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Breaking down wide receivers: St. Louis

6/23/2011

Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson breaks down the wide receivers of each NFC West team. Today: St. Louis Rams.

St. Louis has a lot of wide receivers in the mix. The quality here isn’t bad, but the quantity is a bit overwhelming.

The Rams' best wideout from last year, Mark Clayton, was injured (knee) in just the fifth game of the season. Now he is scheduled to become a free agent. But it was apparent that Clayton and quarterback Sam Bradford had an excellent rapport, and Clayton’s quick movement skills lend themselves well to playing in St. Louis’ dome. He has good hands and can be quite effective on the outside or in the slot. Nothing is known at this point, but it seems likely that Clayton will return to the Rams. That would probably be the best move for both player and team.

St. Louis now has plenty of slot options, but none is a better fit or more reliable than Danny Amendola. Much like Wes Welker in New England, Amendola should see a ton of short targets on option routes and act as an extension of the Rams’ running game. He has great short-area quickness and reads a defense very well on the move. Amendola was excellent in a similar role last season, and his contribution to this offense under Josh McDaniels should only increase going forward. This guy catches everything thrown his way.

Donnie Avery injured his knee in the preseason and was lost for the entire season. He is a big-time burner, and one hopes the injury has not taken away Avery’s best asset -- that deep speed. Avery is another guy who could flourish in this system with McDaniels calling the plays and Bradford a year older. Or, he could quickly fade away, considering all the options St. Louis has in this passing attack. This is a pivotal season in Avery’s career.

Danario Alexander, who is extremely tall and lanky, might be the most interesting case of this bunch. After starting the season on the PUP list, Alexander played in only eight games but made several big plays and certainly made his presence felt. He can get downfield. The sticking point with Alexander is his durability. He has had several serious knee issues, and counting for him for the long haul might be foolish. That's why he was undrafted coming out of college. McDaniels might work wonders with this player much as he did with Brandon Lloyd in Denver last season. But Alexander needs to stay on the field.

The Rams used a third-round pick on Austin Pettis and a fourth-round pick on Greg Salas. Did they really need to use two prominent picks at this position? I suppose I can excuse it if they were torn between Pettis, a bigger body who is more of a chain-mover, and Salas, a bigger-than-usual slot guy, in that third round and were shocked that Salas lasted to the fourth. In fact, I think Salas is the superior player, but Clayton can play the slot and Amendola looks to have that position all but locked up. Although I don’t commend the Rams for taking two wideouts, I do believe Salas was a quality selection judged on its own merits.

Along with Clayton, Laurent Robinson could hit the open market. Robinson is a smooth glider but is injured far too often. Considering how he played when healthy last season and the numbers crunch at wide receiver for St. Louis, he is likely to be playing somewhere else in 2011.

Brandon Gibson steadily improved. Gibson saw the field as much as any Rams wide receiver last season and finished the year with 53 catches for 620 yards. Both stats were good enough for second on the team. He has a strong, well-built body that he uses well, but he drops too many passes and is not much of a downfield threat.

Mardy Gilyard did very little as a rookie. Considering how crowded the Rams’ wide receiver situation is right now and considering that he hauled in only six passes last year, Gilyard had better show noticeable improvement quickly to ensure his roster spot. But Gilyard also brings returner skills to the table, so it is too early to write this guy off after just one season.

A lot will change between now and the final cut-down day. But the Rams might have to let a promising wide receiver go when it is all said and done -- and still could be without a true No. 1 option at the position.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. Follow Matt Williamson on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL