Not all that long ago, the St. Louis Rams could match wide receivers with any team in the league.
Times have changed.
With a playoff berth on the line in Week 17 last season, quarterback Sam Bradford was throwing to a group featuring Danario Alexander, Laurent Robinson, Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson. The Rams went quietly, scoring only six points. Running back Steven Jackson and tight end Daniel Fells led them in receiving yards with 39 apiece.
It's one reason why selecting a wide receiver with the 14th overall choice could make sense for the Rams, provided one of the top two prospects remains available.
Georgia's A.J. Green, who works out for scouts Tuesday, could be gone among the top five picks and almost certainly won't make it out of the top 10, according to scouts. Alabama's Julio Jones might also be gone by No. 14, but it's not such a sure thing.
Either one would provide a clear talent upgrade at the position for St. Louis.
"Their ability to stretch the field would make it harder for teams to load up against Steven Jackson," Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. said. "It would also create space for the other receivers underneath, notably Amendola. The best-case scenario here is for the Rams' new offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, to get the vertical threat he had in New England with Randy Moss, allowing Amendola to play the role of Wes Welker underneath."
For additional perspective, I brought together Muench and NFL Draft Scouts' Rob Rang. They explained why Green out-ranks Jones in this draft and what the Rams or any team would be getting with each.
Mike Sando: What separates Green from Jones in your evaluation?
Steve Muench: While both players are big-play threats downfield and after the catch, Green is the crisper route runner despite his superior height. He will have more success separating from man coverage until or unless Jones improves his footwork at the top of his stem. Green also has exceptional ball skills, while Jones lets the ball get to his frame a bit too much and is more likely to drop a pass he should catch.
Rob Rang: A.J. Green is taller and has better playing speed. Even when he is covered, he is still open because the kid just makes catches. It's like Larry Fitzgerald, Sidney Rice, Randy Moss -- they go up in the air and they can soar over everyone else and catch the football. They win those one-on-one battles. That is what he does. He just has phenomenal hands.
Mike Sando: Jones' combine workout turned heads. How much did it help him?
Steve Muench: Jones created a lot of buzz running the 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds and measuring 6-foot-3, 220 pounds. He was then diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left foot and had a pin inserted, but the injury is not considered serious and it's not what has prevented Jones from leapfrogging Green. Green may not have been as impressive in Indianapolis, but he certainly didn't flop, either. He measured close to an inch taller than Jones, he carries his 211 pounds well and he is more than fast enough (4.48 in the 40). Far, far more importantly, he is the better receiver on film -- and that's no knock on Jones.
Rob Rang: When Jones ran that fast at the combine, you would think he should be able to get open or scare teams just a little bit more than he did in college.
Mike Sando: That's an interesting twist on a great workout. Sometimes they can raise as many questions as they answer.
Rob Rang: There were times when teams gave Julio Jones the deep ball and he couldn't get deep and really scare teams. His quarterback, Greg McElroy, doesn't have a huge arm, so some might say the defense just doesn’t respect McElroy’s deep ball. Still, there were times when good cover corners, at least capable collegiate cover corners, could stick with Julio Jones. They were breaking on his out routes. They were basically in his hip pocket. Was that a function of Julio Jones not having the explosiveness to get out of his routes and create some separation, or doesn't he have the straight-line speed to scare defenses? Or is it McElroy's inability to throw the football? That is why there is some nervousness.
Mike Sando: That makes it easier to see why Jones could slip to the Rams at No. 14, and why they might consider taking, say, a defensive lineman with fewer question marks. Thanks for the insight, guys.