Mark Clayton on his way back… Donnie Avery on his way out?

Will Donnie Avery be a key part of the Rams’ plans in 2011?

Collective bargaining agreement be damned, Billy Devaney and the Rams are working to bring Mark Clayton back before the NFL’s year (and ability to negotiate with our own free agents) ends March 4th. The fact that the Rams and Clayton like each other and have been talking isn’t news. “We’ve had dialogue with Mark really since the time he got here,” says money man Kevin Demoff. But showing a little urgency and getting a deal done before the deadline would cement an important piece of the puzzle and provide some insulation against the possibility of an offseason nuclear winter.  

As we’ve written in the past, Clayton’s experience in multiple offenses and proven ability to master a new playbook with frightening speed, his immediate chemistry with Bradford, and his locker room leadership of an otherwise very young group make re-signing him an easy decision. He also adds an interesting wrinkle to the Rams’ depth chart at WR.

While the Rams have obviously been aggressive in upgrading the roster, the urgency for Billy Devaney to acquire Clayton from the Ravens didn’t come about until Donnie Avery went down to a patellar injury in the preseason game versus New England. (Clayton succumbed to the same injury in Week 5… but we can’t blame the Ed Jones turf any more. Both injuries happened on the road.)  

If both receivers come back, and the Rams draft Julio Jones, then suddenly the Rams have a problem of a different kind, which became a hot topic of conversation with the Pro Football Focus crew… 

@RamsHerd Am I only 1 who doesn’t see WR as a big need for them? Clayton-Avery-DA-Amendola-Gibson…not to mention Gilyard…elite staff? No. Serviceable? Sure
@RamsHerd If Rams draft WR then problem becomes crowded position. Not bad necessarily just crowded.

X Receiver: 
The “X” or split-end receiver lines up at the line of scrimmage, and needs to be able to break press coverage. This is typically your “#1” receiver. Depth chart, with both Clayton and Jones in hand:
1. Mark Clayton
2. Danario Alexander
3. Julio Jones* 
4. Laurent Robinson** (Probably will not return.)  

Y Receiver: 
The “Y” is your slot man, master of the short routes, crossing routes, and option routes. Usually the quarterback’s “hot read” on a blitz.
1. Danny Amendola
2. Mardy Gilyard

Z Receiver: 
The “Z” is the flanker, lining up off the line of scrimmage to separate himself from coverage. Ideal for speedy players. In Denver, this was Brandon Lloyd’s spot, and when given the luxury of playing there, this was where Avery had his best success. 
1. Donnie Avery
2. Brandon Gibson 
3. Julio Jones* (could play either side as a rookie until he settles into a role. “X” is probably long term spot though.) 

Even if Laurent Robinson is not invited back, this makes seven players for six likely roster spots, and that’s before any Sidney Rice pipe dreams are addressed. So in essence, the Julio Jones question boils down to this: are the Rams counting on Donnie Avery to come back at full strength?   

The Donnie Avery / Brandon Lloyd comparison is one that intrigues, and one that we Rams bloggers have tackled before, but it’s worth revisiting in this context. After three seasons, both players had one lost season and two underwhelming campaigns that showed signed of potential:

Lloyd: ’03-’05 Avery: ’08-’10
Recs 105 100
Yards 1410 1263
TDs 13 8

Lloyd, of course, experienced a career renaissance in his second year in McDaniels’ offense, and made the Pro Bowl for the first time. What I find interesting, for such a potent deep threat, is that Lloyd doesn’t possess elite speed. According to NFL Draft Scout, Lloyd ran a mediocre 4.62 40 at the 2003 NFL Combine. Avery, meanwhile, posted a 4.2, one of the fastest times at the 2008 Combine. The big question, though, is how much of that speed is left after multiple knee injuries? 

Depending on what he has left, Avery’s return could have the Rams suddenly flush at a position considered to be a weakness since the breakup of the Greatest Show duo, Holt and Bruce.  It might also have them thinking differently on draft day…  

@RamsHerd I agree 100%. I’d rather see them take Aldon Smith than Julio Jones