Friday, December 27, 2013
Morning Ram-blings: On rookie receivers
By Nick Wagoner
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams have found themselves in a perpetual search for help at wide receiver, a search that has centered mainly on the NFL draft.
Given the lack of success enjoyed by most free-agent receivers striking it rich, it's an approach that makes sense but also one that requires plenty of patience. Rare is the wideout who can enter the league and make a splash right from day one. Receivers like Julio Jones and A.J. Green are hard to find and even harder to obtain.
So it should be no surprise that the 2013 rookie class hasn't provided the type of instant impact many would like to see when it comes to receivers. ESPN Inside Slant columnist Kevin Seifert took a look at the production (or lack thereof) of this year's receiver class, and the results are interesting in that they line up with what has become the norm for first-year players at the position.
Seifert charted the 17 drafted wideouts who have caught at least one pass this season. Of that group, only San Diego's Keenan Allen and Houston's DeAndre Hopkins, a third- and first-round pick, respectively, have played what one would consider starter's snaps. In other words, it's not easy for rookie receivers to even get on the field much in their first year.
Here in St. Louis, the Rams spent the highest draft pick of any team on a receiver in 2013, selecting Tavon Austin with the eighth pick after moving up in a trade with Buffalo. The Rams also drafted Stedman Bailey in the third round. Hopkins leads all rookie receivers with 915 snaps this season. Austin and Bailey have combined for 547.
Austin was the player many hoped would provide the biggest return given the investment. But it's not easy to incorporate a unique player such as Austin, who is at his best operating in space. As the Rams struggled to find and sustain an offensive identity, Austin struggled to find his niche, occasionally finding himself barely even used in the offense.
Still, the Rams found other ways to use Austin, and he's had some electrifying moments along the way. While his 40 catches for 418 yards may be a disappointment to some, he's found a way to provide enough big plays as a receiver, runner and returner to score six touchdowns, which ranks only behind Allen and Minnesota's Cordarrelle Patterson in terms of rookie receivers.
Sidelined by an ankle injury the past two weeks and potentially again this week, Austin has missed out on opportunities to add to his totals. In the meantime, Bailey has helped fill the void; he scored his first touchdown on a double-reverse last week against Tampa Bay.
It's unlikely Austin or Bailey will ever be a No. 1 receiver in a conventional sense, but both have done enough to at least elicit optimism they can be key cogs for an offense moving forward. As is often the case with rookie receivers, the wait can be the hardest part.
A roundup of Thursday's Rams stories appearing on ESPN.com. ... In the Ram-blings, we wondered if Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is a bit vulnerable given his recent struggles and his past problems with the Rams. ... From there, we looked at tackle Jake Long's contract and how it changed with his move to injured reserve. ... Next, we took a deeper look at all the Rams have to play for Sunday in Seattle. ... In the injury report, we noted the continued absence of Austin. ... We finished the day with a look at how the Rams could gain the No. 1 overall pick and come out winners before their season finale even begins.
ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando offered his weekly look at the matchups in Inside Edge.
At stltoday.com, Jeff Gordon writes that while the Rams and Seahawks both spend plenty of time talking, only the Seahawks have truly backed it up so far.
Jim Thomas has a breakdown of all the Rams could gain on Sunday. Thomas also writes that coach Jeff Fisher believes the Rams are closing the gap in the NFC West.
NFL.com provides an early look at the draft with three needs for every team.