NFL Nation: Austin Pettis

PHILADELPHIA -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the St. Louis Rams' 34-28 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles:

Pettis
Pettis dejected: Rams wide receiver Austin Pettis was visibly upset after he had a pair of costly drops on the team's potential game-winning drive. Pettis has stuck on the roster because of his sure hands and ability to come through late like he did in Week 2 against Tampa Bay but was unable to haul in a pair of catchable balls on second and third down in Eagles territory.

"It’s the end of the game, there’s going to be a lot of contested balls, and there’s no excuses on any of them," Pettis said. "I had the ball in my hands long enough to get the catch. I’ve just got to hold on to it."

Stacy's day: Running back Zac Stacy coughed up a costly fumble in Rams territory late in the third quarter, which led to a Philadelphia touchdown two plays later. Stacy did not return to the game, leaving many to wonder if he had been benched because of the turnover. Rams coach Jeff Fisher said after the game that isn't the case and that Stacy suffered a calf injury on the play.

Looking in the mirror: There was plenty of blame to go around for the loss, but most Rams pointed the finger at themselves. Fisher and his players mentioned drops, penalties, busted coverages, protection mistakes and more as the self-inflicted wounds that ultimately led to the defeat. Fisher was particularly upset with the post-punt 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong.

Rams Camp Report: Day 9

August, 4, 2014
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ST. LOUIS -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • Now THAT was a football practice. There's no doubt the Rams want to be an aggressive, physical team unafraid to hit opponents in the mouth. At Monday's workout, they weren't afraid to hit one another in the mouth, either. In what was the most physical practice of this training camp, the Rams got after it all afternoon with shoulder pads on and run game drills aplenty. The defining moment came when receiver Austin Pettis felt like cornerback Lamarcus Joyner was a little too over the top in his pursuit of the ball after a play and threw it at Joyner. Joyner wasn't pleased with that response and went after Pettis. Before they were separated, both players threw punches and most of the team intervened to pull them apart. It wasn't the only moment of the day where the feisty Joyner got under someone's skin. A handful of plays before the skirmish, Joyner got tangled with receiver Kenny Britt and ended up with Britt's helmet in his hands. Britt later repaid the favor with a crushing downfield block. Joyner might be small but it's quite clear he doesn't back down.
  • As for the run-game work, the Rams emphasized that in today's practice. They did a period of run-blocking only drills early in the practice and made it a point to do even more during the team portion. They didn't tackle but there was plenty of "thud" tempo. That might not do it justice but think of these thuds as the kind that used to show up on the old Batman TV show where the word is in all caps with 18 exclamation points behind it. Starting running back Zac Stacy brought the hammer repeatedly, dropping his shoulder into safety Rodney McLeod multiple times and doing the same to linebacker Ray Ray Armstrong. Tight end Cory Harkey did the same after a couple of catches, including one that drew some not-fit-for-print words from Armstrong.
  • A couple of others who showed up when the contact increased: tight end Justice Cunningham and safety Maurice Alexander. After Alexander came up with a run stuff in one period, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams could be heard yelling "Look who finally showed up." Cunningham came with some big blocks during run plays in team as well, drawing praise from his offensive teammates and coaches.
  • The walking wounded list is still extensive but none of the injuries appear serious. Among the key names not practicing were linebacker James Laurinaitis, defensive tackles Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford, wide receiver Brian Quick, cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Brandon McGee and offensive lineman Barrett Jones. Laurinaitis, Brockers and McGee are battling ankle issues and Saffold has a stinger. One player who did practice was safety Christian Bryant. He's been stuck on the non-football injury list since his arrival and Monday's workout was his first with the Rams.
  • The Rams return to practice Tuesday with the workout scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET. That practice is the only one left this week open to the public at Rams Park.

Locker Room Buzz: St. Louis Rams

November, 3, 2013
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ST. LOUIS -- Observed in the locker room after the St. Louis Rams' 28-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

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Cunningham
Pettis not pleased: Rams receiver Austin Pettis looked like he was about to draw a key penalty on Tennessee on the offense's second-to-last play, a penalty that would have put the Rams in position to tie the game late.

