With the free agent signing of Kenny Britt, the St Louis Rams suddenly find themselves with six wide receivers who have been drafted within the first 96 picks of their respective drafts in the roster, including two first-rounders. This is surprising given that many have identified wide receiver as a position of need for the franchise, and can, perhaps, be taken as an indication of the front office’s failure to address it successfully, despite high picks. Britt joins a corps that includes a big body (Brian Quick, 33rd pick), a speedy trickster (Tavon Austin, 6th pick), a slot receiver with success as a deep threat (Chris Givens, 96th pick), a reliable red-zone catcher (Austin Pettis, 78th pick) and an up-and-coming effective route-runner who showed flashes of potential in his rookie year (Steadman Bailey, 92nd pick). It is getting awfully crowded in there, and even if the Rams do not draft Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans later on this month, there is a feeling that something might have to give.
And herein lies the rub: none of these receivers – including Britt – have yet lived up to their potential. Frustratingly, though, they have all shown flashes of brilliance that clearly demonstrate what they are capable of achieving on the field. Tavon Austin had a disappointing, injury-shortened rookie season, but against Indianapolis he proved what a remarkable receiving, running and returning threat he can be. Chris Given’s rookie season was likewise replete with big downfield catches – including receptions of at least fifty yards over five consecutive weeks, a rookie record – before fading as a sophomore. Pettis had more touchdown receptions in 2013 (4) than Quick (2), Givens and Bailey (both 0), and is the most experienced Ram at that position. Even the much-maligned Quick had his moments, and quietly led the team in yards-per-catch. However, this is very much a team of second, even third, receivers in a team that desperately needs a stud.
So, with Britt, and potentially some rookies, in, who is out? Six is already a crowded stable, and the Rams decided to re-sign Justin Veltung who, while playing mostly on special teams, is also a receiver. Austin is clearly safe: he is a high pick who is likely to improve in his second year. Bailey’s youth also works in his favor. Givens has a body of work from his rookie season that will, at the very least, buy him some time. He also has special teams value.
Which leaves Quick and Pettis. Quick was a higher draft pick and has been around for less time. While this status might make him a higher potential profile bust, the fact remains that his size and speed offers variables that differentiate him from those around him. Pettis is slightly shorter, slightly lighter, and somewhat slower, and has been in the League for an additional year. Plus, while Quick plays on the outside and should be capable of making big plays, Pettis is more of a slot receiver, most effective either to gain short yards for possession or in the red-zone, roles that could be taken up by Givens or Bailey. Pettis is more expendable while the Rams wait to see whether Quick’s significant upside materializes.
Therefore, do not be surprised if Pettis gets cut before the season starts, especially if new receivers get drafted. Even Quick and Givens are not that safe at the moment, and the acquisition of Watkins or Evans, when combined with Britt, could spell the end of their short tenures in blue-and-gold.