The old cliché that competition breeds success is true especially when you’re talking sports. It is also true when you look at several positions on the Rams’ roster with players fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster. When I take a close look at the receiver position, there will be a fight for six receiver spots, possibly seven.
When I analyze the business side of the equation, there is limited cap space and not a lot of money tied up in the position. Newly acquired unrestricted free agent Mike Sims-Walker has the highest salary at $750,000 and his one-year deal includes incentives that could earn him up to $3.25 million. Donnie Avery has the next highest salary at $638,750.
I broke the group down into three categories: 1. Lock; 2. Bubble players; and 3. Outside looking in. I understand there is a lot of football to be played in the preseason, but to this point the evaluation process started the day training camp started a few weeks ago. Bill Walsh told me several years ago that potential is something you have not seen out of a player, and upside is skills that are present and you have seen that allows coaches to develop an ascending skill set.
Danny Amendola. The leading receiver from 2010 is quarterback Sam Bradford’s safety valve on short to intermediate passes, and will excel in the new offense. Compared to Wes Welker, in my opinion he has earned the right to be called Danny Amendola without any comparisons.
Brandon Gibson. A possession receiver that lacks deep ball speed, he is consistent in everything he does, running routes, creating separation from defenders and catching the ball consistently. When you look at the other 31 NFL teams, they all have at least two Gibsons because this type of receiver moves the chains on third-and-3, third-and-5 and third-and-seven. He is a receiver that is sneaky and crafty working to get onto safeties with double moves.
Mike Sims-Walker. A receiver with size power and speed and a playmaker outside the numbers with toughness across the middle. He has the athletic ability and skill set to take over a game and dominate. Sims-Walker is looking for a fresh start at a new venue and brings experience and talent to a depleted receiving corps.
Danario Alexander. Another receiver with size, speed and playmaking ability down field. which was proven last season with game-breaking ability. Alexander has the worst knee on the team, a left knee that has had five surgeries and that will need maintenance and rest throughout the season. I love his toughness and competitiveness to practice and play with pain. The question is whether can he make it through a 16-game schedule.
Austin Pettis. The third-round pick in the 2011 draft has flashed route-running skills, and soft hands to catch outside the frame. However, with some concentration drops and his inability to separate himself from the pack, he needs to have a breakout game during the preseason to help his cause. Good ascending skill set for the future.
Greg Salas. The fourth-round pick in the 2011 draft was off to a good start turning heads with every catch. He improved on every route and is an extremely crafty receiver in space. A hamstring injury has put him behind in reps in the new Josh McDaniels offense. He will have to play catch-up rather quickly to impress the coaches as well. Good ascending skill set for the future.
Mardy Gilyard. The second-year pro who struggled with learning the Pat Shurmur West Coast offense had to learn how to condition (running routes full speed every play) and battled a wrist injury all of the 2010 season. He showed flashes at the receiver position, while excelling as a gunner on special teams. In the new offense, Gilyard has not missed a beat as a receiver and is extremely focused as a return man. He is a gym rat sandlot-type player with an edge to him that has all the making of a playmaker at the NFL level. He has been focused this year and is quietly ascending, but needs to separate himself from the pack and I feel he will when the dust settles and the 53-man roster is set.
Donnie Avery. In his fourth season, Avery is the fastest receiver on the team and probably the fastest player on the Rams’ 90-man roster, but he has yet to play a full 16-game schedule due to injuries (hip and knee issues). He has battled knee pain early in camp and must get healthy quickly and assert himself into the mix in the last three preseason games to allow for true evaluation by the coaches and personnel department. The question surrounding Avery is he is injury prone. The Rams’ organization doesn’t want to cut him because of his upside, but they can’t wait for him to get right or they might feel he won’t make it through a season.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
This group of receivers have all flashed either in practice or the scrimmage, but have yet to display enough ability or opportunity in game-time situations. They do have the skill set, size, length and speed to evaluate further: Jared Jenkins, Dominique Curry, Joe West and Greg Mathews.
Injury update: Donnie Avery (knee) and Mike Sims-Walker (groin) haven’t been cleared to practice, and will most likely miss preseason game No. 2 vs. Tennessee.
Coaches do a great job putting players in position to have success, but in the NFL you win with talent. While the Rams have talent, staying healthy will be the key as it is for every team in the National Football League.