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Free Agent WR Overview

Word has emerged recently that the Rams and Isaac Bruce are going to make arrangements that will allow him to retire as a Ram. And for those brief hours, he’s still going to be the St. Louis Rams’ best wide receiver. Maybe new receivers coach Nolan Cromwell can talk a fellow team legend into staying a while?

And why stop there? The Jagwires just cut Torry Holt after just one season with the team, the logic being that his fairly modest contributions on the field didn’t merit holding back their young and supposedly up-and-coming receivers.

Modest, indeed. Torry Holt’s 51 receptions for 722 yards last season beat every Rams wide receiver by at least 4 receptions and 133 yards. Donnie Avery’s speed makes him a better deep threat, right? Yet Holt’s yards per catch in 2009 was nearly two yards better than Avery’s. Why did the Rams run Torry off again?

As long as we’re at it, Az Hakim’s just sitting in Arizona running a burger joint; get him on the phone! And Ricky Proehl… OK, he’s 42, that may be really stretching it.

But wouldn’t the Greatest Show on Earth Reunion Special put a bunch of butts back in the Edward Jones Dome’s seats? Whaddya say, Mr. Khan? Let’s get the band back together! (P.S., I hear Kurt Warner’s free these days, too.)

Short of that, here’s a look at the current free agent market at wide receiver. Though it’s short Vincent Jackson, Miles Austin, Brandon Marshall, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith due to the CBA snarl-up, it’s still got an interesting name or two…

Wide receiver

Rams current depth chart:
Donnie Avery: 47 receptions, 589 yards, 5 TDs led the team.

Laurent Robinson: 13 receptions for 167 yards and a TD. Played only the first three games.

Brandon Gibson: 34 catches for 348. 4 starts in 9 games as a rookie mid-season arrival via trade.

Keenan Burton: 25 receptions for 253. Missed almost half the season.

Danny Amendola: 43 catches for 326 yards.

Ruvell Martin: 6 catches for 99. Another midseason acquisition, he appeared in 8 games.

Jordan Kent: 1 catch, 5 yards.

Brooks Foster: Spent season on injured reserve.

Notes: Martin becomes a restricted free agent without a league CBA.

More wide receivers after the jump!

Analysis: Due to injuries, inexperience and inability, the wide receiver position is where the Ram offense ran aground in 2009. Defenders were thicker on Rams receivers last year than paparazzi on Brangelina. I “got” why the Rams drafted Avery in 2008 and slowly got on board with the pick, but his ’09 season was a bust. He was a ball player without confidence, and his hands got worse down the stretch. He ended the season looking a lot more like a WR3 at best than the #1 role/vacuum he got sucked into to start the season. Some alarming analysis: Avery was the Rams’ most-targeted receiver last year, but was second in catches, and despite being targeted 30 more times, had only 4 more catches than Danny Amendola! That simply isn’t #1 receiver stuff. Robinson and Marc Bulger appeared to have good chemistry early in the season, and Robinson looked like a legitimate #1, the only Ram WR who could really even get open, until he repeated a career-long trend of getting hurt. In his defense, though, his season-ending injury in the home opener was a very freaky one. Burton showed flashes of ability, but also disappeared on the field a lot, then disappeared for the season with a week 9 knee injury, staying in his career-long injury pattern. Rookie Gibson was the most-promising-looking WR after Robinson, understandably raw at times but also capable of making big-time plays. He’ll be a Ram to watch. Most of Martin’s production came on plays where the opposing defense forgot to cover him. Amendola’s style as a kick returner doesn’t lend itself well to taking a lot of extra punishment as a WR. He proved useful on short, underneath routes but wasn’t really a threat to turn any into a long gainer. Kent is a terrific special teams player and is worth having on your roster just for that. Foster’s season-ending injury in training camp just shows he’s already getting the hang of being a receiver for the Rams.

