NFC West: Justin McCareins

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Chris from parts unknown writes: Sando, Wassup man. I wanted to know, will the rams pick up a free agent WR heading towards the draft or do you think they will draft a WR? If so, who do you think they will pick up??

Mike Sando: Adding a veteran receiver sounds like a good idea until you take a closer look at the 14 unrestricted free agents at the position:

Amani Toomer, age 35
Dane Looker, 33
Dante' Hall, 31
Darrell Jackson, 30
Justin McCareins, 30
Ashley Lelie, 29
Koren Robinson, 29
Edell Shepherd, 29
Shaun McDonald, 28
Drew Carter, 28
Tab Perry, 27
Keary Colbert, 27
Reggie Williams, 26

Plaxico Burress and Torry Holt are probably the best available receivers among those released by their teams (released players do not qualify as unrestricted free agents). Given that the Rams have said they will not pursue college prospects with known off-field issues, I would not expect them to consider Burress, whose legal troubles are significant. And Holt's time in St. Louis has passed.

Toomer would make sense for the Rams if they were desperate for a mentor. His Giants career overlapped with Steve Spagnuolo's time there. So far, however, the Rams have appeared more determined to get younger than to add aging veterans. That type of move would probably wait until after the draft.

I see no sure-fire way to fix this position in one offseason. The Rams probably would have drafted Jake Long if given the opportunity last year. I would expect them to draft a tackle with the second overall choice this year. The team might then need to help its defense. Under that scenario, it becomes harder to find a likely starter at receiver in the draft. And I do think the Rams need a starter to pair with Donnie Avery, even if the coaches like Keenan Burton's potential.

Bottom line: As much as the Rams need help at receiver, I'm not sure they can afford to address the position aggressively at the expense of other needs. The value would have to be strong -- a possibility at the top of the second round -- or they would have to surprise us by selecting Michael Crabtree or Jeremy Maclin early. Perhaps we'll see them looking for a veteran stopgap after the draft.

The team's current receivers include Avery, Burton, Chad Lucas, Nate Jones, Joel Filani, Travis Brown and the rehabbing Derek Stanley.

UFA Receiver Age
Amani Toomer
35
Dane Looker
33
Dante' Hall
31
Darrell Jackson
30
Justin McCareins
30
Ashley Lelie
29
Koren Robinson
29
Edell Shepherd
29
Brandon Lloyd
28
Shaun McDonald
28
Drew Carter
28
Tab Perry
27
Keary Colbert
27
Reggie Williams
26

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Rams and 49ers could still use help at wide receiver through the draft, free agency or both.

One problem: We're down to 14 unrestricted free-agent wide receivers. Eight of the 14 are NFC West castoffs (see chart): Dane Looker, Dante' Hall, Darrell Jackson, Ashley Lelie, Koren Robinson, Brandon Lloyd, Shaun McDonald and Keary Colbert.

The oldest UFA receiver, former Giants mainstay Amani Toomer, has ties to St. Louis through new Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo. However, the Rams have been dumping older players, not adding them. At 35, Toomer is older than any player on the Rams' roster (Leonard Little is 34).

A few notable non-UFA receivers are still without teams for 2009, including NFC West alumni Torry Holt, Reche Caldwell, Joe Jurevicius and D.J. Hackett.

What should the Rams and 49ers do? Holt isn't coming back to the Rams. He might make sense for the 49ers if Isaac Bruce were to retire. But the harder I look at the list of available receivers, the better the draft appears as an alternative.

Scouts Inc. lists five draft-eligible receivers with grades higher than 90 (see Insider rankings), signifying a "rare prospect" with the ability to "take over a game and play at a championship level." The five: Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, Percy Harvin, Hakeem Nicks and Darrius Heyward-Bey.

The Rams would be defying convention if they selected a receiver with the second overall choice. If they go in another direction, as expected, the top five receivers could be off the board before St. Louis picks again. That marks quite a departure from 2008, when the Rams made Donnie Avery the first receiver selected in the draft -- at No. 33.

I co
uld see the 49ers considering a receiver at No. 10, particularly if the top tackles are gone and they thought pass-rush help could be found later.

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