Quarterback Kellen Clemens lofted a pass to the front left corner of the end zone from the Titans' 26 with Pettis in double coverage. It appeared Pettis was grabbed on the play but when he looked for a flag after the play, he found nothing.

"I just asked him what the scenario was and if it was a foul and he didn’t agree," Pettis said. "I felt like he kind of held me a little bit. They did it a decent amount but that’s part of the game. Nothing is going to be easy, especially in a situation like that where we’re trying to tie the game obviously the DB is going to do whatever he can to not let you catch the ball and I’m going to do whatever I can to do that."

Miscast: Rams rookie running back Benny Cunningham halted an early drive with a costly fumble on a run that looked like it might go for a touchdown. Cunningham burst through Tennessee's defense for a gain of 6 yards but lost the ball when he got to the 10. He said there was nothing to the fumble. Cunningham said he has a sprained left thumb and was wearing a cast which didn't allow him to grip the ball as tight as he normally would.

Star power: Ty Burrell, star of ABC's hit comedy "Modern Family," attended Sunday's game as a guest of the team. Burrell is a Rams fan from Oregon, who first became a fan through family connections.

Burrell arrived in town earlier in the weekend and went to the walkthrough Saturday, where he got a chance to meet most of the team. He even did an interview with the team's in-house broadcast team on the video boards during Sunday's game.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As the longest tenured of the St. Louis Rams' running backs and receivers, Austin Pettis is in just his third season in the NFL.

That doesn’t exactly make him a grizzled veteran. It does, however, make him the receiver with the most knowledge of the offense, and the one quarterback Sam Bradford can lean on in the most important of situations.

“You can’t say enough good things about Austin Pettis,” Bradford said. “I’ve said it since OTA’s, I think he’s one of our most dependable. He’s so smart; you can put him all over the field. He knows every route that everyone’s supposed to run, and I can trust him, because I know that he’s going to see things the right way and he’s going to be in the right spot.”

[+] EnlargeAustin Pettis
AP Photo/Tom GannamOver the past two seasons, Austin Pettis has 52 catches, with 38 going for a first down or touchdown.
Pettis isn’t going to be confused for a Calvin Johnson or Dez Bryant anytime soon, but what he has done is find a role for himself, embraced it and excelled in it the first five games of the season.

In those contests, Pettis has 22 catches for 222 yards, a modest total on the surface, but a little deeper dig reveals a young receiver on a team full of them who is finding his niche.

That niche is pretty simple, when Bradford and the Rams need to move the chains, it’s Pettis they look to first. When they need to put the ball in the end zone, it’s Pettis who finds a way to get it done.

Of Pettis’ 22 catches, 14 have gone for first downs and four more have gone for touchdowns. That means 81 percent of Pettis’ catches are either moving the chains or putting points on the board.

Over the past two seasons, Pettis has 52 catches with 38 of them going for a first down or touchdown.

“That’s definitely something that I kind of pride myself in my career playing football,” Pettis said. “I really enjoy those clutch situations, and I kind of just want to be that guy who makes a play for the team.”

Pettis began flashing signs of taking on that role in the second half of the 2012 season, coming up with an important touchdown catch at San Francisco and making a difficult grab on a ball thrown behind him to keep the game-winning drive going in Buffalo.

As the rest of the Rams’ receivers continue to search for defined roles of their own, Pettis’ reliability has provided some semblance of consistency in an offense without much. He has just one drop this year according to ESPN Stats & Information.

In Sunday’s win against Jacksonville, Pettis again proved to be the right guy at the right time for Bradford. On third-and-goal at Jacksonville’s 4, Pettis ran a quick out and hauled in a pass from Bradford for a touchdown with 27 seconds to go in the half.

After the Jaguars pulled within one score in the fourth quarter, Pettis hauled in a 31-yard touchdown along the right sideline on a perfectly placed pass from Bradford to provide the final margin. Another of his catches resulted in a first down.

