Return of the chosen one ...
The St. Louis Rams 2011 season was a failure. The offense, if you want to call it that, was horrible. The best thing the Rams offense did was play poorly enough to get the second pick in the NFL Draft, and we will see what the team can do with the "bounty" they gained from the Redskins.
If the Rams want to avoid a repeat of last season they have to improve their offense. Sam Bradford needs all the help he can get this season. Talk about growing pains, he's on his third offensive coordinator, got sacked a million and one times last season, and he's still recovering from his ankle injury.
So I'm pretty sure that Sam will take what he can get it, whether it's rookies or vets, but he doesn't have to look far for reliable weapons. There are question marks throughout the Rams roster, but there are three players that will help Sam.
More on those three players after the jump.
A few years ago, it was a bad thing to be called a slot receiver, but thanks to the development of players like Wes Welker and now to a certain extent, the Rams' own Danny Amendola, the slot has become more important. You can even count Tight Ends as slot receivers (I did), teams will do whatever it takes to get an advantage over the opposing team.
Slot receivers are really important to the Rams, because of their lack of great players on the outside. These three players will be Sam's safety nets while he gets used to the new system. Hopefully the success of the slot receivers will make coverage on the outside players looser, giving them an easier time getting open.
While I was planning on writing this article, I found this one on slot recievers from Pro Football Focus. This article helped me break these players into three catagories (more on that later), I will also take some quotes from the article.
First up, we have Danny Amendola who is probably the best wide receiver on the roster. PFF, says that Amendola is part of the quick, shifty guy group, aka the "welkers".
This is the receiver you picture in the slot. The quick, shifty guy is difficult to cover because of the "two-way go" and he is dangerous when he gets the ball in his hands. This prototype excels at ins, outs, drags and spot routes, along with the occasional bubble screen to pick up yards after the catch. Many of these smaller receivers only play in 3-WR formations, though the really good ones find themselves on the field in base packages as well.
Amendola had a solid 2010 season, but last year he suffered an season-ending injury in the first game of the season. This year he will most likely start back where he left off, as Sam's most reliable target.
Last season was a disaster for St. Louis Rams QB Sam Bradford, and while the offensive line should assume much of the blame, one can also point to the season-ending injury to Danny Amendola as another reason for Bradford’s struggles. Like Welker, Amendola is proficient in the short passing game and Bradford used him often during his rookie season as he lead the league with 102 slot targets in 2010.
The biggest knock on Amendola is his lack of yards after catch. I would say that the main reason for his lack of yards after catch is that with all the coverage focusing on him, he just couldn't get much. I'm guessing it's hard to do much in the middle being the number one target and dealing with eight in the box.
Next we have Greg Salas, a player that I'm really high on. I would place Sala in the strong, possession guys category, aka "The Boldins"
Here we see almost a hybrid of the first two prototypes. The strong, possession guy is capable of stretching the field, but he excels on short passes where he can break tackles. He is more of a power runner compared to the elusiveness of the Welkers, and also uses his strength and body positioning similar to the Colstons. It’s no mistake that a number of players in this mold have experience playing other positions in high school or college, particularly ones where they have the ball in their hands.
The first thing that comes to mind is the Giants game in Week 2. He had a terrible receiving game and return game game. However, it was his first time starting, and he didn't have much experience returning kicks prior to that game. I'm sure most players would have had a poor performance.
Greg is a baller. He stepped up after that game, and it looked like he would be a good slot option, until he broke his fibula. The last four games Salas played, he racked up 22 receptions. Although it's still early, it looks like he has better yards after catch ability then Amendola. Salas finished the season with 35 targets, 27 receptions, 264 yards, and just 4 drops.
Next you have the player that everyone thought would be a superstar in his rookie year, Lance Kendricks. As you can guess, he is part of the tight end group.
This is the position that keeps defensive coordinators up at night. The best tight ends represent a combination of the aforementioned slot prototypes, while providing the ability to run block and also line up at a number of positions such as inline tight end, h-back, fullback or wide receiver. We often hear about the NFL being a "copycat league" and the recent success of the Patriots’ tight end combination of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez has teams scrambling to stock up on versatile athletes who fit their mold.
Kendricks is one of those players who is a "jack of all trades." He is not only a very good blocker, but also a good receiving option, when he catches the ball. Therein lies Kendricks' biggest problem: he can get open, but he doesn't come down with the ball often enough.
My biggest fear was the fact that the Rams were relying on Kendrick's being this great tight end right off the bat, but like every rookie he was going to have growing pains.
He's supposed to be a good pass catcher, so I'm sure we can say that last year had more to do with the fact that he was a rookie and everyone had unrealistic expectations for him. Kendricks was targeted 53 times, had 28 receptions, 352 yards, and nine drops.
These three players will be essential to Sam Bradford's success, and therefore the success of the entire offense. Whether they are on the field at the same time or not, these players will need to be Bradford's safety net, as he gains confidence in his players and the offense.
Also, for those wondering about Austin Pettis, I don't consider him a slot receiver. I see him moving to the outside and competing with Brandon Gibson and Brian Quick, especially with Steve Smith now trying to make the team.