Broncos wide receiver Brandon Llyod emerged from the shadows last year to become the NFL's top wide receiver. I doubt even the most optimistic Orange-clad cultist would have seen that coming. The one person who did the potential was Josh McDaniels, then the head coach in Denver and entering his first season of image rehab as the St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator.
McDaniels didn't just happen upon Lloyd in Denver either. He had his eye on receiver back when he was still at the University of Illinois; McDaniels even ran his pro day workout, hoping New England would draft him. Instead, the 49ers scooped him up in the fourth round in 2003. Pro Football Focus has an interview with Lloyd out today. Here's what he says about McDaniels, whom he credits for turning his career around last year:
It was having Josh McDaniels believe in my athletic ability. He told me when I signed with Denver that he wanted me when he was in New England. He actually ran my pro day at the University of Illinois and he wanted to draft me then, but they didn't do it. He had been following me my entire career and he said to me, "if you play anywhere remotely close to the way you played your last year in San Francisco, you'll be a star this year." The remarkable thing about the last football season to me is that nobody came out and said, "Brandon Lloyd is the go-to guy. He's our Andre Johnson. He's our Larry Fitzgerald. He's our #1 WR." Nobody ever came out and said that. The other factor is Kyle Orton chose to throw me the ball. Out of all the receivers our there, he chose to throw me the ball. He believed I was going to make the plays for him. He trusted that I was going to get open and be open week in and week out.
Ok, enough about Brandon Lloyd. The question running through my head as I read this: what can McDaniels do for the Rams wide receivers?
I still Donnie Avery as the primary beneficiary of McDaniels influence...if he can stay healthy. Lloyd and Avery are somewhat similar players. Lloyd saw 27 percent of his total targets beyond 20 yards from the line of scrimmage, where I would expect Avery to see his fair share of targets. But there will be plenty of balls to go around in this offense, especially with two tight ends in the mix now. That should also work in Avery's favor taking away the attention of defenders.
However, there are others just as capable of seeing a career renaissance under McDaniels. Mark Clayton was on his way to one last year before tearing his patellar tendon.
McDaniels' draft picks should also be licking their chops at the opportunity they have, especially with a QB like Sam Bradford, who is no Kyle Orton. Since they're just rookies, it's a little soon to talk about a career renaissance.