I had a great conversation on Twitter yesterday with Mike Clay from Pro Football Focus about the St. Louis Rams wide receiver situation. It all started when he wondered whether or not Brandon Gibson would be on the roster in 2011, if there's a 2011 season. I was a little taken aback by his suggestion. After all, Gibson, just a second-year player in 2010 and his first full season, was the Rams second most reliable option. It's not to say that he wowed on the field, but his 58 percent catch rate was second only to Danny Amendola among the Rams receivers who played a full season. At the very least, the conversation offered a great opportunity to take (another) look at the Rams receiver situation ahead of the 2011 NFL Draft, where they'll likely be adding to that stable of players.
The first question is just how many receivers the Rams will keep on the 53-man roster come September. The most logical guess is six receivers, based on precedent. Last season, the Rams started with six receivers as did Josh McDaniels' Broncos.
Going one-by-one, let's look at the considerations for each player.
2011 draft pick - I think it's a safe bet that the Rams will draft a receiver next month. Where they draft that receiver will have implications on the roster management. Should the stars align and they get Julio Jones, then you can pretty much guarantee a spot among the six for him. That's likely the same with any receiver drafted in rounds 1-4. If the other receivers are healthy, the Rams won't have to stretch to put rookies on the roster. However, putting players on the practice squad leaves them exposed to other teams. For now, reserve a spot for a draft pick.
Donnie Avery - Nobody on the roster has as much to prove this year as Avery, after missing what should have been his third season in the league and the chance to finally play with stability and talent at the QB spot. He's making good progress in his recovery and will be ready to test a tougher, NFL-shape body once the offseason starts. The biggest question for Avery is whether or not he still has his speed. Hopefully he does, because it could be a real asset in the Rams offense. Pencil him in for a spot.
Mark Clayton - Close to a deal before the lockout started, the Rams and Clayton will reunite this season. He's not yet fully recovered, but should be by the time camp rolls around at the end of July. He'll have to prove he's healthy, but the Rams like his veteran leadership, connection with Sam Bradford and the all-around four pillars guy that he is. Obviously, he makes the cut.
So that's three receivers, unless they opt not to draft one, which could happen.
Danario Alexander - Five knee surgeries, but all kinds of talent. If Alexander can stay healthy and get a fresh start this year, he's probably better than many of the receivers available in the 2011 NFL Draft. Unless his left knee was bionically rebuilt, can the Rams really count on three more years from the guy? More importantly, can the Rams count on him for three more years and avoid drafting a receiver this year? I don't it. He proved what a difference maker he can be a couple times last season, and that will be enough to earn him another shot, a restart so to speak. Give him the fourth spot.
Danny Amendola - Is there really anything to say about Amendola? Have we not heaped enough praise on the guy? If he didn't earn a roster spot this year, the earth will have jumped its axis.
That's five receivers. One more spot to fill.
Brandon Gibson - Sapgnuolo spoke very highly of Gibson in the PD article linked in the Donnie Avery blurb, nothing that he really improved his practice field approach and game day results. He deserves another shot, but it could be a tough case depending on what direction the Rams go in the draft.
Mardy Gilyard - I don't think his roster spot is as safe as some do. If he fails to show some improvement in practice this year, the Rams will most likely part ways. Still, he had a raw deal as a rookie, missing spring practices because of a funky NFL rule, then dealing with injuries that limited his exposure to a playbook he had trouble grasping. Now he has to learn a new playbook...that's a tough spot. The hard reality is that the Rams will likely find a better receiver in the second or third rounds this year, someone like North Carolina's Greg Little or Indiana's Tandon Doss.
Laurent Robinson - Assuming the court grants the injunction and the league reverts to the no-cap rules of 2010, Robinson will be back with the Rams who tendered him an offer. That doesn't mean Robinson will make the final cut, but he could have one more chance in training camp. He's nothing more than insurance right now for a group of receivers with more to show in medical reports than the stat sheet.
Dominique Curry - He made the team out of camp last year, but mostly because of his special teams contributions. That won't be as needed with the rule changes. Has practice squad eligibility.
Brandon McRae - A practice squad receiver who had a nice training camp, but never made it into an NFL game.
Gibson seems like the most likely of the bunch to earn the sixth roster spot at WR. But it's no guarantee. Much of who makes the final cut depends heavily on what the Rams do in the draft. If they do draft a WR, that player's skill set will also factor into the decision for the final roster spot.