Gordon: Rams must reassess their work with receivers

2014-04-23T14:44:00Z 2014-04-23T19:20:10Z Gordon: Rams must reassess their work with receiversBy Jeff Gordon jgordon@post-dispatch.com stltoday.com

The most important pre-draft scouting Rams do this spring might occur right there in their own practice facility.

Do the coaches believe their enigmatic assortment of receivers and tight ends can blossom into impact performers? Or must the Rams use that second overall draft pick on Sammy Watkins?

It turns out that Chris Givens is still on the team. Fans may have forgotten that after his mysterious 2013 disappearance, but P-D reporter Jim Thomas dug deep and discovered he is still around. Not only that, Givens seems eager to finally achieve his NFL breakout.

Imagine what a legitimate speed receiver on the outside could do for this defense. Last season Givens became a ghost in the offense, due to injuries and his own regression. 

Sam Bradford and Kellen Clemens targeted him 83 times last season and got just 34 receptions, eight fewer than the season before in one more game played. As Givens lamented to Thomas and other reporters, he somehow avoided catching a TD pass in 2013.

Earlier, Jeff Fisher and Les Snead added underachiever Kenny Britt to the project mix this spring, adding another big target with speed compete with Brian Quick on the outside as well as tight ends Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks.

Then there is explosive slot receiver Tavon Austin, who only flashed his real potential last season, and steady Stedman Bailey filling the possession receiver role. Even Austin Pettis has shown some real upside since his dismal rookie showing.

Surely the Rams can find some real threats from this group, right?

Watkins offers dimensions the Rams currently lack at receiver. He is a bulldozer capable of working the middle of the field, like a young Anquan Boldin.

Should the Rams fail to move their second overall pick, he could offer more instant impact from the draft position than a young offensive tackle.

But . . .

The Rams possess so much untapped potential at the receiver position. At what point is it up to the coaches to MAKE ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that potential is actually met?

The success (or failure) of this team will come down to the ability (or inability) to coach up all of these still-developing players. We made that point last summer from this corner of cyberspace and the Rams fell short with their 7-9 finish.

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer took much of the blame as experts lambasted his vanilla passing scheme.

But how much of this failure was the X's and O's and how much of it was the vexing inability of these young players to progress mentally and physically?

Can they learn better technique and concentration? Can they finally master the offense? Can they find the inner drive to reach new levels of production?

Pro Football Focus offered this take on the Rams receiving issue:

St. Louis hasn’t had a receiver gain over 800 yards since Torry Holt had 1,189 back in 2007. Bradford has never had a receiver gain 700 yards in a season since he took over as quarterback in 2010. They are in desperate need of a consistent, go-to type receiver that will move the chains when called upon. No one on the roster has fit that bill to date.

NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah had this take:

Rams general manager Les Snead made a bold move to trade up for Tavon Austin in the 2013 NFL Draft, and I don't think the wideout's up-and-down rookie campaign is indicative of his NFL future. The Rams have a number of other young receivers on their roster, but I can make the case that not one of them is a true No. 1. Selecting Sammy Watkins with the second overall pick could solve that problem. Yes, receiver is one of the deepest positions in this year's draft, but the former Clemson star is in a class of his own. If the Rams pass on Watkins at No. 2, they could add a big body like Texas A&M's Mike Evans, who would give Bradford an ideal red-zone option.

By now many Rams fans must believe that developing a wide receiver is one of the most difficult tasks imaginable, like assembling a rocket ship with construction debris.

Between now and the draft, the Rams football staff must decide whether the feat can be accomplished this summer.

Is it humanly possible to teach the speedy Givens to catch a deep pass in stride and the towering Quick to beat press coverage with his size and reach?

If not, then the Rams should take the easy way out and draft Watkins to cover their coaching failure.

Follow Jeff Gordon on Twitter @gordoszone and on Facebook at Gordo'sZone.

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Jeff Gordon

This is the new home for STLtoday.com sports columnist Jeff Gordon. Here you'll find his columns on the Cards, Rams, Blues and more, plus his daily "Tipsheet" blog about who's in and who's out in the world of sports.

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