The Road to 54? Mark Clayton gets added to the WR Mix

Before Danny Amendola, Mark Clayton was Sam Bradford's first favorite target. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images North America
Before the Rams passing game became the Amendola show, Mark Clayton was Sam Bradford’s favorite target. What happens now that he’s back?

You hear that sound? That’s the sound of a couple thousand Rams roster predictions being simultaneously shredded.

After weeks of playing hard to get, Billy Devaney finally made a commitment to bring Mark Clayton back to St Louis, adding him to a crowd of young receivers that are already difficult to separate. Here’s what his return means:

1. The Rams could still conceivably keep 7 other WRs… if they want.

Most roster predictions by us internet guys assume that the Rams will hold on to seven wideouts. Partially, it’s because that many and more players have been having a strong camp. And while cutting the list of viable options down to seven is hard enough, cutting to six means really making some difficult choices.

However, Clayton could be added to the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list to start the season, which would give Clayton a “free” spot on the roster until Week 6, allowing Devaney, Spagnuolo and McDaniels to continue their evaluation of fringe guys like Danario, Mardy, Donnie, and/or the two rookies.

Clayton is on the Preseason PUP list now, which expires this Saturday, so he won’t be suiting up or playing in Jacksonville tomorrow night. So once again, he’ll come into the Rams offense cold, with no preseason games or practice reps with Bradford. Didn’t exactly hurt him last time around.

2. Brandon Gibson has that much longer to audition as the Rams #1 wideout.

No player has had a better camp than Gibson, who has surprised a lot of people by taking over Clayton’s de facto position as the Rams’ #1 receiver. In 1-WR formations, he has been that one WR. And he is the only guy with multiple plays of 20+ yards in the preseason so far, including the highlight-reel play of the preseason so far.

However, Mark Clayton not only had claim on that role, he immediately became Bradford’s favorite target from the moment he stepped into the lineup. Assuming he’s healthy, I’d expect that chemistry to pick right back up where it left off.

3. The Rams’ passing game just got that much more dangerous.

Josh McDaniels loves his big physical receivers. He drafted two of them in Austin Pettis and Greg Salas, and signed another in Mike Sims-Walker, showing just how much he values size at the position. However, he has always had room in his scheme for an undersized veteran player who simply knows how to get open and has the knack for making big plays.

No, don’t think “Wes Welker.” Think “Deion Branch.”

The Patriots are known for acquiring masses of useful talent at the skill positions, wide receiver and running back both, and bringing them out in waves so there always seems to be a guy that you didn’t count on defending that’s on the field and making plays. Whether it’s Kevin Faulk, Jabar Gaffney, Deion Branch, or somebody else, there’s always someone ready to step up, even if you have the big guys covered.

Suddenly, the Rams are no longer bereft at the talent positions. Even if you stop Steven Jackson they have Cadillac and Norwood ready to step up. Even if you take away the middle of the field, they can turn Gibson, Sims-Walker and Clayton out to the edges.

It’s causing a bit of preseason roster consternation, but this signing is nothing but positive for Bradford and the Rams.