St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford And His 2013 Targets

Kevin Casey

St. Louis Rams Quarterback - Sam Bradford - was given a few new weapons heading into the 2013 season. So how’s he going to use them all?

The St. Louis Rams seemingly have a new cast of wide receivers each season. The revolving door used to welcome the new - and oust the old - has been in constant motion for longer than the organization [and it’s fans] would prefer.

Players like Donnie Avery, Laurent Robinson, Danario Alexander, Mike Sims-Walker, and Mardy Gilyard are just a few names on a long list of wideouts who simply didn’t pan out; whether it be for production or health concerns. And whether they were [un]drafted or acquired via trade/free agency, their stat lines typically matched their stay in St. Louis: short.

2013 will not be an exception in the ’new faces in new places’ movement for the Rams. There’s a different sense of comfort with the corps of wide receivers heading into the upcoming season, though. ‘Promising’ might be the most fitting way to describe the outlook, but ‘Experienced’ they are not.

The Rams ‘veteran’ receiver is Austin Pettis (24), who was drafted in 2011. With the exodus of Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson this past March, the Rams were left with only Pettis and two of 2012’s rookie class - Brian Quick and Chris Givens - on the roster. Each brings something different to the field, but three WR’s certainly wasn’t going to round out the depth chart.

Re-uniting with the coach who had originally drafted him, the Rams signed TE Jared Cook this offseason, and it wasn’t in an effort to bolster the Rams’ ability to run/pass block. Cook has the size and speed to create mismatches, oftentimes lines up in the slot, and will certainly be utilized as a receiving option for Sam Bradford.

It was clear, though, that GM Les Snead and Jeff Fisher weren’t done addressing the need for dynamic play-makers who can make something special happen with the ball in their hands. The Rams surprised their fans in April’s draft when they traded up to the 8th overall spot [w/ Bills] to select one of the nation’s most electric play-makers in Tavon Austin. Potentially more surprising, was when they double-dipped in the WVU receiver pool by drafting fellow Mountaineer Stedman Bailey in the 3rd round. Raise your hands if you thought the Rams would’ve taken two wide-outs from the same school in the draft. That’s what I thought…

And though the general consensus is that the Rams were wise to bring in Cook, Austin, and Bailey [and allow Amendola, Gibson, and Steve Smith to walk], there are no certainties that immediate production value will be realized. Brian Quick is a prime example. Quick - drafted 33rd overall in 2012 - didn’t provide the numbers that his draft selection would’ve lead you to believe. The good news, though, is that Quick is healthy, every bit of 6’4" and primed for a breakout in his sophomore season.

There are certainly a lot of questions to ponder in regards to how [and how often] each of the Rams WR’s/TE’s are going to be utilized in the offense in 2013. Chris Givens not only lead the team in receiving yards last season, but showed that he can be a legitimate deep threat in the NFL, having caught five passes over 50 yard - in consecutive games. Quick is still the Rams tallest WR, and clearly a viable option in red zone situations. Jared Cook spent a healthy amount of time lining up in the slot while with the Titans. He seemed a likely fit as a replacement for Amendola. But where do the Rams intend on lining up Tavon Austin? Stedman Bailey?

A good looking bunch, no? If you haven’t taken a moment to do so, please do. The Rams now have a youthful group of receivers who provide flexibility and versatility to the passing attack. Seeing how Bradford and the coaching staff intends on using each of their skill sets is going to be interesting. More so, how do they intend on ‘spreading the love’?

Targeting the Mountaineers

Mountaineers [now Jets] QB Geno Smith threw for 4,205 yards in 2012, targeting his receivers 518 times. It’s no secret Austin and Bailey were the first receivers Geno looked for in his progressions. Statistically though, it’s pretty startling just how often he targeted each. It should be noted that there were nine wideouts on the Mountaineers roster…

Target %
Tavon Austin
Stedman Bailey

Roughly 47% of the time, Geno aimed at the now-Rams receivers. Who could blame him? The duo accounted for 2,911 of Smith’s 4,205 total passing yards, and 37 of his 44 touchdowns.

