Does Josh McDaniels need a stud rookie receiver?

Julio Jones. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America Julio Jones is almost a slam-dunk mock draft pick for the Rams. But would he be able to contribute right away in McDaniels’ offense?
Rams question: with mc d as OC does that lessen the need for WR seeing as he seems to make what ever he has look great?

Faithful RamsHerd reader @CoachTruck raises an interesting question on the Twitterverse this morning. The Rams have been consistently mocked as taking Alabama WR Julio Jones with the #14 pick, and widely seen as a potential player for a free agent prize pass-catcher. (With Vincent Jackson franchised and out of reach,’s Steve Wyche suggests Jaguars TE Marcedes Lewis.) ESPN’s Mike Sando chipped in with a look at rookie WRs taken on McDaniels’ teams (the 2002-08 Patriots, and the 2009-10 Broncos).

One thing became apparent when looking at that list of rookies, though — it wasn’t a very impressive crop. Deion Branch leads the pack in production, but he didn’t start producing until later in his career. Demaryius Thomas, taken in the first round by the Broncos, would seem to be a perfect blueprint for Julio Jones — both are big, rangy receivers. But Thomas all but disappeared from the game plan early through the season. Injuries were partly to blame, but his production was already being swallowed up by unheralded veterans Eddie Royal and Brandon Lloyd.

Take a look at the age and experience of the starting wideout groups on each of McDaniels’ teams. Except for the remarkable 2003 team, that list of rookies barely shows up. (WRs listed in order of most catches to least, with age in parentheses. Rookies are starred.)

2002 Patriots: Troy Brown (31), David Patten (28), Deion Branch* (23), David Givens* (22)
2003 Patriots: Branch (24), Brown (32), David Givens (23), Bethel Johnson* (23)
2004 Patriots: Givens (24), Patten (30), Branch (25), Brown (33) 
2005 Patriots: Branch (26), Givens (25), Brown (34), Tim Dwight (30)
2006 Patriots: Reche Caldwell (27), Brown (35), Doug Gabriel (26), Jabar Gaffney (26) 

By this point, only Brown in 2002 had more than 80 catches, and Branch’s 78-catch season in 2005 was the only other to exceed 65 grabs. The Patriots were winning on guile and spreading the ball all over the field. Then, with the acquisition of Randy Moss and Wes Welker in 2007, the passing world turned upside down. 

2007 Patriots: Wes Welker (26), Randy Moss (30), Donte Stallworth (27), Gaffney (27)
2008 Patriots: Welker (27), Moss (31), Gaffney (28)  
2009 Broncos: Brandon Marshall (25), Gaffney (29), Eddie Royal (23), Brandon Stokely (33), Brandon Lloyd (28)
2010 Broncos:  Lloyd (29), Gaffney (30), Royal (24), Demaryius Thomas* (22)

It makes me wonder if the complexities and nuances of McDaniels’ “amoeba” offense — which literally changes each week depending on opponent and matchup — place a higher value on technical proficiency and NFL-ready thinking than on youth and raw talent. To put it in baseball terms, with pitchers and catchers reporting, is McDaniels a Dave Duncan, able to get the most out of veteran players because they can follow his gameplan? And does McDaniels share Dave Duncan’s disdain for hotshot rookies?

If so, the Rams’ draft in April could start out on a much different foot than many pundits expect. And we will probably see an emphasis on bringing in proven veterans with a knack for picking up offenses (hint hint: Mark Clayton).