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How does experience factor into the Rams receiver picture for 2011?

How much will another year of experience for young players like Danario Alexander factor into the St. Louis Rams receiver needs for 2011?
How much will another year of experience for young players like Danario Alexander factor into the St. Louis Rams receiver needs for 2011?

Yesterday was a rough one for teams, like the St. Louis Rams, that might be looking for a wide receiver in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Both Michael Floyd and Justin Blackmon announced that they would return to school. That leaves Julio Jones and A.J. Green, both of whom will likely be gone when the Rams pick at #14, and Jonathan Baldwin, who might not be worthy of being picked that high. 

That leaves free agency as the primary vehicle for finding the receiving help they need. But free agency is no guarantee, thanks to the CBA fight that might not be resolved in time for the usual start of the free agency period in early March. In fact, free agency might not happen until after the draft because of the labor situation.

Essentially, what I'm trying to say, is that it may be difficult for the Rams to give themselves an instant injection of talent at wide receiver for the 2011 season via free agency or a first round draft pick. That brings to mind one question I have: just how much improvement can the Rams count on from their current receivers with another year of experience? 

As Gomer7 pointed out in this fanpost recently, receiver isn't a position that usually produces instant results. It takes time for those players to develop. The old rule used to be 3 years, but with the spread offense creeping into the NFL, I personally think results can come a little quicker for some. Mardy Gilyard suffered greatly from this.

Of all the receivers on the roster for 2010, Mark Clayton and Laurent Robinson were the most experienced who began the season with 6 and 3 years experience, respectively. Clayton was on pace for his best season as a pro. His pace through 5 games would have put him within 50 yards of the 1,000-yard mark for receiving yards, which would have easily been the best of his career.

Robinson is one of those middle or late round receiver prospects, possessing raw talent and playing at a small school, that can sometimes turnout like Vincent Jackson or, well, like Robinson. He's had more than enough opportunity with the Rams, and it's a stretch to think they'll retain him as an unrestricted free agent. 

2010 was supposed to be Donnie Avery's big breakout season, his third in the league. A nasty knee injury in the preseason sent him to IR and left the Rams with yet another question mark at the position. Can Donnie Avery become the receiver they need him to be in 2011? There's probably no player on the roster with as much at stake in 2011. His success could mean a much different Rams offense. 

Danario Alexander flashed some real talent in limited use this season, despite having his knee operated on for the fifth time. He also looked like a rookie at times, not surprising since he was a rookie, one who missed the preseason recovering from prior knee surgeries that kept him from being drafted at all. What can the Rams expect from him in 2011? Can they really count on him staying healthy for a full season and beyond? 

Danny Amendola seems to have reached his potential, which has been surprisingly good, but he needs a supporting cast around him that would allow him to be used more effectively and draw less coverage on the shorter routes where the Rams need him. 

Brandon Gibson was erratic in his second season, but overall he progressed nicely from where he was a year ago. Is he maxed out or can Gibson be a more reliable possession guy? His hands, though not awful, make you think that what you saw this season is exactly what you've got going forward. 

To some extent the Rams have an obligation to develop these young players, especially a guy like Avery since they've already got time and money invested in him. On the other hand, the Rams aren't going to be in development mode next year; they're expected to win. 

So just how much can the Rams count on another year of experience contributing to better play from their receivers in 2011? Probably not so much that they can afford to bypass finding help for that unit. However, they might be forced to rely on growth from the current group of receivers given how the uncertainty shaping up around the draft and free agency.