Preseason Rookie Report Card: Givens, Watkins, Zuerlein, and Brown


Tomorrow, the St. Louis Rams saddle up to play the Dallas Cowboys. With Fisher talked earlier in the week about getting the first team some extra reps in the third preseason game, I don’t want any of the draftees to go ungraded. Here are the rest of the grades, picking up with Chris Givens…

Chris Givens (Round 4, Pick 96) WR, Wake Forest 

Alongside Brian Quick, Givens was brought in to change the face of the St. Louis Rams receiving corps. Like Donnie Avery of the 2008 Draft, Givens’ main asset as a wide receiver is his speed, his ability to “blow the top off the defense,” and to make the opposing secondary respect the pass a little more. In limited time, Givens has gathered quite the fan group, from QB Sam Bradford to WR Coach Ray Sherman. Early in camp Bradford singled out Givens from the massive wideout pool,

"“It’s hard to single out one guy, but I think Chris Givens has played really well over the past couple weeks,” Bradford said. “He’s smart, he understands what we’re doing. Rarely does he make a mental mistake. He always seems to be in the right position. I’ve definitely been impressed with what he’s been able to do throughout camp so far.”"

Coach Sherman echoed Bradford, stating the obvious, that Givens can “get deep,” and that once he is on the field and running those deep-9’s “they’re going to respect him.”  The quintessential importance of a deep threat receiver is to ensure the opposing defense cannot control the game by making the offensive one dimensional. Defensive coordinators are less comfortable stacking the box with defenders in an attempt to killing the running game, which can force the offense into an every-down passing situation and shrink the size of the openings in zone coverage. Sherman hit the nail on the head with by claiming “it helps everybody else because you know he can do that (go deep).” By forcing the defense to respect the deep pass, players like Danny Amendola, Lance Kendricks, and anyone whose typical route tree consist of 5 to 10 yard patterns across the middle will benefit.

So far, Givens has had a fairly productive first two games, contributing 40 yards on 3 catches, averaging 13.3 yards per reception. However, passing stats do not show the full picture of what he has brought the table. In Week 1 against the Colts, Givens was targeted deep on a couple of occasions after gaining a step on the safety. Although he was not able to hall in the reception, he showed the importance of the deep threat, which is forcing the safeties to respect the receivers down the field. Givens has also been extremely useful in motion, using his speed after a quick catch in the flat to turn the corner for extra yardage. Givens does appear to be Coach Fisher’s favorite in the kick return game, getting a couple more chances than the rest of the field  and being the only player to gain yards in both preseason games on kickoff return. Fisher seems pleased with his rookie wideouts, saying of Quick and Givens,

"“They’ve been getting out here in the one-on-one situations and in some team periods,” Fisher said of their reps in practice. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to get them some reps with Sam in preseason games.”"

More reps typically means more targets, so we will see how he progresses with more time on the field and, more importantly, more time syncing with Bradford and the first time offense. However, for all the good Givens has done, he still needs to work on his body control and positioning so that he can rake in those long balls when they are thrown. It is a crowded field, with Amendola, Pettis, Smith, and Quick battling for first team reps. With the return of Brandon Gibson to practice, the likelihood that any of them will see a significant amount of time over the other will drastically decrease. As long as Givens can stay healthy and continues to progress and contribute, his production should continue to increase.

Grade: B

Rokevious Watkins  (Round 5, Pick 150) G, South Carolina

Due to the injury history of the Rams’ offensive lineman, “Rok” Watkins was an easy choice in the 5th round. Watkins was a beast of a blocker at South Carolina and, more importantly, was extremely versatile on the offense line, playing guard in his first two season before switching to both left and right tackle as a senior. Much like Brian Quick, Watkins had a rough start to his rookie career, showing up to camp overweight and out of shape. “It was pretty high,” Watkins said of his reporting weight. “It was a couple of pounds over where they wanted me to be.” The term couple is definitely subjective, with reports that Rok was 16 lbs. above the coaching staffs expected weight. As a result, until the end of June, Coach Fisher did not allow Watkins to participate in individual or team drills, instead barring him to stretching and conditioning workouts until he achieved and maintained a playable weight.

