Mark Clayton: a good get for the Rams?

Mark Clayton Welcome?

Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one. The Rams’ passing offense is going to target a small, lightweight burner of a receiver with so-so hands who has yet to achieve his potential.

No, not Donnie Avery, who’s out for the year with a torn ACL. I’m talking about new signee Mark Clayton, a near-perfect clone of Avery’s skills and physique. Standing 5’10, 180 lbs, and clocking a 4.45 40 at the 2005 combine (Avery clocked a 4.2), Clayton’s biggest mark against so far in his career has been a woeful catch rate, especially working with the Ravens’ first franchise QB in a generation, Joe Flacco.

The strong-armed QB heaved 74 passes at Clayton in 2009 … and 35 of them fell harmlessly to the ground, equal to the number actually caught. (An additional 4 were picked off.) In 2008, Clayton got 92 looks, and came up with a mere 47. That’s a 49% catch rate over two years, which is not very good at all. (Avery’s numbers were only slightly better, it should be pointed out.)

Oh, Billy Devaney, what have you done? Have the Rams actually taken a step backwards, while trying to move forward? Maybe not. Here’s a ray of hope:

You would expect a receiver with such poor catch rates to have bad hands, but that may not be the case:

Clayton had a mere 2 dropped passes in the last two years.

A deeper look into the numbers suggests that Flacco’s vaunted 60+% completion rate may not be all it’s cracked up to be, at least as his edge receivers are concerned. The Ravens make heavy usage of the running back in the passing game, which has turned Ray Rice into a fantasy superstar, but has also deeply padded Flacco’s completion percentages. Thanks to the Pro Football Focus premium stats, we can see that Flacco’s pass distribution numbers get really shaky when he bumps up the power setting on his cannon of an arm:

Pass distance Comp-Att Comp %
line of scrimmage 80-90 89%
0-9 yards 177-237 75%
10-19 yards 60-111 54%
20+ yards 22-71 31%

The areas of the field that should have been the speedy Clayton’s bread and butter were statistical death valleys for his young QB. Contrast that to the preternatural accuracy that Bradford has shown on deep passes, especially the chemistry he had begun to build up with Avery, and we could have a real steal on our hands.