With the departure of Steven Jackson to Atlanta and Danny Amendola to New England, I’ve been hearing what I hope is a vocal minority of Rams fans saying that the franchise has no offensive skill players heading into the 2013 draft. Perhaps my standards are too high for the savvy of those fans, because I know lots of fans that get it. But, if you don’t think the Rams have a chance because their skill players are young, either you don’t want to know about them or you haven’t had time to pay attention.
First of all, these days in the NFL, it’s a young man’s game. The 2008 Atlanta Falcons went 11-5 and won the NFC South while utilizing a rookie quarterback in Matt Ryan. Running back Michael Turner had never carried the ball more than 81 times in a season. Wide receiver Roddy White continued to break out, and Michael Jenkins served them well as a second receiver. The Packers won the Super Bowl as the youngest team in the league, as the Rams did in 1999, and a perennial contender like the Giants continuously infuses young talent like Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Ahmad Bradshaw, David Wilson and Reuben Randle. So when Amani Toomer, Plaxico Burress, Derrick Ward, Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham aren’t around anymore, there are able, young replacements.
The Rams will have Sam Bradford at quarterback. As has been noted here before, Bradford had a nearly identical season to the quarterback who won the Super Bowl in 2012, Joe Flacco. He also had better numbers in his third season than two-time Super Bowl champ Eli Manning.
Isaiah Pead, Daryl Richardson and Terrance Ganaway, at the moment, will split carries. If the Rams run the ball 30 times, each back would theoretically get a shot 10 times. Pead was a very productive player in college, averaging more than 1,000 yards rushing and 28 catches in his three full seasons. This is a guy who ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at the combine and is 5-10, 197 pounds. Jeff Fisher’s last running back in Tennessee, Chris Johnson, is 5-11, 191. Cincinnati was on the quarter system, so Pead missed last year’s OTAs and minicamps. This year, he has an offseason to prepare. If scouts are right, Pead should be a productive NFL back, far from not being a skill player.
Anyone who watched Ganaway at Baylor has an idea of what the Rams have in him. The 6-1, 240-pounder ran for nearly 1,600 yards as a senior. Against the Missouri Tigers, he ran 12 times for 186 yards and touchdowns of 38 and 80 yards. He did more against Washington in the Alamo Bowl, piling up 200 yards on 21 carries. The Rams liked him in the draft, but missed out when the Jets selected him. Ganaway has a chance to be more than serviceable in the NFL – he’s another skill position player with a chance.
If you watched the Rams, you saw what Daryl Richardson is capable of. With a year of game action and an offseason, he has a chance to be a game-breaking NFL back.
You saw what Lance Kendricks is capable of in the last quarter of last season, and the addition of Jared Cook provides Bradford a big, fast target. There are two more skill position players.
At receiver, Chris Givens broke the league record for consecutive games by a rookie with catches of 50-plus yards, previously held by Willie Gault. The fourth-rounder was sixth in catches among rookie wide receivers. He was fourth in yards, second in yards per reception and tied for fourth in touchdown catches. A pragmatic observer would have to think Givens has a chance to ascend and be a pretty good player.
We didn’t see much of Brian Quick, but we weren’t supposed to. He wasn’t going to be Randy Moss or Torry Holt as a rookie. Les Snead, who was in Atlanta when they selected the aforementioned Roddy White, watched White, a first-round pick, catch just 29 balls in his rookie year. Now he’s one of the premier wide receivers in the NFL. That’s a comparable for Quick. The Rams’ comparison, 2012 NFL yards-per-catch leader Vincent Jackson (19.2 yards per reception), hardly did anything as a rookie. Coming out of Northern Colorado to San Diego, Jackson caught three balls for 59 yards as a rookie. Now he’s one of the best. Both-second round picks, both players are big receivers with great speed that, as it turns out, didn’t produce much in their first years.
Are the Rams set at the skill positions? Absolutely not. But last year’s team had just five rushing touchdowns, and even though Amendola and Brandon Gibson were the best guys on the Rams, that doesn’t mean that they’re premier guys in the league.
The Rams must add to their depth in the draft and free agency. They only have five wide receivers and four running backs on their roster. They need more quantity and competition, and like every team would do well to upgrade. But to say they have no skill players is a silly statement. They have guys with ability, who have a chance to break out in a big way in 2013.