“You’ve got to have that trust with a wide receiver, a tight end, a back in order to turn things loose,” Bradford said. “I trust those guys to go make plays, but I would say right now with AP, he’s doing so many things so well that I really trust him. I think it showed up today, when we needed to make a play I went to AP and he made a tough catch, and it was a really, really big play for us.”

Before the season, many wondered if Brian Quick was on the verge of overtaking Pettis as a starter opposite Chris Givens. Pettis had a strong spring, but didn’t get much done during training camp or the preseason.

Five weeks later, Pettis is clearly the team’s most consistent option in the passing game, particularly at the moments that matter most. It’s unlikely he’ll ever be the type to post 100-yard games on a regular basis or catch short passes and turn them into touchdowns (he has just 22 yards after the catch this season), but there’s nothing wrong with finding a spot and making it your own.

On an offense in need of more players settling into jobs of their own, others would be well served to take their cues from the Rams’ most experienced wideout.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Entering his fourth season in the league, St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford feels like the wise old man of the offense.

When Bradford stops and looks around the locker room or huddle he sees a group of youngsters, particularly in the wide receivers and running backs, only a year or two removed from being in college.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesRams quarterback Sam Bradford has grown comfortable in Brian Schottenheimer's offense and is ready to share his knowledge with the rest of the offense.
Not that Bradford minds being considered a veteran on a young team.

“It makes me feel old, No. 1,” Bradford said. “But, I think it’s great. I think those young guys bring a certain energy to our locker room. They’ve got a lot of energy. They’ve got more than some of the vets and it’s great. I think it gives us a spark.”

Although Bradford does have some help in the leadership department from a veteran offensive line that includes tackle Jake Long, guard Harvey Dahl and center Scott Wells, a big part of his responsibility moving forward is embracing a leadership role to ensure the young players surrounding him reach their potential sooner than later.

Upon the departure of running back Steven Jackson, Bradford quickly realized a leadership void beyond just the opening at running back had been created. He’s embraced that role in this camp as he can regularly be found offering pointers to his receivers during practice or working extra with them afterward.

“It’s fun for me because I get to take more of a leadership role and try to help mold some of those young players and teach them the game and teach them through experiences that I’ve had,” Bradford said. “I think it’s great that we have a lot of young guys. I think it gives us an opportunity to take a lot of steps forward.”

The reality is that Bradford probably wasn’t as equipped to take the reins as the primary voice of the offense until this season. Not only was Jackson the more established veteran but Bradford continued to find himself in a position where he never had the chance to learn all the ins and outs of the offense.

Changing offensive coordinators three times in his first three years left Bradford trying to play catch up. It’s made it difficult for him to offer advice to his receivers and backs because he’s been working to learn it himself.

Now in his second year in coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s offense, Bradford seems more at ease with his role. The timing of that couldn’t be better given how young his wideouts and backs are.

Projecting a receiver and running back corps with an average age of 23 might be fun in terms of the locker room but it also means the Rams and Bradford have high expectations for young players at a position where youth doesn’t always quickly translate to success.

Rookie and young running backs have a long history of producing right away. Just last year, two of the league’s top five rushers (Washington’s Alfred Morris and Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin) were rookies. That could bode well for second-year back Daryl Richardson and his young cohorts.

The receiver spot is a bit more difficult to make an early impact save for a select few. Among the top 20 in receiving yards in 2012, only three were in their second year but none were rookies.

Austin Pettis is the elder statesman of the receiver group entering his third season in the league. Chris Givens and Brian Quick are heading into Year 2 and Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey are rookies.

Tight end Jared Cook should ease some of the pressure on those young receivers a bit, but it still might be asking a lot for such a young group to contribute in a major way so early in their careers at a position where that’s generally been difficult.

Bradford is aware of that, but he’s also made it clear he doesn’t plan to wait around for them to develop.

