NFC West: Antonio Freeman

What the Rams need to upgrade offense

January, 2, 2011
1/02/11
12:22
AM ET
I've spent the first day of 2011 accepting friend requests on Facebook. Not quite -- this was actually a chance to watch football on TV and play outside with my sons -- but thanks for responding to the NFC West personal ad from Friday. We've added a couple hundred more friends, and counting.

Dan, a Rams fan, wasn't too happy with the way I've described the St. Louis Rams as a team lacking offensive firepower. I thought Kansas City's victory in the Edward Jones Dome brought to light these shortcomings. Danario Alexander and others made a few big plays to help the Rams beat San Francisco, but the 49ers clearly had more dangerous weapons. They were missing the quarterback.

I'll share my conversation with Dan here and wrap it up with some closing thoughts. Another Facebook friend, Michael, joined the conversation partway through.

Dan: In an earlier post this week regarding Sam Bradford's primetime debut, you stated: "He doesn't necessarily have the offensive weapons to make it happen." What are you talking about? Steven Jackson, Danario Alexander, Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Laurent Robinson, Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui. You mean to tell me that those guys are not offensive weapons? Sam Bradford and Co. will prove you wrong, Mr. Seattle Native.

Mike Sando: Seattle native? Actually California native who grew up following the Rams in the 70s. Not that it matters, but the Rams do lack weapons. Watch how they approach the offseason for confirmation, or just look at Bradford's YPA this season. Hoomanawanui is good if healthy. And Seattle's D has been vulnerable anyway.

Michael: After Steven Jackson, nobody really strikes fear into opponents from St. Louis' offense. Amendola's 8.2 yards per reception don't necessarily require D coordinators to gameplan around him. If they could get a dude like A.J. Green in St. Louis so that Bradford can open up the offense, they will be a scary team to face down the road.

Dan: OK. I stand corrected on the Seattle comment. Your ESPN bio made you look like you were all about Seattle. Sorry about that. I have been following the Rams since the mid-80's and wished they moved back to LA.

Anywho, let's get back to the "weapons" discussion here. Jackson is solid at RB, although I wish we had a little speedster a la Darren Sproles or Felix Jones or Leon Washington to mix things up. At tight end, we have three decent players in Fells, Billy Bajema, and Hoomanawanui. So it comes down to the wide receiver corps. Coming into 2011, with a healthy Donnie Avery, Mark Clayton and Danario Alexander -- and throw in Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, and Mardy Gilyard for good measure -- where do you see a problem? I guess health issues, obviously.

Should they draft more receivers or trade for one? I think they should focus on strengthening their secondary and defense as a whole, and nab a solid running back to spell Jackson. I personally like the Rams receiving corps when healthy.

Michael: Obviously, you aren't talking to me, but don't mind if I pitch in, haha. I just think they need at least one big-play guy that defenses need to game-plan around. Obviously, it's possible to win without one (Tom Brady 2001-2004), but it would make Bradford's job easier, Jackson more effective and open holes for alot of the solid receivers you guys already have.

Dan: I must have been writing my rant while you were writing your comment so I missed yours. But here's your big play guy. The DX Missile. Avery, Clayton, Alexander, Amendola, Gibson, and Gilyard could provide a sold WR corps for Sam. But again, it comes down to, can they stay healthy?

Mike Sando: The "DX Missile" stuff is odd to me. He has played in seven games and has needed knee surgery once during that stretch. A little premature to count on him as a big-play threat. Avery and Clayton coming off IR. It's a bonus if they come back strong. Amendola good third-down WR. Gibson has improved. Gilyard probably will improve. He is a non-factor right now. They'll look to upgrade top-end talent at WR. They've done a nice job patching the position as best they could.

Closing thoughts: The Rams do have occasional big-play ability, but they lack a consistent big-play threat. This team has averaged a league-low 10.0 yards per completed pass through Week 16. That is not necessarily a horrible thing. Atlanta and New Orleans are tied with Carolina for the second-lowest average per reception (10.4 yards). But a little more firepower would open up the offense, including on the ground. The Rams are tied with Miami and Seattle for the second-lowest rushing average per carry even though they have a Pro Bowl running back.

