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Too Little Too Late? The Rams Give Bradford a Weapon

Six weeks into the 2011 NFL season and the St. Louis Rams are 4th in the league in passing attempts, but only 22nd in passing yardage. Their leading receivers are Danario Alexander and Brandon Gibson – an underrated pair of WR but neither is a top-end talent. Coming into the pre-season, the Rams seemed to have a glut of “adequate” and “not bad” receivers: Danny Amendola (coming off a 85 catch 2010 season), Donnie Avery (returning from a bad knee injury), 2010 4th rounder Mardy Gilyard, the aforementioned Alexander and Gibson, 2011 draftees Greg Salas and Austin Pettis and notable free agent Mike Sims-Walker was brought in to round out the group.

With that many bodies in camp, it seems that Rams GM Billy Devaney gambled that one of his young receivers could step up and establish himself as a solid #1 target for young franchise QB Sam Bradford. Unfortunately, things could not have played out much worse for the Rams. Gilyard and Avery were cut before the season started, Amendola dislocated his elbow and then tore his triceps, Sims-Walker had consistency problems and was cut today and neither 2011 draftee has performed particularly well. At 0-5 and with Bradford struggling, Devaney decided to make a move (finally) to address his team’s WR problem.

Enter Brandon Lloyd – a great WR to be sure, but almost certainly too little, too late at this juncture. Which raises an interesting question: if Devaney believes that Sam Bradford was good enough to be drafted #1 overall, why not give (or attempt to give) Bradford an elite weapon? Did he believe that Josh McDaniels could turn the Rams menagerie of mediocrity into a high quality unit? Thinking back to last spring, it seems that most mock drafts had the Rams selecting a WR (A.J. Green, Julio Jones or 2nd tier guys like Jon Baldwin, Titus Young, Greg Little or Torrey Smith) or  in the early going. Come draft day, there were even rumors that the Rams were poised to move up into the top 5 to secure one of the elite WR’s. While drafting a WR early is very risky, not providing quality targets to a young QB also comes with risk and can hamper a QB’s development (e.g. Alex Smith).

Unfortunately for the Rams, A.J. Green went 4th overall and Atlanta jumped up (paying a hefty price) to grab Julio Jones. Both of those guys have produced so far (a combined 54 catches for 811 yards and 4 TDs). The Rams, opted to not move up and instead took DE Robert Quinn to address their pass rush problem. In the 2nd round, the Rams selected TE Lance Kendricks 47th overall and passed up on Torrey Smith (58th to Baltimore), Greg Little (59th to Cleveland) and Randall Cobb (64th to Green Bay). They also just missed on Titus Young (45th to Detroit). While it may be unreasonable to suggest that Devaney should have given up a small fortune to get Jones or Green, it is baffling that they chose the Quinn/Kendricks duo over any of the 2nd tier of receivers.

Here are the receivers Devaney has drafted since taking over in 2008:

Avery looked promising before an ACL injury derailed his career, although it was somewhat surprising that the Rams gave up on him so quickly in his recovery effort. Missing badly on Gilyard, the 1st pick of the 4th round in 2010, hurts when you consider two other 4th round receivers from that draft:

It’s tough to blame Devaney for not taking Williams, and it would have been surprising had Williams been on the Rams’ board at all.  Devaney is reportedly a big believer in avoiding players with reported character issues (and Williams may have had more such issues than just about anyone in the last 5 years). Perhaps that explains passing on Little, Baldwin and maybe Titus Young in 2011.  But passing on Ford (who has 4 return TD’s and 2 rushing TD’s) for Gilyard hurts. While Ford may have been viewed as too similar to Donnie Avery (both extremely fast guys who work best outside the hashmarks), Gilyard didn’t present much that the Rams didn’t have already in Gibson, Amendola and Laurent Robinson.

Is Lloyd the answer for Bradford and McDaniels? He is in his 9th season, a FA at the end of the year and comes with some durability concerns. It seems like 2012 would be a great time for the Rams to add an elite WR prospect to their mix, even if they retain Lloyd. Justin Blackmon or Alshon Jeffery would both offer some (potential) help to an offense which seems to be a big-play WR away from being dangerous.

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