“I think there’s obviously a certain level of patience that you have to have,” Bradford said. “Obviously, we’re going to go through growing pains, but at the same time those guys have to understand what they’re expected to come in and do -- and that’s play at a high level. I think that we’ve tried to make that clear to a lot of the rookies, especially on the offensive side of the ball. They might be rookies, but they have to grow up fast because we are depending on them for our offense to be successful. So, we can’t afford them to have a season of learning. They’ve got to be able to come in and help us immediately.”
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Isaac Bruce holds nearly every meaningful receiver record in Rams franchise history and during his 16-year career earned a reputation as one of the game’s savviest wideouts.

When the Rams hired Jeff Fisher as coach in January of 2012, Fisher made it clear that alumni would be welcomed to Rams Park with open arms. Bruce was right at the top of the list.

[+] EnlargeIsaac Bruce
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireFormer Rams receiving great Isaac Bruce likes the team's young receivers. "I'm pretty impressed," Bruce said.
Considering the fact that the Rams don’t have a single wideout on the roster who has more than two full years of NFL game experience, any additional presence that can help receivers coach Ray Sherman is a welcome addition.

So Bruce has spent the better part of the past week observing, offering advice and generally serving as a resource for the young wideouts.

Bruce has been participating in many of the team activities since his arrival in St. Louis. He attends meetings, sits in on film sessions, works with players during practice and has even spent time getting in extra work with the young wideouts after those sessions are over.

“I think they wait on and listen to my opinion,” Bruce said. “I just tell the guys what I think and how I would run a route against this coverage or how I would attack the football versus that pass being thrown. They just sit on it and kind of wait for it. I sit in the back and I sneak up and then all eyes start looking at me.”

The Rams will keep five or six receivers on the final roster and Bruce offered me his thoughts on the five that are almost certain to make it.

“I’m pretty impressed,” Bruce said. “I think they’ve added some speed, some quickness, some separation, some guys who have a lot of room for growth but they are willing to make those steps to improve. I like the group as a whole.”

On Chris Givens: “To me, he’s not as herky jerky as he was last year,” Bruce said. “He’s made up his mind on who he wants to be as a football player. He’s a guy who can explode off the line of scrimmage. His transition from running the route to catching the football has gotten a whole lot better and his confidence is up.”

On Austin Pettis: “He is a starter right now,” Bruce said. “He’s not a guy who is just kind of glad to be here anymore. From what I see, I think he’s got the mentality of a No. 1 receiver and that’s big. If you are going to be a dominant guy in this league, I think that’s the right mentality to have.”

On Brian Quick: “That’s what we are working on right now is having him be more consistent,” Bruce said. “Like I said, for that guy we are just building an identity of just coming in every day and figuring out who he is and what type of football player he is and letting him know he can play at a high level and he belongs. I think that’s working out for him.”

On Tavon Austin: “The thing that blows me away is his willingness to learn,” Bruce said. “He’s pretty hungry as far as knowledge is concerned. From my background of playing this game, the more wisdom you have, I think the more success you’ll have, even over talent. Your talent starts to fade but the more you know, you can stay in this game a long time and have a lot of success.”

On Stedman Bailey: “The guy is from my hometown and he knows what it is to play competitively as far as football is concerned,” Bruce said. “I think the guy is going to make big plays. I keep telling him every day you are here for a reason. They drafted you for a reason so go ahead and tap into that potential and be all you can be.”

Bruce will attend one more practice Tuesday afternoon before departing Wednesday.
The St. Louis Rams list nine wide receivers on their 90-man roster. That is the lowest figure in the NFL and three below the league average.

The overall number isn't most important to the Rams right now. For the first time in recent memory, they have five young receivers they're eager to build around: Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, Brian Quick, Stedman Bailey and Austin Pettis.

Pettis, Givens and Quick are returning. Austin and Bailey are new. Danny Amendola, Danario Alexander, Brandon Gibson, Greg Salas and Steve Smith are among those gone from this time last year.

For a closer look at rosters for the Rams and their NFC West rivals, check out my latest roster file, ready for download here.

Enjoy your Saturday -- the second-to-last one before training camps open.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Rookie receiver Tavon Austin returned a punt toward the right sideline Tuesday and broke into the clear, leaving punter Johnny Hekker as the last line of defense.

Austin
Austin, the St. Louis Rams' quick and elusive first-round draft choice, staggered Hekker with a series of moves that unfolded as quickly as the eye could track.