My plan for the Rams' offense this offseason would include these priorities:
  • Draft a running back with speed to provide a change of pace and provide another option on kickoff returns.
  • Bring back Clayton and Avery, but do not count on either. At least one of them figures to come back strong in 2011. Clayton would be the favorite given Avery's injury history.
  • Make sure Bradford and Hoomanawanui spend considerable time together this offseason. Hoomanawanui has been effective when healthy. He's had bad luck with ankle injuries -- similar to what Russell Okung has gone through in Seattle -- but he should be the starter next season.
  • Draft a wide receiver in the first three rounds. Teams running the Rams' offense haven't needed to use early picks for the position. Two players that succeeded in this offense -- Antonio Freeman with Green Bay, Darrell Jackson with Seattle -- were third-round choices. But if the Rams are in position to draft a playmaking wideout in the first round, they need to consider it. This is what Indianapolis has done to maximize its investment in Peyton Manning.
  • Consider signing a receiver in free agency, but think twice before giving up high draft choices for one. Teams giving up considerable draft capital for receivers haven't always gotten what they wanted in return. Randy Moss did not help Minnesota. Brandon Marshall upgraded the position for Miami, but the price was high (two second-round choices). The Rams need their early picks. They snagged left tackle Rodger Saffold in the second round, for example.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

A first-round scenario to consider when the NFL draft begins Saturday: The Lions draft Matthew Stafford, the Rams take a tackle, the Chiefs address their defensive line and the Seahawks draft Aaron Curry. Under that scenario, might Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree fall to the 49ers at No. 10? And if he did, would the 49ers take him?

The possibility came to mind as I looked at 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan and the receivers his teams have drafted since 1994. The names, listed in the chart by overall selection, shed light on McCloughan's philosophy.

Draft Rd. Pick McCloughan's Team Receiver
College Conference
2001
1 9 Seahawks
Koren Robinson N.C. St.
ACC
1996
2 56 Packers Derrick Mayes
Notre Dame
Independent
2007
3 76 49ers Jason Hill
Wash. St. Pac-10
2000 3 80
Seahawks Darrell Jackson
Florida
SEC
1999
3 82 Seahawks Karsten Bailey
Auburn SEC
2006 3 84
49ers Brandon Williams
Wisconsin
Big Ten
1995 3 90
Packers Antonio Freeman
Virginia Tech
ACC
2001
5 140 Seahawks Alex Bannister
E.Kentucky
Ohio Valley (I-AA)
1994
5 146 Packer Terry Mickens Florida A&M
MEAC (I-AA)
1998
5 150 Packers Corey Bradford
Jackson St.
SWAC (I-AA)
2004
5 157 Seahawks D.J. Hackett
Colorado Big 12
1994
6 169 Packers Jay Kearney
W.Virginia
Big East
1995
6
173 Packers Charlie Simmons
Georgia Tech
ACC
2008
6 174 49ers Josh Morgan
Virginia Tech ACC
2005
5 174 49ers Rasheed Marshall
W.Virginia
Big East
2000
6 175 Seahawks James Williams
Marshall
C-USA
1994
6
181 Packers Bill Schroeder
Wisc.-LaCrosse WIAC (II)
1999
7 213 Packers Donald Driver
Alcorn ST.
SWAC (I-AA)
1997
7 213 Packers Chris Miller
USC
Pac-10
2005
7 223 49ers Marcus Maxwell
Oregon
Pac-10
2003
7 224 Seahawks Taco Wallace
Kansas St.
Big 12

McCloughan's mentor in Green Bay, Ron Wolf, shied away from drafting receivers early. He perceived the position as a risky one.

If we look at McCloughan's history, which overlapped Wolf's tenure in Green Bay, we see his teams drafted only one receiver -- Koren Robinson at No. 9 in 2001 -- among the top 55 overall selections since 1994. McCloughan's teams have drafted five receivers between the 76th and 90th choices, zero in the fourth round and 10 between the 140th and 181st choices.

While the 49ers might be tempted to take Crabtree at No. 10, history says McCloughan might target the position in other rounds. The 49ers hold the following picks: 10, 43, 74, 111, 146, 171, 184, 219 and 244. McCloughan's history suggests he might look for a receiver at 74 and then at 146 or later. Taking Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin or another receiver at No. 10 would go against the most firmly established precedent.

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