Drafting for skill: Three-year report card

March, 28, 2011
3/28/11
5:10
PM ET
The St. Louis Rams needed more offensive firepower last season, particularly at wide receiver.

That was obvious at critical moments.

Left unsaid: The Rams have addressed the position. Since 2008, the team has used three draft choices in the first four rounds to select wideouts, tied with six other teams for second-most in the league. But Donnie Avery (2008 second round), Keenan Burton (2008 fourth round) and Mardy Gilyard (2010 fourth round) combined for six receptions last season.

Avery is doing much better following reconstructive knee surgery. Burton is off the roster and has not played in a regular-season NFL game since suffering a torn patella against New Orleans in 2009. Gilyard is recovering from wrist surgery after playing little and failing to catch a pass in the Rams' final 10 games.

The chart shows how many skill-position players NFL teams have drafted in the first four rounds since 2008. I excluded tight ends because some project more as blockers.

I'll break them out by NFC West team:
    [+] EnlargeSam Bradford
    Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesSam Bradford is coming off a record-breaking rookie season in which he threw for over 3,500 yards.
  • St. Louis Rams (4): Quarterback Sam Bradford (2010 first round) is coming off a record-setting rookie season. He could use some help from Avery and Gilyard.
  • Arizona Cardinals (3): Receiver Andre Roberts (2010 third round), running back Beanie Wells (2009 first round) and receiver Early Doucet (2008 third round) remain prominent in the Cardinals' plans. The 2011 season will be a big one for Wells, who looked better as a rookie than he did last season. The knee injury Wells suffered during the exhibition season required surgery. That presumably affected his play.
  • San Francisco 49ers (2): Receiver Michael Crabtree (2009 first) had 55 catches last season, including six for touchdowns. His season was a bit underwhelming, however, as the 49ers' quarterback and coordinator instability continued. Running back Glen Coffee (2009 third round) became a bust when he retired after only one season, citing a lack of love for the game.
  • Seattle Seahawks (2): Receiver Golden Tate (2010 second round) made an immediate impact during minicamps last offseason, only to justify the usual disclaimers about rookie receivers often struggling when the games start counting. Tate's game needs refinement, by his own admission. He has the athletic ability to make plays on the ball and gain big chunks after the catch. Meanwhile, Deon Butler (2009 third round) is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a career-threatening leg injury, coach Pete Carroll said. Butler's on-field future remains in question, however.

I singled out the first four rounds because those choices are more valuable.

NFC West teams have found some bargains at the skill positions in the later rounds since 2008, including: Tim Hightower, LaRod Stephens-Howling and possibly John Skelton in Arizona; Josh Morgan and Anthony Dixon in San Francisco and Justin Forsett in Seattle.

The Rams' late-round selections -- Keith Null, Chris Obgonnaya and Brooks Foster -- no longer play for the team.

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