National Football League

Possible Receiver Targets for Rams in 2014 Draft

The Rams’ signing of Kenny Britt has drawn plenty of mixed emotions from fans and media members. Some are elated that the team finally has a potential No. 1 receiver on its roster, while others are discouraged by his lack of durability and extensive off-field history.

Either way, expectations should be set accordingly. Yes, at 6-foot-3 and 223 pounds, Britt does have the makeup of a No. 1 receiver. But he also hasn’t played a full 16 games since his rookie year, and his season-high for receptions was 45 back in 2012. He’s never compiled over 800 receiving yards in a season, and last year he caught only 11 passes on his way to being inactive for three of the Titans’ final four games.

In other words, the expectation shouldn’t be that Britt is going to step in and be an impact starter. If that happens, great – kudos to the Rams for rolling the dice on a former first-round pick. If he winds up playing in only 13 games and makes a marginal impact, then so be it. The financial commitment was minimal anyway.

No matter how Britt’s 2014 season plays out, here’s hoping the Rams don’t feel as though they’re set at receiver. Let me explain.

+ Tavon Austin is an explosive playmaker capable of generating big plays, but his size will prevent him from beating jams at the line of scrimmage and contesting passes downfield. In other words, he’s a space player who will do most of his damage from the slot.

+ Austin Pettis is what he is. He’s great at finding soft spots in zones, but he gives you next to nothing from a YAC standpoint. He’s a possession receiver.

+ Chris Givens showed flashes of being a reliable vertical threat as a rookie, but he failed to consistently create separation in his first full season as a starter in 2013. The Rams would be taking a risk if they were to bank on Givens automatically transforming back to the player he was in ’12.

+ Brian Quick has the size, speed and physicality to be a No. 1, but he hasn’t been able to get on the field. His learning curve has been much steeper than anyone would have imagined after he was drafted out of Appalachian State in 2012, and he hasn’t done himself any favors by being inconsistent in practice. One moment he’s catching a pass down the seam for a touchdown, and the next he’s giving up on a route because he doesn’t think the ball is coming his way. The Rams haven’t given up hope, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t mean that his roster spot is guaranteed.

+ Of all the receivers on the Rams’ roster, Stedman Bailey provides the most hope and excitement following his strong finish last season. But at this time last year, everyone was excited about Givens’ development, and he finished the season with only 34 catches for 569 yards and zero touchdowns. Just because Givens fell flat in his second year doesn’t mean Bailey will do the same. But why make any assumptions at this point?

Whether it’s in the first round or the seventh, it would behoove the Rams to select a receiver from this deep and talented draft class. And after studying the film, here are five options for the Rams in various rounds.

(Note: I obviously like more than five receivers in this year’s draft, but I concentrated on the Rams’ needs instead of making general observations. And what the Rams need is that vertical threat who has the combination of size, speed and hands.)

Round 1: Sammy Watkins, Clemson, Junior, 6-foot-1, 211 pounds

Watkins is getting knocked because he’s not 6-foot-4 and thus doesn’t look like a prototypical No. 1 receiver. But he plays much bigger than his size, and he’s going to make an instant impact because of his explosiveness and play-making ability. What I like most about him is that he consistently catches passes away from his body and makes it look easy when he plucks the ball out of the air. I also love his competitiveness and how he worked on becoming a better route-runner over the past two years. He already has NFL-caliber talent and still has plenty of room to grow.

Round 2: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt, Senior, 6-foot-3, 212 pounds

Matthews is a second-round sleeper. He has great size, excellent timed speed (4.46 forty), and a huge catch radius. He also has soft hands, uses his length to contest deep passes and does a nice job of selling his routes. While he needs to do a better job of building up to his max speed (he also has a false step that needs to be ironed out), he’s a true vertical threat in any offense. Matthews isn’t as refined as Watkins, but he has the upside of a No. 1 receiver at a second-round price.

Round 2/3: Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss, Junior, 6-foot-2, 221 pounds

Moncrief and Fresno State’s Davante Adams are similar prospects, although Adams does a better job selling his routes and Moncrief has a decided edge in speed and is a little bigger. Moncrief is a natural pass catcher who keeps the ball away from his body and displays good YAC ability. He’s also a very good blocker, does a nice job sinking his hips when coming out of his breaks and displays good concentration. My main issue is that he doesn’t fire off the snap, and he needs to do a better job of keeping his body under control when high-pointing passes. But both things are correctable and, with that speed, he has plenty of upside. I think he’s a solid No. 2, but if he learns the nuances of the position and reacts well to coaching, then he could be a low-end No. 1.

Round 5: Kevin Norwood, Alabama, RS Senior, 6-foot-2, 198 pounds

Why Norwood is projected to go in the fifth round is beyond me. He has it all: size, speed, hands, play-making ability and confidence. He also was well-coached at Alabama and played in a pro-style offense, so his learning curve will be low. I’ve written “natural pass catcher” about a lot of receivers in this deep draft class, but Norwood is the epitome of the phrase. He does a great job of using his hands to catch the ball away from his body, and he didn’t have many lapses in concentration that I could see. He does lack burst and seems to play a tad slower than his timed speed, but I feel like I’m nitpicking. This is a late-round steal if I’ve ever seen one.

Round 6: Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley, Senior 6-foot-3, 219 pounds

Janis has as much upside as any receiver in this year’s draft because of his size, speed and play-making ability. The only question is: What is his true upside? He torched a lot of small schools playing at Saginaw Valley and could beat opponents with his speed. I love his natural pass-catching ability, his elite second gear and his physicality, as he’ll consistently work for yards after the catch. But I just don’t know how his game translates to the NFL level. Either way, I’m very intrigued.