I'm on the record 'round these parts with a pretty bullish outlook for Donnie Avery.
No, I don't think he breaks the 1,000 yard glass ceiling this season, his first in the league, but he has the tools to make an impact sooner rather than later during his time with the Rams. This season the speedy WR figures to see action operating out of the slot, allowing him to use his speed to move down the field and giving Bulger a deep threat. All stuff we've talked about before.
Then I saw this piece at Yahoo! sports, a look at wide receivers, that featured two guys entering their third year in the league after a breakthrough sophomore season, Green Bay's Greg Jennings and Pittsburgh's Santino Holmes. And then a light came on. Both guy compare favorably to Avery, all three are around the 5'11", 190 lbs mark and have a 40 time right around 4.4 seconds. More importantly, all three have similar skill sets and made their impact working mostly out of the slot.
So I went back and looked at their draft profiles (at SI.com because they archive their draft analysis). Had it not been for the photos and the names in big bold letters at the top of the page, it would have been impossible to discern between them. To wit:
Needs to improve his blocking. Not a true downfield threat. Has a thin build and does not present himself as a sturdy receiver.
Not a strong, sturdy receiver, loses out in battles, and easily brought down. Average route-runner with marginal sharpness into breaks.
Below-average blocker. More of a one-speed receiver who does not have a sudden burst.
Holmes, at the time, was considered a little more physical, something that no doubt stemmed from his college career at Ohio State, more of a premier program than Jennings' Western Michigan or Avery's U of Houston.
Jennings and Avery's "positives" read with more similarity: good hands, instinct, speed and work ethic. Jennings was drafted in the second round, 52nd overall, while Holmes went in the first, 25th overall. The Yahoo! piece covers their impressive numbers from last season, but their rookie stats were nothing to sneeze at.
Jennings: 42 rec, 632 yards, 3 TDs, 14 Avg, 6.2 YAC
Holmes: 49 rec, 942 yards, 2 TDs, 16.8 Avg, 7 YAC
Each team featured a well balanced offense, with talented players in the skilled positions, not unlike the Rams heading into the 2008 season. Both players, in their 2006 rookie seasons, played on teams with a clear #1 WR, Donald Driver and Hines Ward, as well as a real threat at running back, in Ahman Green and Willie Parker. Avery joins a Rams team with a dominant #1 WR, Holt, and a game breaking runner in Steven Jackson. Jackson, unlike his counterparts on those two teams, is much more of a double threat, capable of catching 90+ passes and racking up plenty of receiving yards.
The Rams aren't a true spread team anymore, but with the talent available, Saunders will most certainly use plenty of three receiver sets. And we'll see the spread enough to keep us from getting home sick for the good old days. The point I'm making here is that Avery is capable of having a real impact in his rookie year, cementing his role with the future of the team. The precedent's there.