Ever since losing Torry Holt in 2009, there has been no position on the Rams' roster that has had a more glaring hole than wide receiver. The previous couple of regimes have tried to fill this need through mid-level free agent talent (Drew Bennett, Mike Sims-Walker) and mid-round draft picks (Keenan Burton, Brooks Foster). Both attempts have failed miserably and left the Rams with one of if not the weakest receiving corps in the league. Our new front office seems to acknowledge this talent-deficient group and seems intent on surrounding our $76 million quarterback with someone with the ability to catch a forward pass.
What I wanted to do here is to break down the current group of receivers that the Rams have on roster and, with the addition of our newest batch of draft picks, see who is most likely to make the 2012 final roster and beyond.
Fisher and Snead have brought him in to be the #1 receiver of the future spending a second round pick on him this year. Although he has all the measurables and excellent hands that you look for in a wideout, with his quality of opposition at Appalachian St., there will be a learning curve in the NFL. Comparisons to Terrell Owens may be warranted but temper your expectations for year one. He is still a bit of a project.
Chance of making the final roster: 100%
The Rams fourth round pick this year that was a second round talent. At 5'11" and 198 pounds, he is the quintessential slot receiver and he'll provide the deep threat that the Rams have sorely lacked for years. Being a rookie, he will also be a project and instant results are not guaranteed. But being as this regime actually drafted him, he's as close to a lock on the roster as you can be without your name being Brian Quick.
Chance of making the final roster: 99%
Amendola was the lone bright spot for the Rams' receiving corp and Bradford's main target in 2010 but injuries ended last years' campaign before it ever got started. He would typically be a lock but he's in the final year of his contract and there were rumors of other teams (ie New England) being interested in his services this offseason. A fan-favorite and gritty competitor, he's the kind of player that the Rams should want to lock up for the long-term after this season. But once again, the new regime may want to bring in their own guys and there will be other interested parties in Danny after the season. Amendola seems to be limited to the slot as well. And with Givens, Salas and Smith also able to fill that role, he's not as much of a lock as we would typically think.
Chance of making the final roster: 93%
Salas made 27 catches for 264 yards in only 6 games of action last season before a broken leg sidelined him for the remainder of the season. He had 22 catches for 216 yards in his final 4 games showing that he was making progress and learning as the season was going which is exactly what you want to see from a rookie with no offseason to learn his new system. Most people want to limit Salas as a slot receiver only but at 6'1" 209 lbs, he's taller and bigger than a number of receivers that can play on the outside. He'll have an entire offseason to learn the new offensive system and if he continues to take the strides that he was making last season when he got injured, he should be a solid contributer this season for the Rams.
Chance of making the final roster: 86%
I think that the above four players are as close to a sure-thing to make the Rams' final roster this year as we have. We've typically started the season with 6 receivers so the remaining players are who I think will be competing for the final two spots.
Smith was a free-agent signing by this front office which should improve his chances of making the final roster. However, he was signed as a relatively low-risk, high-reward one-year "prove it" contract. When healthy, Smith is a pro-bowl caliber receiver being just two-years removed from a 1200+ yard season. The key there, as with most Ram receivers, is the "when healthy" tag that accompanies him. Injuries have derailed his past two seasons where he's ended each one on the injured reserve. Smith has almost identical height and weight as Chris Givens and is ideally a slot receiver but his experience could allow the flexibility to play outside as well. If he's proven to be healthy, Smith will almost certainly make the team. Let's keep our fingers crossed that he is.
Chance of making the final roster: 64%
Of the remaining receiving options, Alexander has the highest ceiling of them all. He has prototypical #1 WR height and weight. He has improving hands, big-play ability and a great red-zone target. Plus, he's going into his third year as a professional which is when many project that "break-out" season. However, he has the lowest floor as well. After 5 knee surgeries, he's always an injury risk to not even see the field. He was active for 10 games last season and 8 the year before. With the wear and tear on his knee, he will probably never be able to be a full-time contributer and will always have to have his practice and playing time limited.
Chance of making the final roster: 41%
Although he was active for 14 of the 16 games last season, Pettis only accumulated stats similar to what Greg Salas did in 6 games (27 catches, 256 yds, 0 tds). He struggled mightily as a punt returner, had issues with drops, had difficulty grasping the playbook and was suspended at the end of the season for performance-enhancing drug use - a suspension that will continue the first two games of 2012. None of those things bode well for Pettis. But he was still just a rookie and has plenty of room to grow. He may have just been a victim of having no offseason training camp to learn the system and how to adjust to life in the NFL. Typically, third round picks get an extra chance or two that late-round selections may not be afforded but now he's working with a staff that didn't draft him. He'll be on the bubble and will need a solid training camp to prove that he deserves another shot.
Chance of making the final roster: 39%
Gibson was supposed to be receiver #1B last year after a solid preseason. But after Amendola went down with injury, Gibson never stepped up. He seems to have reached his potential as a wide receiver in the NFL - which is basically a depth player. He has the lowest floor of those on the bubble because you know exactly what you're getting with him. But he also has the lowest ceiling because, unfortunately now, you know exactly what you're getting with him. Plus, he reached playing-time incentives from his rookie contract signed with the Philadelphia Eagles making his 2012 salary over $1 million. Unless he has a monster preseason to impress Fisher, he likely won't make the final roster.
Chance of making the final roster: 22%
Chance of making the final roster: 9%
Of course, there's still the chance that Fisher and Snead look to free agency to bring in someone else to compete for a roster spot. Rumors still swirl about the possiblity of Braylon Edwards and Plaxico Burress - both of whom have experience in playing for Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's system with the Jets.