Mardy Gilyard, the St. Louis Rams' fourth-round pick in 2010, did little during his rookie season to indicate a bright future. The Rams now face decisions at the position heading toward the 53-man roster deadline Saturday.
I'll offer a few thoughts as Gilyard competes for a roster spot.
Why to keep Gilyard: The Rams knew Gilyard was a work in progress following a tumultuous career at Cincinnati featuring a four-month stretch when the Bearcats pulled his scholarship and Gilyard lived out of his car. On the field, the offense Gilyard ran in college wasn't similar to what awaited him in the NFL. Gilyard was going to need a stable environment, and the Rams sought to provide one for him. They could not. Injury problems slowed Gilyard during his rookie season. Gilyard required surgery. The team then lost its offensive coordinator heading into a lockout. Gilyard is playing catchup. He has six catches in the preseason while accounting for 17 of the team's 21 punt and kick returns. The value Gilyard offers on special teams separates him from the other receivers fighting for roster spots, notably Donnie Avery and Danario Alexander. Gilyard also has healthier knees than either of those players.
Why to move on: Gilyard showed little promise as a rookie, finishing with six receptions even though the team had serious issues at receiver. The team is unlikely to get much from Gilyard in the short term after changing offenses. The circumstances are unfortunate, but that is also life in the NFL, where the strong survive. Avery has 100 catches and eight touchdowns in 31 career games, production Gilyard cannot begin to match. Avery also brings a speed element Gilyard cannot provide. Alexander, meanwhile, caught 20 passes for 306 yards and a 15.3-yard average last season. He brings big-play potential. Alexander, at 6-foot-5, also offers a size element the team could use. Gilyard is six inches shorter.
What I would do: Keep Gilyard and Avery on the initial reduction to 53 players. Mike Sims-Walker, Brandon Gibson, Danny Amendola, Austin Pettis and Greg Salas would be the other receivers. Gilyard and Avery would give the team seven wideouts on its initial 53-man roster, a high number. NFC West teams have kept seven receivers on their Week 1 rosters four times since 2005, so it's not unprecedented. The Rams could trim at another position in the short term. Alexander is a tantalizing prospect, but he's had five surgeries on his left knee. The knee will likely remain a problem, requiring rest and putting Alexander at risk. Durability will be a long-term concern. Avery offers proven production. Gilyard is the same player the Rams thought they were drafting only one year ago.