Despite the drafting of several “highly ranked” wide receiver prospects over the last two years, the St. Louis Rams still seem to find themselves searching for one player to step up and be “the guy” within the passing attack. Obviously, the search was somewhat stalled by the injury to Sam Bradford, giving the two rookies, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, limited passing attempts to show their worth on the football field. To be fair, the West Virginia stars were able to pick up their production towards the end of the season. Tavon Austin put together a historical run of lengthy touchdown scores before his ankle injury, and Stedman Bailey was likely the Rams more reliable receiver for the final four weeks of the regular season. Still, you will find few in Rams Nation that are not clamoring for another receiver in the 2014 NFL Draft…
Most of that focus has been heaped on Sammy Watkins, the dynamo Clemson receiver that put the Tigers on the map early in the season. He did nothing to dissuade this “top prospect” label in his final game of the season, putting up 227 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. However, does he really “fit” what the St. Louis Rams need?
First, we should figure out what they do have! Tavon Austin is the man in the slot, whose catches mostly came around the line of scrimmage or on short drag route in the open field. You could call him our “yards after the catch” player. Chris Givens is the “take the top off” receiver, who also handles a bulk of the screen passes. However, Givens dropped off significantly in production this season, and was a shell of his ’12 former-self. Stedman Bailey proved to be a reliable possession receiver on the outside. Then, there is the rest…
Austin Pettis and Brian Quick were both “meh,” for lack of a better term. Both had their moments on the field, but neither truly contributed on a game-by-game basis (not that any receiver did last season). Having to put a label on them, you would probably consider Pettis to be most comfortable as a No.3, inside receiver, who could also effective in the red zone. Brian Quick is the stereotypical No.1 receiver, but has yet to play like it.
So, what are they missing?
Last season, it was someone that could 1) make receptions down the field, 2) reliably play on the outside, 3) can block, both in the screen game and on stretch/outside runs, and 4) can consistently catch the football.
Earlier this morning, a dedicated Rams fan (shoutout to Anthony Khoury) sent me a link to an article on Rotoworld.com. The piece by Greg Peshek detailed several key metrics for the Top 4 receivers in the 2014 draft class. In those, he listed a) where the receivers caught the ball, b) what they did after the catch, c) which ending routes they caught the ball on, and d) how well they caught the ball.
Looking for the missing piece in the St. Louis Rams offense, you would naturally think of someone who was big time down the field and did not drop the ball. The player with the best combination of those two metrics was… Texas A&M’s Mike Evans.
According to their figures, Evans caught 25.37% of this passes 20+ yards down the field, topping Sammy Watkins, Kelvin Benjamin, and Marquis Lee (i.e. the other top prospects) in that category. Despite that extremely high percentage, roughly 11% higher than the average college receiver, Evans drop percentage was a surprisingly low 4.29%; the lowest of the four receivers. If that wasn’t enough, he also managed an impressive 7.63 yards after the catch, trailing only Sammy Watkins, at 8.48 yards. However, considering the 57.43% of Watkins catches were off the screen, the number for Evans is nearly mindblowing.
Looking deeper into the reliance on the screen game for Watkins, one could naturally presume that his production, to some extent, will be dependent on his supporting cast’s ability to block on the outside; whereas, with Evans, his production should simply (or not so simply) depend on his ability to get open down the field and the quarterbacks ability to get him the football.
Obviously, Watkins and Evans play in vastly different offenses, with vastly different quarterbacks, against vastly different competition. However, if you are on the same page with us about what the St. Louis Rams “need” in their wide receiving corps, one could certainly make the case that Rams Nation should be shifting our attention to Mike Evans.