Can Keenan Burton replace Drew Bennett?

Still basking in the glow of the Rams win this weekend? Yeah, me too, but it's important not to overlook the fact that it was, after all, a preseason game. There was a lot to like about it though, but the night didn't end without a few red flags going up.

Drew Bennett played just one drive before leaving with a groin injury. He only needed one drive though to elicit even more groans and signs from fans and pundits alike. When the first pass of the game was thrown his way, Bennett missed it, easily defended by Ravens backup CB Frank Walker. A second pass came Bennett's way late on the drive and sailed by. Two pass attempts this week added to performances from the previous two weeks made it perfectly clear that Bennett is struggling with this offense. Whether it's his timing with Bulger or learning the playbook - I suspect a little of both - he's not right. Here's ESPN's Mike Sando:

Bulger and Bennett still aren't on the same page. They weren't close to connecting on this quick first-and-10 pass attempt toward the right sideline.

Bennett has a lots of pressure on him to perform this season after signing a big free agent contract last year and having a bust of a season, along with the rest of the Rams. He did have injury issues limiting him last year too.

Keenan Burton has the stuff to do what Bennett does as the number two receiver. Burton also has had a much better preseason than Bennett. Burton has 5 receptions for 74 yards and a TD to Bennett's 4 catches for 34 yards. Now, which one do you think has had more balls thrown his way too? As with all things preseason, take the numbers with a grain of salt, but the rookie Burton looks far more comfortable in this offense than the veteran Bennett. That much we do know.

Burton's fast and the size and physical style to play in tight coverage, a la his TD on Saturday. You'll recall, that's the kind of thing the Rams brought Bennett here to do. Burton lacks Bennett's height - 6' versus 6'5" - but bests him on speed, which combined with his rough and tumble style of play should make him more valuable in getting those all important yards after catch.

Going against Burton right now is the fact that he is a rookie, and rookie receivers can struggle to pick up the pro game. Conventional wisdom says three years for wide receivers to develop, but there are plenty of exceptions. In a previous look at Burton, one of his strengths is his ability to pick up the game. But, let's look at some of his comparables.

  • James Jones, GB - Jones profiles very similar to Burton, and the Packers' 3rd rounder used an impressive preseason to earn playing time. Now, he was playing with Brett Favre, so weight that factor as you will. As a rookie, Jones played in 16 games, started 9, and made 47 catches for 676 yards and 2 TDs.
  • Arnaz Battle, SF - Battle played some pretty crappy 49ers teams to start his career, which began mostly as a returned, until his 3rd season in league. In his first year of regular work at WR, he made 32 catches for 363 yards and 3 TDs.
  • Hines Ward, PIT - Starting out as the 4th WR on the depth chart on a team with Kordell Stewart as your QB isn't a great way to begin a career. Ward had 15 catches for 246 yards in 1998. During his second season, he really came into his own as a starter, on a 6-7 team with QB troubles he made 61 catches, tied for the lead, 648 yards and 7 TDs, the team leader.
  • T.J. Houshmandzadeh, CIN - John Kitna threw 12 TDs and 22 INTs. Housh and fellow rookie Ohco Cinco, then known as Chad Johnson, were pretty far down the depth chart. Housh made 21 recpetions for 228 yards. His next season he had 41 receptions for 492 yards and 1 TD, on a two win team that used three QBs. He missed the next season, but in his 3rd full season, he had 73 rec, 978 yards and 4 TDs.

This Rams team is certainly more stable than the team the last three comparables made their debuts with. I say that realizing things could change with one unlucky snap. Burton certainly has the chance to emerge here. And if Bennett continues to struggle, Burton's ascendency could be accelerated. As impressive as Donnie Avery was in his debut this weekend, Burton's the one to keep an eye on. And Drew Bennett should keep an especially keen eye on him.

LATE UPDATE: I want to extend a welcome the UK fans stopping by to read about a former Wildcat who is sure to become an NFL standout. Burton's rapidly becoming a Rams fan favorite, and I suspect he'll give us a lot more as the season goes on. Anyway, be sure to register and jump in on the ongoing Burton-mania through the rest of the season. We'd love to hear what you've got say about Burton having seen him play much more than Rams fans have. There's plenty more UK talk over at A Sea of Blue too.

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