Back in the good old days of the Greatest Show on Turf, Rams fans were spoilt by the presence of one of the best wide receiver tandems in the history of the League. Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt combined for close to 27,000 yards and 158 touchdowns in the blue-and-yellow-then-gold. The pair dominated the position and brought fear to defensive backfields across all 32 teams, making the passing game a feature of former head coach’s Mike Martz’s offense and a highlight of the Rams heyday. Finding suitable replacements became a priority when Bruce departed in 2008, with Holt following a year later, and the Rams have made considerable investment in the position in the hope of resurrecting the spirit of this formidable duo.
Thus far, this investment has fallen well short of its intended outcome. Since 2008, the Rams have drafted ten receivers, half of those in the first three rounds. These have accumulated a total of 5,300 yards and 28 touchdowns as Rams, a statline that is single-handedly dwarfed by Holt’s first five seasons alone. The names include the frustratingly over-rated (Donnie Avery, Brian Quick), the underachievers (Tavon Austin, the second-year Chris Givens), the minor role players (Austin Pettis, Greg Salas), and the forgettable (Mardy Gilyard, Keenan Burton…who the hell was Brooks Foster??). This poor drafting has contributed significantly to the Rams’ recent history of losing seasons and, as some have suggested, prevented Sam Bradford from realizing his full potential. The list of players the Rams have overlooked in that time, incidentally, does not make good reading: DeSean Jackson, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Alshon Jeffery, Keenan Allen…ah, hindsight, you little tease!
The franchise also tried its luck in free agency and through trades, though here, again, the record has been poor. Starting from the infamous acquisition of Drew Bennett in free agency, the Rams have since signed receivers who, at most, have made an above-average contribution to the team. Brandon Gibson – acquired via a trade from Philadelphia – was one of the more successful signings and is actually the Rams receiver with the most yardage since Holt’s departure. However, his 2,090 yards and nine touchdowns in 54 games represent a third receiver’s statistics, demonstrating how badly the team has fared in this department. Brandon Lloyd’s 683 yards and five touchdowns in 11 games showed promise, but he quickly defected to New England after the Rams’ failure to tie him to St Louis for longer, while Mark Clayton’s knee injury five weeks into his tenure cut short what had also been an auspicious season. Other names include those who have annoyingly gone on to enjoy more success since departing (Danario Alexander, Laurent Robinson), to those who gained less total yardage as Rams than Bruce and Holt could accumulate in just one game (Steve Smith, Mike Sims-Walker). Drew Bennett has a lot to answer for.
Ironically, the most successful receiver since Holt and Bruce took their talents elsewhere came neither from the draft nor from high-profile free agency. Danny Amendola was overlooked 252 times in the 2008 Draft and, after serving in a number of practice squads, was eventually picked up by the Rams in 2009. This plucky slot receiver and returner went on to gain 1,726 yards and seven touchdowns in only 17 starts. He also represented the hard-nosed underdog that Rams Nation holds in such admiration, making tough catches that belied his size. Unfortunately, like Danario Alexander alongside him, Amendola was fragile and succumbed to a number of injuries. Allowing him to leave – again to New England – was probably a good move and, as much as Rams fans enjoyed having Amendola on the field, the fact that he represents the team’s most effective receiver since the Holt-Bruce days is yet another measure of how far the team has been from that standard.
Unless the current crop of receivers – particularly Austin and Quick – starts to fulfill its potential, or the Rams use the upcoming draft to target some of the more high-profile wideout prospects, the fact remains that this pattern of mediocrity at the position will continue, giving Rams fans no chance of even contemplating moving on from 81 and 80. Although, on the other hand, Detroit could always trade Megatron for Isiah Pead.