Editor's Note: I hope you'll join me in welcoming another of the newest TST crew. Troy Vandenbark comes to us from Ramblin' Fan, so he's taking on not just a bigger audience for his work, but he'll experience just how bonkers we all are about the Rams here at TST! - DouglasM
With the NFL Scouting Combine having been over for a month, and the NFL Draft still over a month away, we have hit something of the doldrums of the NFL calendar year. The Free Agency frenzy has largely come and gone with only a few big name players still searching for new homes in 2014. Most fans have cast an eager eye towards the NFL Draft, and the countless Mock Drafts and Big Boards that will be generated between now and May 8th. In the modern pass happy NFL, a handful of positions garner the most attention leading up to the draft. Those positions being quarterback, offensive tackle, pass rusher, corner back, and wide receiver. Wide receiver is a position which seems to have a high boom or bust factor, with the 2005 NFL Draft showing as a cautionary tale for receiver needy teams.
Over the past few years, teams seem to be getting better at drafting receivers in the first round. This may be attributable to the fact fewer first round receivers are being taken; with an average of only three receivers taken in the first round since the 2010 draft. Another factor may be only four of those receivers were top ten draft choices; less "reaching" for play makers in the draft should result in fewer bust labels being applied to productive players. The position holds significant value for a Rams franchise, with both a rich tradition of great receivers, as well as a recent history of failure to draft the a true "number one receiver". The last St. Louis Rams receiver to break the 1,000 yard barrier was Greatest Show on Turf member Torry Holt during the 2007 season. While Rams fans everywhere are clamoring for Sammy Watkins, the franchise may not be willing to invest the top 5 pick required to secure his services.
It seems like a good idea to take a look at another receiver, with first round talent, who could be had later in the first round should the Rams decide to pass on Watkins. Marqise Lee is the third rated receiver in the 2014 draft according to Mel Kiper Jr. At just under six feet tall and weighing in at 192 pounds, Lee doesn't exactly fit the bill of the prototypical number one NFL receiver. Lee is a player who could benefit from an NFL weight program to add a little bulk to his frame; he also looks faster on tape than his timed 40 would indicate. When you take a look at his highlight reel, make sure to note his ability to separate from defenders using the oft eluded to "extra gear". Lee was highly productive in college because of his elite top end speed and ability to simply run past defenders; something he will find more difficult at the NFL level.
When watching film on Lee, he also shows a very good ability to adjust to the ball in flight; with great body control and a good catch radius. A relatively small build for an NFL receiver will limit his ability to win the "jump ball" situations, especially against the types of corners he would face in the NFC West. He runs very good routes and has exceptional separation ability, although from the footage I've seen his route tree was relatively limited at USC. A few negatives about Lee’s game I noticed in my film review would be his thinner frame making it more difficult for him to avoid press coverage; not to mention the way he carries the ball while running in the open field. Lee will need to work to improve his ball security in the NFL to avoid being the victim of ball hawking safeties and cornerbacks.
Depending on who you are talking to, the Rams are either desperate for a wide receiver to bolster their bottom tier unit, are a developmental step away from their young unit resembling the GSOT, or somewhere in the between making a first round receiver highly appealing.
Regardless of how you feel about the Rams current group of receivers and their potential one thing is certain: the Rams receivers need to translate more of their potential into production in order for them to seriously contend for a playoff spot in 2014. It's part of the problem too; bringing in a first round receiver and expecting them to be the missing piece from a playoff run. Wide receiver is one of the more difficult positions for a player to transition from college to the NFL. The Rams' all-time leading receiver for yards in their rookie season is Eddie Kennison (924 yards) in 1996. Kennison’s rookie season was more of the exception than the rule - both in his NFL career and for first round receivers in general. From 1992 to 2012, Kennison’s rookie season would rank 12th in receiving yards, with only six players breaking the 1,000 yard barrier as rookies. From 1992 to 2012, there were 67 wide receivers taken in the first round of the NFL draft and only four of them eclipsed 1,000 yards as rookies. Not to say a 1,000 yard receiver is the cure all for the Rams offense, but expecting a rookie to be the catalyst for an already very young offensive team may be expecting too much.
In my opinion, the Rams shouldn’t press the issue of drafting a number one wide receiver; instead they should focus on their primary needs of free safety and offensive guard. The Rams defense is on the verge of being among the league’s elite, and the offense is likely to be run heavy - and predictable - as long as Brian Schottenheimer is the offensive coordinator. With the second overall selection from the RGIII trade in hand - as well as their own 13th overall selection - the Rams are in an excellent position to add high impact players at key areas of need. One reason the Rams are so open to the idea of trading the second pick is their primary needs don’t fit the draft value of the second selection. There's also the idea of adding quality talent and/or depth to the roster at lower costs thanks to the new CBA. If the Rams can’t find a suitable trade partner for the second overall choice, I certainly won’t complain if Sammy Watkins is picked. But I am keeping my fingers crossed for a trade of at least one of the Rams first round picks.