You may not remember him, given how little action he's seen lately, but the St. Louis Rams drafted WR Mardy Gilyard with their first pick of the fourth round this year. Since the regular season began, Gilyard has been largely MIA.
This week against the 49ers, Gilyard was active. He was targeted zero times this week, and you can legitimately ask whether or not he was on the field at all. He was not targeted against Carolina either. Prior to that game, Gilyard was inactive against Tampa Bay because of a hamstring injury. His last action was when he caught 1 pass for 21 yards against San Diego. He was targeted three times in that game.
So what gives?
Gilyard has struggled to pick up the Rams' offense since training camp. And that's limited his contributions, severely, through recent weeks. It's also worth noting that Gilyard missed spring OTAs and minicamp because of the NFL's arcane rule that does not allow college players to practice with their teams until their schools hold spring graduation, even if said graduation does not include the player. The same rule impacted James Laurinaitis in his rookie year.
That said, Gilyard should have at least some basic understanding of the offense 10 weeks into the season. Rookies take time to pick up the game, especially at a position like receiver, where more moving parts figure into the job description compared to, say, an offensive lineman.
That hasn't stopped some other Rams rookies from contributing, notably WR Danario Alexander, though injuries have limited him. Every player is different and has a different curve for learning the game and a different level of talent which has something to say about how effective they can be early in their careers.
Alexander benefited from having a few plays scripted for him in the offense, but that begs the question of whether or not the Rams can't write a few lines for Gilyard too.
Other receivers are also in front of Gilyard on the depth chart, taking up spots where Gilyard would fit. Most notably that's Brandon Gibson and Laurent Robinson, and right now, it's hard to make the case that Gilyard, still struggling with the playbook, deserves a shot in front of either of those guys...which isn't meant to sound as though either one of them are elite players, just better than Mardy at this point. Robinson has been disappointing and Gibson hurt what had been a fine upswing to his season with a couple questionable moves this week.
Gilyard could still be used, one would think, to at least give opposing defenses a different look, a guy who wouldn't demand much attention from a corner or linebacker thus allowing the Rams to play matchups on at least a couple plays scripted for Gilyard. Is his grasp of the offense that far behind the curve of where it should be? Are the coaches just trying to establish a connection between Sam Bradford, a rookie QB, and his receivers?
Perhaps Gilyard is finally coming on. ESPN101's Brian Stull made a couple mentions of him during practice last week via Twitter.
Mardy had a pass the other day which showed his speed and diving ability--tells me his "swag" is back, hope it translates to game.
Hopefully that's a good sign. The Rams sure could have used a receiver with speed and diving ability this week...and all the others. Plus, his skills with the ball in-hand could really benefit the Rams short passing game.
It's way too early to label Gilyard a bust. He's a fourth round draft pick at a position that sometimes takes the high draft picks time to learn. However, he's got a golden opportunity to use this season's mishmash of a passing game to at least give the coaches something positive to remember him by as they make offseason moves to prepare for 2011.