Wide receiver Kenny Britt’s 15-yard reception and fumble on Christmas Eve 2016 was a historic moment in Los Angeles Rams history. Not because it had an impact on the game (the Rams recovered the fumble) or even the drive, but for another reason: it put him over the 1,000-yard mark for the season, making Britt the first Rams receiver to accomplish that milestone since Torry Holt in 2007. It took nine seasons for the Rams to finally produce a 1,000 yard receiver, and it happened with a 28-year-old journeyman who they didn’t draft on his final reception as a Ram.
The Rams had one of the best receiving tandems in NFL history early in the 2000s, but that feels like a lifetime ago. Torry Holt left the team in 2008, and the Rams haven’t found a player that could be a legitimate No. 1 option. One question begs to be asked: how did we get here? Let me take you for a dark walk down memory lane.
Torry Holt strapped on his horns for the final time during the 2008 season. The Rams knew his days were numbered and prepared in the draft by selecting Donnie Avery with the 33rd overall pick. Avery was the first receiver off the board, with Jordy Nelson coming off at 36). Avery had a prolific career at the University of Houston, a school known for producing system offensive players with amplified stats. However, Avery did come out of the gates swinging, sharing the load offensively with Holt and managed to record 674 yards and three touchdowns. He went on to lead the Rams in receiving yards with just 589 in 2009.
In his defense, the team used three quarterbacks and only won a single game. Nothing was working. Unfortunately for Avery, he would be injured in the 2010 offseason and would never play for the Rams again, having a brief resurgence with the Chiefs before winding up out of the NFL.
The Rams selected quarterback Sam Bradford with the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. After suffering through years of Marc Bulger injuries, the Rams had a new offensive foundation to build around. They already had a Pro Bowl running back in Steven Jackson. What receivers could they provide their new franchise quarterback?
Mark Clayton emerged early on in the 2010 season, producing 300 yards and two touchdowns in the teams first four games. Then fate hit him with a season-ending injury in Week 5, and Clayton never became a productive NFL player again. Picking up the slack left behind were Danny Amendola, who was best known for being cut by the Cowboys as an UDFA on Hard Knocks in 2008, and Brandon Gibson, a former sixth round pick who had many ups-and-downs in the NFL. Both Gibson and Amendola produced over 600 yards in 2010.
Amendola only played one game in 2011, and Brandon Gibson continued to be Brandon Gibson. Desperate to give Sam Bradford some help, the team made a midseason trade to acquire 30-year-old Brandon Lloyd from the Broncos. Lloyd played 11 games for the Rams and led the team in receiving yards with 683, but they chose to let him go instead of making him an offer to come back.
Enter Jeff Fisher, Les Snead, and the new era of Rams management in 2012. Things were bound to change. Once again the Rams chose to take a receiver at the top of the second round, this time choosing Appalachian State project Brian Quick (Alshon Jeffrey was selected 12 picks later). Quick has been one of the most frustrating players in recent Rams history, never being able to put everything together despite occasionally flashing his potential.
The new look Rams were led in receiving this time by fourth round rookie Chris Givens with 698. Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola both went over 600 yards once again, but Amendola only played in 11 games and would have likely led the Rams had he been healthy. The Rams then chose to let their best receiver in Amendola walk in free agency. He would go on to win two Super Bowls with the Patriots.
The following year, the Rams really addressed the receiving problem. They knew they needed to get Sam Bradford some help and they needed it quick. They decided to trade up to the eight spot in the 2013 NFL Draft and select 5’8 West Virginia weapon Tavon Austin. He showed flashes of potential during his rookie year, but for the most part looked like a lost child on the field. This time around, the Rams were led in receiving by none other than tight end Jared Cook. The former Titan received a big contract from the Rams in the offseason and recorded 671 receiving yards. Givens was their leading receiver with 569 yards.
The Rams brought in some outside help in the form of the troubled Kenny Britt. Brian Quick became Mark Clayton 2.0 that season with 322 yards and three touchdowns in his first four games before going down with an injury. While Quick looked like he was putting it all together, Tavon Austin did not, failing to manage over 500 total offensive yards. Britt led the team with 748 yards. This was another meaningless moment of significance for Britt. He became the first Rams receiver to put up over 700 yards since Torry Holt in 2008. The Rams went five years without a 700-yard receiver.
The Rams chose to stick with their ugly core of Britt, Austin, and Quick (with a brief cameo from an ancient Wes Welker) for 2015 and it yielded ugly results. Britt led the team with 681 receiving yards. This was masked by Todd Gurley’s dominant rookie season and Tavon Austin finally putting it together, tallying over 800 total offensive yards. The Rams rewarded Austin with a massive contract extension, making him one of the highest paid receivers in the league despite not being one of the best receivers in the league.
And then came 2016. As we previously mentioned, Kenny Britt’s 1,002 yards were the high in an otherwise miserable offense. Both Austin and Gurley regressed and the only enjoyment Ram fans had was the firing of Jeff Fisher.
Here are the top receivers for the Rams from 2008-2016:
During this stretch, they really only paid big money to one player (Jared Cook) and used three high draft picks (1- Austin 2013, 2- Avery 2008, 2- Quick 2012) to fix their passing game. This has been a glaring hole on the Rams for years that has virtually been ignored with the exception of Austin, who is clearly not the answer. Rams fans have been clamoring for a playmaking receiver, but the Rams have made no effort to even try and land one in free agency. To break it down even further, here are the leaders by individual seasons:
Yes, Torry Holt’s final season with the Rams was the second highest on this list, despite this being the end of his eight straight 1,000-yard season streak. Britt appears on the list for each of his seasons with the Rams, cementing his legacy as the best receiver of the post Holt era. He’s the only receiver to record over 700 yards since Torry Holt. The Rams seemed content with producing 500-600 yard players year after year after year.
The team has a slightly new regime in 2017, replacing Fisher with rookie head coach Sean McVay to breathe some new life into the franchise. How did the new regime choose to answer the receiver problem? Let Britt walk and sign former Buffalo Bills receiver Robert Woods to a five year, $39 million contract. Woods has played four seasons, and here are the stat totals for each of them:
Welcome home Robert. You’ll fit in perfectly here.
Steve Rebeiro is a staff writer and podcast host for Rams Talk. He graduated from Marquette University in 2016. For more of his opinions, follow him on Twitter here or check out his podcast Tejas and Lil Stevie.