In this rookie debute, Watkins played primarily with the second unit against the Colts, but, because of the deficit handed to the second unit, was not really given the opportunity to show off his run blocking abilities. However, Watkins got to see a ton of reps in the Chiefs game, including a beautiful, clearing block on the goal line that paved a path for Daryl Richardson’s first NFL touchdown. More impressively, was that it wasn’t a down block or a double team on the nose tackle, but, rather, a pull from the left side into the A-gap. Fisher had this to say following the performance ”They’re (Brockers and Watkins) getting opportunities to play early and we felt like they were going to contribute. I have to look at the tape to look at the big men on both lines, both Brockers and Watkins, but it looked like they were getting the job done.”

An athletic guard is an invaluable asset to any run heavy football team, especially when combined with a Pro Bowl-caliber center that doesn’t require guard-assistance in maintaining their blocks. With the proclamation that the Rams are going to push forward with run-first style of offense, Watkins could prove his worth in gold in the interior line that has been disappointing over the past half-decade. Watkins will have to show that he can maintain the conditioning requiring to compete at the professional level and continue to progress as a pass blocker, especially in an NFC West stacked with all-pro defensive lineman.

Grade: B- for a poor first impression; B+ since getting in shape

Greg Zuerlein (Round 6, Pick 171) K, Missouri Western State

Zuerlein hails from Missouri Western State, a Division-II program that competes in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association that might be better known as the complex for the Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp. In college, Zuerlein rewrote the NCAA record books for kickers, most notably,  nailing 9 out of 9 50+ field attempts his senior season. Some cautioned that ‘Greg the Leg’ would have some trouble adapting to the pressure imposed on kickers at the NFL level, especially since Zuerlein himself said that he didn’t recall ever playing infront of more than 6,000 fans. However, Zuerlein had the perfect response to that criticism,

"“I really haven’t thought about trying to prove myself. I’ve always thought kicking is kicking at any level. I just figured as long as I went out there and showed everyone what I can do then everything else would take care of itself. Up to this point, it has.”"

Zuerlein is quickly turning into a fan favorite,  put on a show during the Fan Fest scrimmage and nearly knocked Marshall Faulk out of the commentator box with his 52 yarder against the Chiefs, which he made look like a chip shot. Fisher has yet to “unleash the leg,” being quoted as saying, “we all know he (Zuerlein) can hit from 20 and 30 yards.” The picture of confidence, not only from the coaching staff and his teammates, but also in himself. Zuerlein is a perfect 2 of 2 on field goals, 4 of 4 on extra points, and has only had a single kickoff returned for more than 25 yards. The sky is the limit for this guy, literally, and Rams Nation should be excited to see what he can do during the regular season.

Instead of ending with my take on the kicker, I will end with a quote from the man himself. After booting a 64-yard field goal in an early training camp session, which bounced off the lower post and through the uprights,  Zuerlein said, “my leg was tired and nothing was going as far as it normally does”

Grade: A+

Aaron Brown (Round 7, 209) LB, Hawaii

Being a 7th-rounder in the NFL, you are not going to get much of the glory, especially when you do not play a “skill” position. Aaron Brown will undoubtedly make the final roster, somewhere on the depth chart behind the cluster of free agent veterans picked up by the Rams shortly after the draft. Brown, so far, has 2 tackles in extremely limited time, put seen consistent action on special teams, which is where later round pick and UDFA often make their mark.

Fisher noted after the Colts opening loss that  Aaron Brown “blocked well on kickoff returns,” so he is at least being noticed by the head coach. As long as he continues to make plays on special team, Brown should progress nicely, if nothing else, learning from the veteran linebackers ahead of him on the depth chart. Assuming their isn’t some wave of catastrophic injuries that wiped out the current linebacking rotation, Brown will likely never see the field on defense during the regular season. However, special teams can make all the difference in a win or a loss, so hopefully he can continue to contribute in the area. It is hard to give a grade to a guy who hasn’t really seen the field, but lack of production, regardless of the reason, is still a lack of production, so…

Grade: C+