Free agency

Top 5 UFA WRs: 1) Nate Burleson 2) Chris Chambers 3) Torry Holt 4) Derrick Mason 5) Kevin Walter

Sleepers: Derek Hagan, Domenik Hixon, Bobby Wade

Thanks, we’ll get back to you: Arnaz Battle, Antonio Bryant, Marty Booker, Terrance Copper, Mike Furrey, Joey Galloway, Greg Lewis, Brandon Lloyd, Sean Morey, Muhsin Muhammad, Kassim Osgood, Josh Reed, Kelley Washington, Jeff Webb

Gawd no: Donte Stallworth, Terrell Owens, Hank Baskett, Airese Currie

Viewing the field: Burleson had 62 catches last year in Seattle, and when healthy, has always been a legitimate deep threat and a dangerous punt returner. But the biggest bonus to the Rams signing Burleson would be that they don’t have to try to figure out how to stop him any more, BECAUSE THEY NEVER HAVE. Chambers recaptured a little of his Miami glory in Kansas City last year, amassing 608 yards and 4 TDs there in 9 games. He’s still just 31, and either he or Burleson would be #1 WRs if they came here, which should be another lure. The obvious problem for Holt is that he’s 34 and has lost a lot of speed. Though no #1, again, he’d be the best Rams WR upon arrival. Mason led this group of receivers last year with 72 receptions for over 1,000 yards, a brilliant season, but he’ll either return to Baltimore or retire. Walter was considered a disappointment in Houston last season but still has 170+ catches the last 3 seasons. Again, that beats any Rams receiver.

A couple of Giant free agent WRs bear mentioning, given Steve Spagnuolo’s old ties there. Hagan’s only 25 and has very nice size at 6’2″, 215. He had problems with dropped passes his rookie season but is said to have good hands now, along with some elusiveness and YAC ability, and is a deep threat. He’s had only 9 catches in 2 seasons in New York, but 50 the previous 2 in Miami. Hagan has youth and ability the Rams can’t afford to turn their noses up at. Big but slim, Hixon had just 15 catches for the Giants last year, but 43 for almost 600 yards the year before. Think of it this way – the two are a couple of Brandon Gibsons, but with experience. Wade has over 140 catches the last three seasons, though his role’s filled pretty well here by Amendola.

The Rams are in deep need at this position, but as always, better take care how far they stoop. Then again, a team serious about acquiring Michael Vick might as well bring Stallworth along for the ride, though with a designated driver, for sure. Funny thing is, the Rams probably consider him a better fit than Owens. T.O.’s rap sheet may be clean, but he’d be an awful fit for many, many other reasons, not the least of which is his declining skills. Hank Baskett didn’t exactly impress with his ball skills on that onside kick in the Super Bowl. Playmate wife or not, I’ll pass. KFFL lists Bears WR Airese Currie as a UFA. I have to admit I’d never heard of the guy. Google “Airese Currie Lisa Lampanelli”, and I’m pretty sure you’ll wish you never had yourself.

RamView’s move: The Rams’ most crying offensive need is a #1, veteran WR. They need to, and I would, go balls-out after Burleson, Chambers or Walter, though I fear the extra transition tag teams get when this uncapped season becomes a reality is probably going to mess with my plans. A guy like Hagan is practically as good as anybody they have right now, and is the kind of young, low-risk, and cheap acquisition that ought to be a no-brainer. I mentioned Dexter McCluster in the RB review as a draft prospect; he has potential to help them as a slot receiver as well. Season-long practice-squadder Sean Walker also better get a nice long look in training camp, where no WR, including Avery, should be considered immune from getting cut.

Prediction: Rams Park will continue to drive Rams Nation, or me, at least, nuts about this position by essentially standing pat, hoping Avery overcomes Kennison syndrome, Gibson continues to develop and Robinson and Burton find ways to miraculously suit up for double-digit games in a season. We’ll have to hope their patience is rewarded.

Next: tight ends.

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