The sequence was comical, and Hekker, left leaning awkwardly toward the sideline as Austin raced past him to the inside, knew he was going to hear it from teammates. There wasn't much Hekker could do at this point, so he dropped to the ground and clutched his hamstring in a lighthearted attempt to invite some sympathy.

It was one of the more memorable moments as the Rams opened their final week of organized team activities before breaking until training camp.

"Come on, that is hilarious," cornerback Cortland Finnegan said later. "[Austin] is the real deal, man."

Hekker, by the way, was considered arguably the most athletic punter in college football while at Oregon State. Not that it was going to matter against the 5-foot-8, 174-pound Austin, a player the Rams expect to create mismatches from the slot and elsewhere.

Other notes from the Rams' session Tuesday at team headquarters:
  • Defense impresses: The Rams' offense has certainly had its moments this offseason, but the defense more than held its own Tuesday, including during work deep inside the red zone. That was a bit of a surprise on a day when Finnegan and fellow corner Trumaine Johnson sat out.
  • Stacy's hands: Rookie running back Zac Stacy caught the ball well out of the backfield, including when he had to extend for passes outside his frame. Stacy is in position to get significant carries as a rookie fifth-round draft choice, but it's too early to know how the position will shake out. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer expects a committee approach. Pass protection is one initial concern because Stacy, Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson are so young.
  • Pettis' offseason: Schottenheimer and the Rams' staff have liked what they've seen from receiver Austin Pettis, who showed his value in the red zone at times last season. The Rams have five young wide receivers they want to build around, and Pettis is one of them. Austin, Stedman Bailey, Brian Quick and Chris Givens are the others.
  • Ogletree's catch: Rookie first-round pick Alec Ogletree appeared to reflexively catch a pass that hit him in the midsection while he was playing coverage in the end zone. He took off running the other way.
  • Best DB: Finnegan calls second-year corner Janoris Jenkins by far the best defensive back on the team. Jenkins caught my attention Tuesday when he jumped a route and picked off the pass.
  • McDonald's breakup: Rookie safety T.J. McDonald caught my attention by breaking up a pass for tight end Jared Cook in the corner of the end zone. The pass probably could have been thrown more to the outside, in retrospect, but McDonald made a good play. Cook's size-speed ratio makes him a tough cover.
Carlos Rogers' contract with the San Francisco 49ers ranks among the NFC West's top three for cornerbacks in guaranteed money ($10.65 million), 2013 base salary ($5.5 million) and average per year ($7.325 million).

Where does Rogers rank as a corner?

"I'm lukewarm on him," Matt Williamson, ESPN's NFL scout, said. "He would start for just about every team, but if he is a $7 million guy, maybe I'd rather use a second-round pick on a corner and use that money on someone else."

[+] EnlargeCarlos Rogers and Victor Cruz
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesCarlos Rogers has 15 interceptions in eight seasons, including a career-best six in 2011.
The 49ers did not take that route in the 2013 draft, and when it ended, reporters asked general manager Trent Baalke whether he felt Rogers could match up against some of the new wide receivers in the NFC West, notably Percy Harvin and Tavon Austin. Last season, Rogers had his hands full against the St. Louis Rams' Danny Amendola, leading former NFL coach Rick Venturi to say Amendola turned Rogers "every way but loose" in Week 10.

The 49ers, by their actions in the draft and free agency, do not appear particularly concerned.

"You always talk about matchups -- are we manning up these guys, or are we playing zone and covering them in an umbrella type of situation?" Baalke told reporters when pressed about the team's options at slot corner specifically. "So, I think we've got to look at it a lot of different ways. And you take care of certain things with scheme more than just one-on-one matchups."

Cian Fahey of Pre-snap Reads, who previously took game-by-game looks at NFC West cornerbacks Richard Sherman (here) and Patrick Peterson (here), dove into Rogers' 2012 performance this week. He saw what Venturi saw against Amendola, who is now safely outside the NFC West after signing with New England. Fahey also noted Rogers' struggles against slot receivers Early Doucet, Randall Cobb, Doug Baldwin and Austin Pettis.

