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Rams review: Wide receivers

The first year of the St. Louis Rams rebuilding project is in the books. Fans swallowed the early returns, a 1-15 season, with surprising amount of optimism due to their confidence in the vision of the franchise's new leadership. As the makeover continues and before roster gets any more reconfiguration, TST delves in for a look at the positions and players, grading their performance from the 2009 season and assessing their status for the next season. Today, we start with a position that was a particular trouble spot for the offense: wide receiver.

We knew early during last year's offseason that wide receiver would be a position of need for the St. Louis Rams. As if you needed any reminders that the "Show" was indeed over, 2008 was the first season since 1998 in which no Rams receiver topped the 1,000-yard mark. The last icon from the 1999 Super Bowl team, Torry Holt, wanted out, and the front office was eager to oblige given their cap needs and Holt's contract. With so many needs and the coaching staff's stated desire to immediately address the offensive line, the Rams wide receiver sitation took a back seat in 2009 forcing the Rams offense to rely on a single playmaker, RB Steven Jackson. Let's take a look at the players currently on the roster.

Donnie Avery

2009 season: 47 receptions, 589 yards*, 5 TDs*
Avery was called upon to be the team's No. 1 receiver this year. As the draft passed and it became clear that the team would not be adding a more prototypical No. 1 WR, the debate began as to whether or not Avery could thrive in that role where he'd be catching passes on hitch routes, in the middle and not just relying on his speed to beat DBs down the field. That wasn't the case. Avery dealt with injuries off and on through out the season, starting off by missing the first three preseason games, though he did start in all 16 games. A myriad of factors impacted his performance this season, but the bottom line is that Avery was out of position as a No. 1 wide receiver where double teams and physical DBs kept his numbers down...along with the Rams anemic offense.
Contract Status: Signed through 2011.
Outlook: Avery still shows plenty promise when he's matched up one-on-one, working mid-range and deep routes where he can use his speed. He probably works best out of the slot where he could hit high gear on his way down field and avoid getting jammed at the line. Slot or not, he needs a receiver on the other side of him that draws double coverage or at least an opponent's top CB. As the season went on and Bradon Gibson and Danny Amendola started catching some passes, the coaches put Avery back into these roles to success.
2009 Grade: C+

Laurent Robinson

2009 Season: 13 receptions, 167 yards, 1 TD
Robinson came on strong during the preseason, erasing the usual questions that come with a strong preseason from a relatively unheralded player with a strong debut with the Rams in the regular season. Unfortunately, his regular season lasted less than three games. Robinson was giving the Rams much needed yards after the catch with his speed and adapted surprisingly well to the West Coast offense that was still giving the other receivers fits at that point in the season. We'll always wonder how the passing game would have developed this season with Robinson in the mix for all 16 games.
Contract Status: Signed through 2010
Outlook: Could Robinson be the No. 1 WR the Rams are looking for? The jury's still out on that, but at the very least he could be part of a mix that needs one more complementary player to give the Rams a decent group of WRs. The big question mark for Robinson is his health. This is the second  time in his three year career that he's had his season cut short with a trip to IR.
2009 Grade: Incomplete

Brandon Gibson

2009 Season: 34 receptions, 348 yards, 1 TD
Acquired from the Eagles in the Will Witherspoon trade, Gibson came on strong in his Rams debut against the mighty Saints with a 7 catch, 93 yard performance. His followed his impressive debut showing some of the typical rookie foibles, dropping passes and struggling with coverage and his routes. Still, the rookie flashed glimpses of some nice hands and much needed YAC ability.
Contract Status: Signed through 2012
Outlook: Fans and coaches will be eagerly watching what Gibson does at OTAs, camp and the preseason. He looks like a guy with lots of promise.
2009 Grade: C

Danny Amendola

2009 Season: 43 receptions, 326 yards, 1 TD
Set aside his impressive performance as a kick returner and consider for a moment the so-called "poor man's Wes Welker." Working out of the slot, Amendola managed to be a consistent target for Rams quarterbacks, albeit mostly on short throws without much action after the catch. Nevertheless, he caught 69 percent of the passes thrown his way, compared to Gibson catching just 49 percent, for your reference Gibson was targeted 69 times, Amendola targeted 64 times.
Contract Status: Signed through 2010
Outlook: He seems to have secured the punt and kick return jobs for next season...unless a speedy draft pick steals the job in preseason. Just what does he offer in the receiving game though? His hands are solid, but he doesn't seem able to break out of the 4th receiver's role. And maybe that's enough. If the Rams add another top three type receiver, and Avery moves the slot, Amendola will lose some work with the offense, but would remain an important player to keep in the game.
2009 Grade: B (does not reflect his KR/PR performance)

Keenan Burton

2009 Season: 25 receptions, 253 yards, 0 TDs
Placed on IR after week eight, Burton may have played himself out of a job with the Rams in 2010. Burton never developed the consistency expected and needed from a possession receiver. Not only did he struggle for YAC, his hands didn't look any better than last year.
Contract Status: Signed through 2010
Outlook: If stays on the roster after camp, he'll be buried on the depth chart...barring an a miraculous preseason. His injury history is a red flag in and of itself.
2009 Grade: D

Ruvell Martin

2009 Season: 6 receptions, 99 yards, 0 TDs
Added in mid-September, Martin didn't catch his first pass until week 11. He did have an impact on special teams, where he really excelled as a coverage specialist.
Contract Status: free agent
Outlook: Has a future on special teams, but probably isn't anything more than a depth player at WR.
2009 Grade: Pass

Jordan Kent

2009 Season: 1 reception, 5 yards
You may have missed Kent's time with the offense, but there wasn't much to see. The Rams needed depth at WR and they signed Kent because he played in a West Coast system with Seattle last year.
Contract Status: Exclusive rights free agent
Outlook: Will get some looks in camp.
2009 Grade: Insufficient data

Brooks Foster

2009 Season: The fourth round pick from the 2009 draft was placed on IR in late August with an ankle/foot injury.
Contract Status: Signed through 2012
Outlook: Foster gets the chance to do it all again this offseason.
2009 Grade: Incomplete

My biggest concern with this group is their health. Right now, the top three guys for 2010 are Robinson, Avery and Gibson, two of whom have stuggled with injuries already in their young careers. With the league's worst offense, I can hardly imagine that GM Billy Devaney will not make some adjustment to the Rams group of wide receivers. The question now becomes what kind of receiver do they add to this mix: a true No. 1 type or maybe a guy with a more polished skill set similar what Robinson has shown? Whatever kind of WR they add to the mix, will they obtain them via the draft or free agency?