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Rams position review: wide receivers

It's difficult to remember the Rams wide receivers doing anything this year as many fits and starts as the offense had. That's why I had to do a double take when read Holt's stats for this season: 93 receptions, 1,89 yards, 7 TDs

Not his best season, but respectable enough to get him a Pro Bowl appearance. Not bad for a guy with a shaky knee. Bruce's may be the big issue this season, but Holt's will be the big issue next season...2009 is his last year under contract with the Rams.

Isaac Bruce might have had a really good year, but when the quarterback gets sacked 35 times a game...well, it's a wonder he had passes to catch at all. Still, he had 55 catches, 733 yards and 4 TDs. The only player on the team that played for the Los Angeles Rams - in 1994, his rookie season - Bruce has become the face of the franchise, not to mention he's one of the classiest guys in the league. More on the contracts in a bit.

Drew Bennett turned into the pricey free agent pick up that everyone forgot about. Bennett had his worst season since his rookie year in 2001. Injuries and the team's offensive woes hobbled his first season in St. Louis; he had just 33 receptions, 375 yards and 3 TDs.

No other receiver (not including TEs and RBs) had more than 8 receptions this season, and let's face it, in terms of wide receivers, the Rams live and die by these three. Here are their stats from Football Outsiders. Quick note, I'm using DPAR (Defense-adjusted Points Above Replacement. This number represents the total number of points scored due to plays where this WR caught the ball, compared to a replacement-level WR in the same game situations) and DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. This number represents value, per play, over an average WR in the same game situations). DPAR offers a look at a player's total value and DVOA looks at value per play.

DPAR: 28.0 (9th in the league)
DVOA: 13.2% (25th best in the league)

DPAR: 12.2 (46th)
DVOA: 3.7% (49th)

DPAR: -3.3 (78th)
DVOA: -21.5% (77th)

Obviously, the sorry state of the Rams offense this year had a big impact on each receiver's stats. Bennett, however, had a catch percentage of just 45%, which corresponds to the negative value shown for him in each statistic.

Questions for 2008:

Holt: The beauty of a guy like Holt is his consistency. If you were only looking at his individual stats, you might be tricked into thinking the Rams offense was a high flying as expected. The biggest question for 2008 in regards to Holt is can he stay healthy for a full season? He started every game this season, and hasn't missed one since 2005 (when he missed two). However, he'll be 32 by the time the season starts, so it's logical to wonder whether or not he can continue to start 16 games. Here's his cap value info:

  1. $9.205 million
  2. $10.205 million
Bruce: What do the Rams do with his contract? Coming off a 3 win season and with a number of core players age 30 or older, the Rams don't have the luxury of rebuilding. It's win now for Linehan et al. And the team had several needs to address before next August and needs to squeeze every available penny they can meet these needs. The team either has to work with Bruce to restructure his contract, which pays him $5 million this season, or cut one of the more popular players on the team. Cutting Bruce also leaves the Rams with a void for their 3rd WR, that they'd have to fill via free agency (or the first round of the draft) for the replacement to have an immediate impact. There's hope that with Al Saunders back, who Holt and Bruce have worked with before in STL, that Bruce will willingly revamp his contract and work out a deal that takes him to retirement in the blue and gold.
Cap value - 2008: $5.333 million

Bennett: Can Bennett play like he used to? Can he be the jump ball grabbing, tough as nails slot receiver the team wanted when they signed him last spring? There's every reason to think that he can. With a few months to recuperate and a rejuvenated (hopefully) offense, free of Linehan tampering, under Al Saunders, Bennett should be expected to play like a valued #2 receiver this season. Here's his cap info:

  1. $4.5 million
  2. $5.05 million
  3. $5.45 million
  4. $5.75 million
  5. $5.75 million
The Rams, the way things stand right now, have $20 million in cap space committed to their top three wide receivers. By the time the season rolls around that number should drop. The expectations, however, will only increase. Al Saunders has a big job ahead of him.

The last issue to consider with respect to the Rams wide receivers is finding an understudy to join the ranks of the top three. Given the teams other pressing needs - the offensive line, defensive line, replacing Brandon Chillar - getting a talented young guy to eventually join the top three of the receiving corps doesn't rank as high for the primary objective of winning now. The Rams are fine with Holt, Bruce and Bennett, for now, and even if injury befalls one of those guys, the Rams still have a two receivers on par with most teams in the league.

Right now, the best option may be drafting a WR, a hidden gem somewhere in the 3rd or 4th round, and bringing them on as an understudy to the big three. Technically, they have that in Marques Hagans, although he was drafted more as a return man, where he has disappointed in front of the pleasantly surprising Brandon Williams. They could keep Hagans, giving him another year to prove himself or cut bait. If I were making the call right now, I'd say cut Hagans, keep Williams as second/future return man, and look for some talent in the 3rd round. That's not the easiest route to go, but if that doesn't work out, then the Rams can look to free agency in 2009, where they could hopefully get a young guy coming into free agency from his first NFL contract.

At the very least, the Rams are in a good position with their wide receivers for 2008. Beyond that, the future gets a little hazy.