimate number one option. Despite having the most receiving yards of any Rams wideout in 2013, he vastly disappointed those believers, finishing with 34 catches for 569 yards and no touchdowns. If Givens can’t show improvement during training camp this year, there’s no reason that he should be guaranteed a starting spot heading into the regular season.
Obviously, the Rams want to get more of an impact out of 2013 eighth-overall pick Tavon Austin, who had some nice flashes as a rookie but didn’t really take off. The 5-foot-8, 176-pounder caught 40 passes for 418 yards and four touchdowns, added another 151 yards and a touchdown over nine attempts on the ground, and gained 678 yards off punt and kick returns while scoring a punt return touchdown. He suffered an ankle injury in the Rams’ Week 13 contest against the Arizona Cardinals that went on to end his season.
Because of his lack of size and physicality, Austin isn’t going to develop into a legitimate number one wideout, but he’s a great weapon that can be utilized in all facets of the game. If the Rams can find spots for him to contribute in 2014, which they struggled to do early on in his rookie year, he can definitely have an impact on the offense while also being an asset in the return game. That’s assuming, of course, that Austin can protect his small body and stay on the field.
More than anyone, third-year wideout Brian Quick needs to prove himself in 2014. After being the 33rd-overall pick out of Appalachian State in 2012, Quick has been a total disappointment over his first two years, dealing with developmental issues that have prevented him from getting on the field. He has just 29 receptions for 458 yards over those two seasons. If anything, he’s been a decent endzone target catching two touchdown passes in each of his first two years.
This year could be Quick’s year, however. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer called Quick the Rams’ most improved offensive player during OTAs, and he got more reps with the first team offense. With that said, it looked like he was making great progress at this time last year, too. Quick needs to show that it’s for real this season if he wants to guarantee himself a roster spot for 2014.
Beyond those four, who are relatively safe in their positions, it’s a battle for any remaining roster spots on the Rams’ opening day roster. 2013 third-rounder Stedman Bailey received a drug suspension which will keep him out for the the first four games, an especially frustrating development considering Bailey’s late season progress as a rookie. After being limited to special teams for the most part during the Rams’ first ten contests, Bailey caught 16 passes for 214 yards over the final six games of the season. He’d established himself as perhaps the Rams’ most consistent wideout. But with this development, he’ll have to prove that he deserves to return following the ban. For what it’s worth, all reports indicate that Bailey performed extremely well during OTAs.
Austin Pettis, the longest tenured Ram in the receiving corps, would seem to have a pretty good chance at making the roster again in 2014. However, he saw his action steadily decrease after opening 2013 as a starter, and he may be falling out of favor after three seasons of rather underwhelming production. With that said, Pettis has been one of Sam Bradford’s go-to guys when the quarterback has been in the lineup, so it’s possible that he could bounce back now that Bradford is healthy once again.
Young wideouts Justin Veltung and Emory Blake return to the fold in 2014 after spending the majority of their respective rookie years on the practice squad. Veltung was called up to the active roster for the Rams’ last three games after Tavon Austin got hurt, and he returned seven punts for 61 yards. At just 5-foot-11 and 182 pounds, however, Veltung will need to put together a strong showing in training camp to be able to stick with the program. The same goes for Blake, though he has some developmental potential and may be a guy who sticks on the practice squad again this year.
St. Louis native and former University of Missouri star T.J. Moe signed with the Rams this offseason and will also push for a spot on the roster or practice squad. Moe, who was on the New England Patriots’ injured reserve as a rookie in 2013, might have an edge, at least while Bailey is suspended, because of his ability to effectively play the slot and contribute on special teams. At the very least, he’ll be a popular attraction during training camp for fans that have fond memories of him as a college player.
Finally, the Rams have four undrafted rookies who will try to win spots in camp: New Mexico State’s Austin Franklin, East Texas Baptist’s Jamaine Sherman, Bryant University’s Jordan Harris, and McNeese State’s Diontae Spencer. Franklin, a 5-foot-11, 189-pounder with good speed, probably has the best chance to stick, considering that he received a $17,500 bonus upon signing with the Rams. At the very least, that investment will get him strong practice squad consideration. Spencer may also be a player of intrigue if the Rams want to limit Austin’s exposure on kick or punt returns. The 5-foot-9, 161-pounder ran times in the 4.2’s at his pro day, and his college production was fantastic as well. Spencer scored three return touchdowns in a game against Stephen F. Austin last November.
Sherman and Harris came from small schools, so they’re not household names. They’re both 6-foot-2 with athletic frames, though, and they could be guys who prove themselves as NFL players during training camp. With as many as three possible openings for new receivers on the Rams’ initial 53-man roster, it would be foolish to rule anyone out of the competition before giving them a fair chance on the field.