If the St. Louis Rams are going to finally play their way above .500 this season, they need help from some of the team's youngest players. Two players who figure to be especially important to the team's plans this year could be in line for big seasons on the field: wide receiver Chris Givens and running back Daryl Richardson.
Both players distinguished themselves as rookies, late-round picks who burst onto the scene to make significant contributions.
Givens led the team with 698 receiving yards. Working as the first bona fide deep threat the Rams have had since Donnie Avery was briefly healthy that one time, Givens averaged 16.6 yards per catch.
Richardson grabbed his opportunity in the spring. He got a head start on the playbook and earned enough reps in camp and the preseason to get thrown into a rotation with Steven Jackson once the game started counting. He ran for a total of 475 yards and a team-best 4.8 yards per carry.
So what about this season?
Over at Rotoworld, Evan Silva went to the tape for all of Richardson's 122 touches from last season. He liked what he saw:
Save arguably David Wilson, Daryl Richardson is the single most explosive second-year back I've reexamined for this series, superior in this area to Lamar Miller, Bryce Brown, Ronnie Hillman, and Bernard Pierce. He runs with urgency, high energy and suddenness, and displays outstanding first-step burst. Again, again, and again, Richardson's acceleration jumped off the screen. He has big-play speed both on inside runs and plays to the edge. Richardson consistently demonstrated natural explosion whenever his shoulder pads were pointed north-south or at a 45-degree angle. He routinely won footraces to the corner. Richardson runs with an incredible amount of juice.
The article goes on to detail more of Richardson's strengths, as well as his weaknesses, and I highly encourage you to read it if you haven't already. He wraps it up by noting that Richardson is the most likely option to lead the Rams' multi-faceted rushing attack.
But wait, what about Zac Stacy or Isaiah Pead, who have both also been identified as potential breakout candidates?
Silva notes Richardson's overall skill set, including 55 percent of his carries coming inside, which changes the perception some have of the seventh-round pick as a guy used exclusively on swings and screens and wheels and whatnot.
Over at NFL.com, Gregg Rosenthal dives into the tape on Givens, looking at all of his targets from last season. What separates Gibson from the other receivers is the total package, hidden under the label of him just being a deep threat type. The key takeaway:
So many of his yards came after making defenders miss following short grabs. He ran a lot of double moves. He lined up in a variety of places, including the slot. He ran the football on occasion and was willing to take on defenders despite his size, showing some toughness. He was an effective kick returner. Givens combines good hands and great straight-line speed with the choppy steps and change of direction skills of a return man. That's a dangerous combination.
There's not a straight line from Givens' rookie year to a 1,000-yard season. He's got competition for catches, a quarterback struggling to find consistency and he's still learning the ropes himself.
The real takeaway here for Rams fans, is that the team finally has some talented players on the roster, two players that weren't even ticketed for big roles when the team drafted them last year. That bodes well for the future.