Shortly after the Rams acquired wide receiver Kenny Britt in free agency, I wrote a piece for Ramblin’ Fan looking at the team’s situation at the position. The article described the status quo at the moment, highlighting which players would be the team’s prime receivers, while also concluding that Austin Pettis would likely be cut. It also recognized that the situation would be likely to change after the Draft, especially as some predicted that the Rams would select either Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans, or picking up any from the deep receiver class in later rounds. Either way, a new analysis of the position would be necessary.
As it happened, however, the Rams did not choose a single receiver among their eleven picks, instead signing two as undrafted free agents. This could be interpreted as an indication that either the front office were not satisfied with any of the available prospects, or that they are confident with the incumbent corps. The Rams would be heading into offseason workouts with Britt, Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, Brian Quick, Stedman Bailey and Pettis as the main receivers on the depth chart.
But this apparent stability was shaken through alarming news far from Britt’s Instagram account. On May 12th, the Rams announced that Bailey would be suspended for the first four games of the 2014 season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancing substances. With no further details have been confirmed, this is naturally a blow both to the receiver position, and to Bailey himself, who last season proved himself as a reliable route-runner who could go on to take Pettis’ spot on the roster. Instead, by the time Bailey’s suspension is lifted, he may find it hard to return to the field if the other receivers are performing at a high level. Bailey was one of the most promising players at the position, but he his progress will not be taking a step back.
So, what does this mean for the Rams at receiver? Unless Quick finally delivers on his second-round billing in training camp or the pre-season, Britt and Givens will likely man the wide positions, with trickster Austin in the slot. If the Rams make no further signings in free agency, Pettis will probably remain on the team for now and see the field in short-yardage or goal-line situations, which should have been Bailey’s domain. After all, if the front office was satisfied with their receivers heading into the Draft, it is unlikely they would now cut Pettis given his continuity and relationship with Sam Bradford. In effect, Pettis has been given a four-game grace period to cement his place in the team’s future.
But there are, of course, some interesting options in free agency, and there are bound to be many more as teams make their cuts heading into training camp, the pre-season and the proper season. Houston’s André Johnson, for example, has expressed his dissatisfaction as a Texan, but both his price-tag and the unlikelihood of his release means it is a low possibility he will end up a Ram. Greg Little, recently released by Cleveland, is another interesting prospect that has generated some debate on social media, with some (including Ramblin’ Fan editor Nathan Kearns) praising his physical attributes, blocking skills and performance in college, and others pointing out his propensity for dropping catches as a Brown.
The situation at receiver is, therefore, as uncertain as it was before the Draft. The Rams’ receiving corps notoriously underperformed last season, but it is clear that, with the investments made in the Draft, the front office feels the current crop is capable of making significant improvement. What is also clear, however, is that, at least for the first quarter of the season, Stedman Bailey will not be part of this.