But there are reasons the 49ers decided to guarantee $1.25 million of Rogers' upcoming salary by keeping him on the roster past April 1.

"Tackling is a vital part of Rogers' game," Fahey wrote. "While he doesn't have the superior coverage ability of his peers, he is a good fit with the 49ers because he doesn't allow big plays after the catch and he's not a liability in run defense. According to Pro Football Focus, Rogers made 59 tackles last season and missed just three. That ratio for a player who primarily played the slot cornerback role in the NFC West is incredible."

I circled back with Williamson for some final thoughts:
"Rogers is a tough evaluation. He came in as a first-round pick. He is a first-round caliber tools guy: not small, long arms, pretty fluid, moves well. But he more or less never lived up to that in Washington. His first year with the Niners (2011) was his best as a pro, and not just for the six interceptions. I would bet he will never reach those six picks again. I felt like that first year in San Francisco on a very good defense with a good pass-rush, he was good. Last year, I thought he was an average NFL starting corner. I don't know the guy or know his motivation, but I wondered if he coasted a little bit. He can play the slot, and he benefits from a strong supporting cast. He will not be a top corner who you put on the opponent's best receiver every week. He is a good fit, but it wouldn't shock me if you're looking to replace him, too."
The St. Louis Rams' bold move up the draft board to select Tavon Austin was not their final move for a wide receiver in the 2013 NFL draft. Stedman Bailey, chosen Friday with the 92nd overall choice, comes to St. Louis as a polished possession receiver coming off a season in which he led the nation in touchdown receptions with 25.

Bailey played with Austin at West Virginia. Scouting one of them meant scouting the other, so the Rams should have a very good feel for both players and how the two could compliment one another.

St. Louis now has a young fleet of receiving targets for quarterback Sam Bradford. Austin and Bailey join Brian Quick, Chris Givens, Austin Pettis and tight ends Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks in that regard.

The Rams selected Bailey with a pick acquired from Atlanta in the trade that allowed the Falcons to climb from 30th to 22nd in the first round. That trade was critical for the Rams, in my view, because the team had given up considerable capital in moving up eight spots to get Austin. The trade down from No. 22 recouped picks and allowed the Rams to address other needs. The trade armed St. Louis with the 30th, 92nd and 198th picks.

St. Louis Rams general manager Les Snead has repeatedly vowed to act boldly and without fear. The team is succeeding on both fronts.

One year after swinging a blockbuster trade with the Washington Redskins, Snead and the Rams moved up eight spots in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft Thursday to select West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin at No. 8 overall.

The Rams sent the 16th, 46th, 78th and 222nd choices to Buffalo for the eighth and 71st choices. The exchange lined up evenly on the traditional trade-value chart dating to the early 1990s. However, the Rams came out ahead using some of the modernized trade-value calculations, such as the ones Steve Drake has made easy to figure out.

Austin
This is an exciting move for the Rams because Austin projects as a game-breaking talent with value in the return game. He is 5-foot-8 and 174 pounds with a slight lower body, so he is not another Percy Harvin. Still, Austin can affect a game in some of the same ways, and his salary will easily fit into the Rams' salary structure thanks to the rookie wage scale that has given teams even more incentive to build through the draft.

Austin gives the Rams needed playmaking help. He joins a receiving corps featuring Chris Givens, Brian Quick and Austin Pettis, plus tight ends Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks.

Quarterback Sam Bradford has needed upgraded weapons for some time. Now, he might have them. Austin should be a factor right away. His size raises concerns about long-term durability. That will be something to watch, for sure, as Austin navigates a rough-and-tumble NFC West featuring extremely physical defenses.

2013 #bloggermock: Rams at No. 22

April, 23, 2013
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What's going on: Our eight divisional bloggers are participating in an ongoing mock draft Tuesday. Each blogger can make selections or trade picks for the four teams in his division.

How to access: Blogger mock console, and via #bloggermock on Twitter.

