The untimely and tragic end of Steve McNair has brought back lots of memories of the 2000 Super Bowl, a highpoint for the Rams, and more importantly, a game for football fans won't forget. Something else this news got me thinking about was the bitter memories of the Rams free agent dalliance with former Titans receiver Drew Bennett.
Bennett was the number two receiver in Tennessee, behind McNair's top target Derrick Mason. He was sort of the Houshmanzadeh to Mason's OchoCinco, and the lanky 6'5" Bennett topped Mason in yardage and TDs just once, in the 2004 season that put Bennett on the map (80 receptions, 1247 yards, 11 TDs)...and forever inflated his value.
The performance of WRs is inextricably linked to the fate of the quarterbacks, and Bennett's big year came with Billy Volek starting 8 games. Some WRs seem to fare well regardless of who throws them the ball, while some are wholly reliant on the passer...most seem to be somewhere in the middle. Anyway, looking at this post from NFL.com's Jason La Canfora about the most productive receivers playing alongside McNair got me thinking about just how important McNair was to Bennett and how that connection made Bennett seem like something more than he was.
With McNair throwing him the ball, Bennett has 168 receptions, 2,274 yards, and 11 TDs. Compare that to his career numbers of 307 receptions, 4,412 yards and 28 TDs. Over 50% of Bennett's yards and catches started with McNair.
So, what's the lesson for Bennett's failure in St. Louis?
Obviously, the offense itself was a big part of the problem, with barely a line to speak of, a shaken QB, and bad coaching. Bennett was supposed to be the red zone answer the Rams needed, but that notion should have been a red flag itself. Bennett wasn't a red zone guy with the Titans. If anything, McNair was more of a red zone threat with his rushing ability than Bennett was as a receiver. In fact, during the three seasons between 2001 and 2003, McNair had more rushing TDs than Bennett had receiving TDs, 10 to 7. It probably also helped Bennett that McNair could scramble and find Bennett, versus relying solely on a route.
If nothing else, Drew Bennett has Steven McNair (and the poor decision making of the Rams front office of the time) for a huge contract.