Earlier I hinted at how a big body such as Brian Quick or Jared Cook are the ideal red zone targets for Sam Bradford. That opinion would disappoint Stedman Bailey… who lead the Nation in Red Zone Targets-to-TD ratio. Bailey was targeted 24 times in the red zone in 2012, and scored on 14 of those plays (58%). In comparison, Tavon was targeted a mere twelve times, scoring on four (33%).

In a league where a WR’s size continues to gain value by coaches and scouts, 5’10" Stedman Bailey seems to find ways to celebrate in the end zone.

Targeting the Former Titan

The three-headed passing attack in Tennessee [Jake Locker, Matt Hasselbeck, & Rusty Smith] targeted their fellow Titans 540 times in 2012. Jared Cook - who played in only 13 of the team’s games - was the intended receiver on 72 of those plays (13.3%).

Jared Cook
Target %

It would appear there should be no concern with Cook’s selfish desire to be a large part of the Rams’ passing game. Or is there? In October of 2012, rumors began to swirl that he’d asked the Titans to trade him.

To be fair, every NFL receiver wants the ball in their hands. At a glance, the Tight End was rarely in a position to see that realized. Through the first eight games of 2012, Cook played in less than 50% of the team’s snaps and rarely was targeted. Less than six months later, he’s playing for Jeff Fisher again.

Do you hear that Sam Bradford? You’ve got a TE who’s hungry for the ball. Do you intend on targeting him on more than 13.3% of your passes?
Only one [remaining] Rams wideout from 2012 was targeted more often than Cook was for the Titans…

Targeting Familiar Faces

If the Rams strategy was to replace it’s highest targeted players from 2012 with the most frequently targeted players from West Virginia University, then all is going according to plan. Sam Bradford’s safety blanket [Amendola] is now a Patriot, and his next favorite target [Gibson] took his talents to South Beach.

Just how do Bradford’s 557 targets from the past season break down amongst his intended receivers? [note: this does not cover all of his targets]

Target %
Danny Amendola*
Brandon Gibson*
Chris Givens
Steven Jackson*
Austin Pettis
Brian Quick
* denotes a player no longer on the team

One thing you can be certain about is Bradford having a new favorite target in 2013. More indefinite - and intriguing - is who Bradford will throw to in crunch time. At this point, Chris Givens is probably the only receiver on the roster that has shown the reliability that every signal-caller desires.

Lance Kendricks displayed better hands last season, but a shaky offensive line forced him to utilize his blocking skills more often than not. The addition of Cook - whose ability to run/pass block are nothing to rave about - could potentially cut into Kendricks share of looks.

And if Sam simply decides that he’ll keep things status quo with 557 passes, he can utilize his pass-catchers [old and new] in the exact same fashion they were used in 2012 and account for 99.4% of all of his targets. I’m not sure that Brian Quick or Jared Cook would be too thrilled with the result, but Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey would see the ball thrown their way 137 and 123 times, respectively. When was the last time the Rams had two Pro Bowl receivers again?

It’s fair to assume that Austin and Bailey are not going to see that kind of production in their rookie campaigns; not to say that they cannot find success. If Brian Quick can finish the season with stats similar to those of his rookie counterpart [Givens] from 2012, the organization and it’s fans would have to be encouraged. And by all accounts, the Rams offensive line should be much improved [if healthy] this season. That should provide both Cook and Kendricks the opportunity to create mismatches against the opposition’s defense, and hopefully catch Bradford’s eye when open.

Regardless of how often they’re called upon, the Rams passing attack is going to look very different in 2013. Though uncertain, it’s going to be very interesting to see how each of the aforementioned receiving threats are utilized in the offense. It’s refreshing to see the plethora of weapons the organization has provided Sam Bradford.

We’ll have to wait and see how he chooses to target them.

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