The latest: I used St. Louis' second first-round pick, No. 22 overall, for initial first-round pick, No. 16 overall, for Tennessee receiver Justin Hunter.

My rationale: Tavon Austin would have been a consideration here, but he went to the New York Jets at No. 13. Hunter wasn't ranked among the Scouts Inc. Top 32 the last time I checked, but I've seen him ranked higher elsewhere -- including at No. 20 in the Pro Football Weekly Draft Preview. I've gone back and forth in my mind over whether the Rams truly have a pressing need at receiver after adding tight end Jared Cook in free agency. There are three legitimate WR candidates on the roster. The Rams have faith in Chris Givens, Brian Quick and Austin Pettis. They could still use greater depth at the position. They could still use additional prospects in case Quick in particular fails to reach his potential. Hunter is a rangy 6-foot-4 with outstanding speed. Beyond that, who knows? All these picks are risky.

What's next for the NFC West: The San Francisco 49ers are scheduled to pick at No. 31.

Kiper mock 4.0: Rams thoughts

April, 13, 2013
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Mel Kiper Jr.'s fourth mock draft Insider for 2013 covers two rounds. After a look at projections for the San Francisco 49ers, we continue with the St. Louis Rams.

First round

16. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia

Kiper's give: Danny Amendola will be catching passes from Tom Brady in 2013, so the Rams can certainly afford to place a high priority on a slot weapon. Austin is one of the true home run threats in this draft, and while he's perfect to work in the slot, given his speed, route-running skills and soft hands, this is a player you can get creative with. The loss of Amendola leaves a void, but Austin could even be an upgrade.

Sando's take: There's a tendency to overstate the Rams' need level at wide receiver after the team parted with Amendola and Brandon Gibson in free agency. Chris Givens and Brian Quick could grow into a productive combination. Free-agent addition Jared Cook will help the receiving game even though he's listed as a tight end. The same goes for Lance Kendricks. The Rams have already invested quite a bit in their efforts to arm quarterback Sam Bradford. Quick and Kendricks were second-round picks. Austin Pettis was a third-rounder. Cook cost $19 million in guaranteed money. There are still question marks about this group, however. Austin's presence would only improve the odds for St. Louis. He would probably help in the return game right away even if he needed time to develop as a receiver. Kiper had Austin going 14th overall in his previous mock. He did not project Austin as a first-round selection in either of his two previous mocks for 2013.

22. Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas

Kiper's give: The departure of Craig Dahl for San Francisco isn't what I'd call a personnel emergency, but there's not a lot left behind him. Darian Stewart and Rodney McLeod are currently penciled in as the starters, so drafting Vaccaro guarantees you an upgrade at safety in a division where safeties are vital. San Francisco, Seattle and Arizona all can test you deep, and in a couple of cases, you need safeties who can fly up to make plays on QBs who are willing to run.

Sando's take: Dahl's departure tells only part of the story. The Rams' move to release Quintin Mikell reduced Mikell's cap charge to $6 million for 2013, a substantial savings, but it also increased the team's need at the position overall. The Rams need young talent at safety whether or not Mikell re-signs at a lower rate sometime in the future.

Second round

46. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin

Kiper's give: Minus Steven Jackson, their depth chart at running back is set with this addition.

Sando's take: Scouting reports on Ball suggest he runs like the big running back Rams coach Jeff Fisher wants to add. While Ball isn't especially large by NFL standards at 5-foot-10 and 214 pounds, the Rams could use him in committee. Isaiah Pead, a second-round choice in 2012, projects as the change-of-pace back. Daryl Richardson was a revelation as a seventh-round choice last year. Kiper's partner in draft analysis, Todd McShay, thinks the Rams could consider drafting a bigger back after the first couple rounds. He pointed to Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell and Stony Brook's Miguel Maysonet as players to consider if Ball weren't the choice in the second round. Neither was selected during the first two rounds of this latest mock from Kiper. Eddie Lacy, a running back Kiper projected to Green Bay at No. 26, would be a reach for the Rams in the first round, according to McShay. "This running back class is not very good," McShay said, "but I think you can get a Le'Veon Bell, who can catch the ball out of the backfield very well, or a Miguel Maysonet. There are other guys you could bring in to help at the running back position, even if it's Montee Ball in the second round."

