The Los Angeles Rams, like every NFL team, would like to think they're heading into the upcoming season better than last year. And while there is much to be excited about regarding the acquisitions made this offseason, they also weren’t able to retain all of their own.
We’re taking a look at each Rams’ position group, and asking for your help to determine whether or not it's better, worse, or the same heading into the 2016 season.
We’ve already taken a look at the quarterback and running back positions. Today, we’ll take a look at the wide receivers.
The Rams, in all likelihood, are going to keep six of the twelve receivers listed above, which is going to create a lot of competition - and excitement - as the offseason unfolds. Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, and (rookie) Pharoh Cooper are locks to make the team, leaving three spots for a slew of very young, very talented wideouts.
Brian Quick will most likely claim the fourth spot, and every Rams’ fan is crossing their fingers he can stay healthy and consistently produce like he did early in the 2014 season. Since being drafted in 2012, there’s been far more hope than production though, and if 2016 shakes out like any of the four years prior, we’ve probably seen the last of him in a Rams’ uniform.
Bradley Marquez is the only other receiver, of the eight remaining, who has experience playing with the team, which bodes well for him. It also doesn’t hurt that head coach Jeff Fisher has held him in high regard since early in his rookie year:
I’ve been talking about him; he’s a very mature player right now as a rookie. We trust him. We trust him to play personal protector, we trust him to play offense. He’s just a real heads-up kid.
Like most young, undrafted players, the ability to play special teams weighs heavily on a player’s ability to crack the final 53. With a full season under his belt, putting money on Marquez to (re)claim a spot in 2016 isn’t all that risky a wager.
And then there was one...
Mike Thomas, who flashed plenty of big play ability in college, is the only other receiver currently on the roster to have been drafted by the Rams. And while that may give him an edge, he’s got some very stiff competition.
If you’re buying what Pro Football Focus is selling, then Thomas looks to be a steal of a pick (6th round, 206th overall)...
Re: #Rams 6th Rd pick Michael Thomas, PFF Draft guide has him as this years 7th best WR (2nd Rd grade). "one of the best sleeper prospects"— Brandon Bate (@NoPlanB_) May 1, 2016
They expanded on his "sleeper" status in this read, noting he "flashed the kind of ability at times that leads you to believe he has a chance to develop into a very special player."
Speaking of PFF, Thomas isn’t the only player that garnered their attention prior to the draft. Undrafted free agent Nelson Spruce landed on their list of Top 5 Impact Rookie UDFA’s.
Spruce impressed PFF’s analysts enough to earn the No. 145 spot on our final draft board, just six WR spots behind new teammate Pharoh Cooper, the Rams’ second fourth-round pick.
And then there’s Duke Williams, another UDFA, whose off-field issues prevented him from being selected; despite entering the 2015 season hearing his name mentioned along with players like Corey Coleman and Laquon Treadwell. Call it growth or maturity, but Williams appears to be hungry to prove the doubters wrong, admitting he’s got 1st round talent but 7th round character. If he truly understands the implications of his actions - and what it may have cost him along the way - the Rams will have nabbed themselves a steal in undrafted free agency this year.
All that said, there are still four guys hungry for a job who are, undoubtedly, working hard this offseason in hopes of doing what it takes to grab a roster spot, even if only in a special team’s role.
It looks to be a crowded bunch of young, talented receivers vying for a spot or two on the Rams’ 53-man roster. And that is good news.
Better, Worse, or Same?
Better. I never really thought Stedman Bailey got a good go of it as a Rams’ wide receiver, but am glad to hear he may have a role in coaching in the upcoming year. That said, he probably wouldn’t have made a huge impact in the Rams’ offense this season.
Much like last year, when the Rams went heavy on offensive line, they (despite having few picks) targeted pass-catchers for rookie QB Jared Goff this draft, taking Tyler Higbee, and the aforementioned Cooper and Thomas.
For that reason (setting Higbee aside for a future post) and what they’ve done in undrafted free agency, I feel comfortable saying the Rams are improved at the position heading into 2016 based on the competition alone.
Jeff Fisher wants us to believe that Tavon Austin could double his catches this year. If that holds true, that will only make the offense more lethal. Adding young playmakers like Cooper, Thomas, Spruce, or Williams to the passing game certainly won’t hurt matters.
They’ve got a lot to prove. But there’s way too much potential in this group of wideouts to figure them as the same bunch from 2015.