Perhaps only the Rams could bring in a block-first tight end who drew more penalties than all but two other players at his position and a broken-down receiver who caught only nine passes in eleven games, and give fans hope that both players might be clear upgrades at their position.
That’s the state of things for a 2-14 team that only cracked 14 points four times last season.
By bringing in “the other” Steve Smith, who is two injury-marred years away from his breakout season with the New York Giants, the Rams give themselves a Donnie Avery type reclamation project. But one that isn’t, you know, Donnie Avery. And by bringing in the penalty-prone Matthew Mulligan from the New York Jets, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer gets a familiar face and a clear upgrade over Billy Bajema.
WR Steve “if healthy” Smith
In his explosive 2009 season, Smith the younger caught 107 passes for 1,220 yards (11.4 avg) and 7 touchdowns — all numbers unequaled by any Rams receiver since Torry Holt. But then, you probably could have guessed that. Unfortunately, the 57 passes for 653 yards and 4 touchdowns combined over the last two seasons seem to fit right in with out statistically underwhelming crew.
That Giants 2009 season saw Eli Manning take a huge leap forward as a passer, bettering his career best by nearly 800 passing yards to crack the 4,000-yard mark for the first time. Add in Smith’s surprising productivity and it’s tempting to think of him as a “big play receiver.”
However, Pro Football Focus’ usage stats paint a different picture. Smith was the Danny Amendola of that Giants team, running most of his routes from the slot, and doing most of his work underneath. 71 of Smith’s 107 catches were made within ten yards of the line of scrimmage. 51 of those were delivered right up the middle. And he averaged 2.3 yards-after-catch per reception, ranking 100th of 107 players that season.
While nearly every other Giants receiver went down to some sort of malady, Smith amassed 151 targets, fueling his big year. Just for fun, let’s give 2010′s Danny Amendola 151 targets and run a comparison.
2009 Steve Smith: 107 catches. 1,220 yards. 7 TDs.
2010 Danny Amendola: 113 catches. 915 yards. 4 TDs.
Smith at his peak was clearly a better player. But the margin of difference is not as big as you might think.
TE Matthew “the human holding penalty” Mulligan
Because Twitter is now officially the fastest news medium on the planet, here’s how I first found out that the Rams had signed the former Jet tight end:
Joe Caporoso @TurnOnTheJets
Find all your angry Mulligan tweets this year at @RamsHerd
Our old friend Joe is a long-time Jets fan and writer over at TurnOnTheJets.com, apparently sounding relief at Mulligan’s departure. When I checked in on the matter, Joe clarified: “Angry as in you will forget his name and from now on know him as ‘Holding Number 82 of the offense.’ “
Offensive holding may be something of a specialty for the young Mulligan, but it is by no means his sole occupation. He amassed 9 penalties in 473 snaps last season. 3 of them — two false starts and a face mask — came in 30 snaps in the Jets’ final game against the Miami Dolphins. Tobe fair, Mulligan was lined up opposite Cameron Wake, one of the most fearsome pure pass rushers in the game. But then again, blocking players like that is in his job description.
If there’s a bright side to Mulligan, it’s that he seems to be growing in Brian Schottenheimer’s trust. The 473 snaps earned last season were a significant jump over the 126 earned over the previous two seasons combined. So perhaps there is untapped potential there.
By the third week in free agency, most teams are scraping the bottom of the barrel, and the Rams are no different. In these two acquisitions, we at least have a) a player with a proven track record of success, and b) a player with a known comfort level with our offensive staff. Any optimism you want to express, bottle that up and save it for August. Because neither of these two will change the Rams’ offseason priorities, which now shifts firmly to the draft.