Eight in the Box: WR status check

March, 29, 2013
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NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each team look at wide receiver and what still needs to be done?

Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd comprise a solid top three. LaRon Byrd and Kerry Taylor are the only other receivers on the roster. First-year coach Bruce Arians has said receiver is one position he doesn't worry about. Floyd's continued development after an encouraging finish to the 2012 season will be important. The former coaching staff envisioned moving Roberts to the slot, with Fitzgerald and Floyd on the perimeter. That could still happen. Arians also plans to move Fitzgerald around the formation the way he moved Reggie Wayne in Indianapolis last season. Drafting a receiver for depth would make sense, but there's no need to chase one early. The Cardinals released veteran Early Doucet, who struggled with drops last season.

St. Louis Rams: Chris Givens, Brian Quick and Austin Pettis are the top three. Nick Johnson and Raymond Radway are the only other receivers on the roster. The Rams are eager to develop young players. Givens had five receptions of at least 50 yards during his 2012 rookie season, matching the combined total for wide receivers from every other team in the division. Pettis made a difference around the end zone. The Rams still must add to the position after letting Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson leave in free agency. Having two first-round picks should give the Rams an opportunity to consider a highly rated prospect at the position. It's clear the team is committed to youth regardless. We should remember, too, that recently added tight end Jared Cook lines up at receiver quite a bit. He made all but six of his 42 receptions from the slot last season.

San Francisco 49ers: Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin are clearly the top two receivers. Mario Manningham is coming off ACL surgery, took a pay reduction recently and might not figure prominently this season. The 49ers, like the Rams, could use more contributions from a receiver drafted early in 2012. A.J. Jenkins, chosen 30th overall and three spots before the Rams selected Quick, did not catch a pass during his rookie season. What's ahead for him? The 49ers aren't saying much. No one is quite sure. Coach Jim Harbaugh recently sounded more excited about former practice-squad wideout Ricardo Lockette, whose size-speed combination sets him apart from most prospects. Lockette flashed ability with Seattle previously, but his career never took off with the Seahawks. Kyle Williams, Chad Hall, Joe Hastings and Marlon Moore are the other receivers on the roster.

Seattle Seahawks: The addition of Percy Harvin changed the outlook for the position quite a bit. He and Sidney Rice appear to be the top two receivers, but Golden Tate is gaining momentum heading into his contract year. Rice and Tate each caught seven touchdown passes last season. Both averaged 15-plus yards per reception. Doug Baldwin needs improved health to factor as a slot receiver. Even then, opportunities could be scarce. The team thinks Phil Bates and former Cardinals receiver Stephen Williams have the potential to become contributors. Bryan Walters, Charly Martin and Jermaine Kearse are the other receivers on the roster. Drafting for the position would help for long-term planning given Tate's contract situation. Also, injuries have limited Harvin, Rice and Baldwin at times in recent seasons. Rice did stay healthy last season, however.
The St. Louis Rams have not been scrambling to add wide receivers after watching Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson sign elsewhere in free agency.

That should tell us what the team thinks of its young receiving targets.

"St. Louis was the place I wanted to be," Gibson told reporters covering his new team, the Miami Dolphins, "but you know, I think they wanted to go in a different direction with the receivers they drafted very early."

Brian Quick was a second-round choice in 2012. Givens was a fourth-round pick. Tight end Lance Kendricks was a second-rounder in 2011. Tight end Jared Cook, signed from the Tennessee Titans in free agency this week, was a third-round choice in 2009. Receiver Austin Pettis was a third-round choice in 2011.

The Rams are counting on Quick and Givens in particular.

"They have a lot of faith in them, and I as well have a lot of faith in them," Gibson said. "I think they do a great job while they're there and they do a great job of getting those other guys the ball, and Sam [Bradford] is going to do a great job of leading that team. So, I think they’ll be just fine without me."

The Rams could also supplement their receiving corps through the draft. They have two first-round picks this year and in 2014.

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