Spotlight: Donnie Avery

posted by Andrew Garda on Jul 3rd


Andrew Garda's thoughts

Donnie Avery appeared to be poised for a breakout 2009 season after a solid rookie campaign.

But it wasn't to be.

Hampered by a litany of injuries, starting with a preseason stress fracture and then compounded by a list of injuries that read like something out of a *M*A*S*H* unit: ribs, hamstring, hip, shoulder, thigh and then a concussion just to cap things off in the last week of '09.

Add to that an offense that was among the least effective in the league in both overall offense and passing efficiency and in hindsight, it's not shocking Avery had an underwhelming sophomore season.

Can it get a little better? Let's take a closer look:

To begin with, Avery is healthy. At least part of his dip in production was being constantly hurt and getting (and staying) intact will play a big factor in whether he can return to the form we saw in his rookie season. Every player gets nicks and bumps over the course of a season, but when you begin the year with a fracture, a player is already behind the eight ball. So being healthy at this point - and to start the season - will be big for Avery.

Countering this, though, is the continuing struggles of the offense as a whole. As I mentioned earlier, 2009 was not a banner year for the Rams. The outlook doesn't appear to be much better for 2010. The quarterback will be a journeyman like AJ. .Feeley, a career backup like Keith Null or the rookie, first overall pick Sam Bradford. Bradford isn't being pushed to start right away according to head coach Steve Spagnuolo. I believe Spags - if by 'not pushed right away' he meant 'would have to implode not to be our week one starter'.Let's face it friends - you, me and AJ Feeley will all be stunned if the former Oklahoma Heisman winner isn't under center by then.

Even if it takes a bit, when Bradford becomes quarterback he'll instantly be the best player they've had at the position in some time. He brings tremendous accuracy, quick thinking and a quicker release to the position. The fast release and ability to read and react swiftly will help keep him upright behind an offensive line that is mediocre at best right now. His arm strength, accuracy and poise will all be boons to Avery's production. If Avery can be a consistent and, more importantly, a reliable target then Bradford will throw his way often which again, gives him the opportunity for more production.

Avery is young enough for this to be the start of a beautiful relationship.

Now, even the most talented rookie in the best situation will struggle. Being that the Rams are not the best situation (one might argue, far from it) Bradford will probably struggle more often than not. So while I am optimistic that the abilities Bradford brings to the table will help Avery's numbers, we have to be realistic in our expectations. Bradford is likely to have some growing pains and that will probably lower Avery's ceiling short term. Also keep in mind that Bradford comes complete with his own set of injury concerns and if he goes down, it could be ugly.

Because even if A.J. Feeley has more time logged in the NFL than the rookie, you can't expect his 'veteran' status to translate to points. After all, Feeley hasn't started since 2007, and over the course of his career has only a handful of starts to his name. Once upon a time he was considered a solid prospect but that time is now long gone. Even though he has a little more experience, he's no definite upgrade over Bradford. If Feeley (or worse, Null) have to be under center for a long stretch, Avery will struggle right along with them.

There are several other aspects of this offense which could be filed under 'good news/bad news'.

Let's start with the rest of the receiving corps or rather, what generally passes for it. Laurent Robinson has shown flashes of ability but is maddeningly inconsistent and therefore unreliable. Second year wideout Brandon Gibson is a guy whose quicks and hands have me interested but he doesn't have the pure speed to be a top wide receiver. Mardy Gilyard is a rookie who could find a role in the slot, Keenan Burton has had flashes of brilliance but none that were sustained and Danny Amendola is a special teams guy, nothing more.

The good news is, there isn't much competition for targets. Avery is clearly the best there is on this team. The other side of the coin is that this group isn't going to draw much coverage from Avery. So he'll get plenty of targets - he'll also get plenty of defensive attention. With the questions at quarterback, this ends up being a bit of a wash. I'll take the high targets; I just wish I knew Avery would see significant amounts of single coverage.

Another piece of good news/bad news is Steven Jackson. Jackson stayed healthy for most of a year in 2009 and was just about the only productive portion of this offense. Jackson is the one piece of this offense you can guarantee will draw defensive attention away from Avery. As long as Jackson can keep it moving on the ground - and against all odds behind this offensive line with no real passing threat, he does - the defense cannot just sit back and dare Bradford to beat them. This can free Avery up a bit and help him find some space to roam. By the same token, the Rams may choose to run quite a bit in order to lessen the burden on their young quarterback in which case, Avery will again see less opportunity than we would like. I think in this case it's more of a benefit than a problem for Avery - at least he has one guy on the offense who can make a play.

But like so much of the offense's situation, this will limit Avery's upside for this season.

Positives

  • Clear #1 WR - Again, this is a guy who has little to no competition for looks. If he can stay consistent and healthy, whoever the quarterback is will be looking mostly to Avery. The more opportunities he has, the better the chances for good production.
  • Athletic Ability - Opportunity is great but you have to have the tools to make something happen with your chances and Avery does. If he can get a little help, Avery has the ability to put up some very good numbers.
  • Fresh QB - A new guy under center could be just what the doctor ordered (after ordering a lot of bandages in 2009) for Avery. Not only will he have the energy and enthusiasm of a new guy, but the opportunity to build a firm relationship and become Bradford's go-to guy for a long time to come.

Negatives

  • Injury - Maybe Avery was just unlucky in 2009, but Fantasy Owners should be a little concerned at the amount of hurt he had. One season doesn't get you labeled injury prone in my book, but it does raise a red flag. If Avery cannot stay healthy he's useless, especially in an offense like this one.
  • Rebuilding Offense - Bradford will hopefully provide a spark but overall this is still an offense that is rebuilding and therefore likely to struggle. A receiver in a struggling offense is not a safe bet for good fantasy production. Avery might prove too unpredictable to trust in your lineup.
  • Bad Offensive Line - The team has tried to make a few changes but by and large this is a terribly underwhelming group. Avery can be as open as he wants but if the quarterback can't stay off the turf, he won't see the ball. Bradford will need protection and how much he'll get it is very much up for debate. For myself, I expect there to be a lot of grass stains on Bradford's uniform.

Final thoughts

Donnie Avery is a talented player who is still learning how to play in the NFL. He has the ability to make an impact but his situation may hamper how large an impact it is. Avery is key to his own production of course and he needs to stay healthy and focused all season long. But equally important is the development of Sam Bradford. I like Bradford and what he brings to the team. However, behind a lackluster offensive line I worry about not only how much he can do but how long he can do it for. Bradford's health is a bit of a question mark and it won't help him to be pounded into the turf all season long. All of the questions inevitably add up to Avery only being safe for a fantasy roster as a WR4 or - if every single thing breaks just right - a WR3. I think Avery could be much more but this isn't the year to bet too much on it.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Go deep said:

A lot is going to depend on how good Bradford can be. I watched my fair share of Rams games, and it was scary how good Averys numbers could have been had he had a decent QB. I cant count how many times he was under thrown when he was wide open deep. I doubt Bradford will be able to help much in his rookie season, but any improvment should help.

Avery has the talent to be Desean Jackson-Light, but he will need alot of things to come together to do it. I still think he can put up an OK season in 2010, maybe WR3 numbers.

Team ROFLCOPTERS said:

A lot has to go right for Avery to be a fantasy starter in my opinion. Not that I am down on his talent but the Rams have a journey man QB / Rookie combo throwing the ball, an offensive line that is untested, injured (Brown has a broken foot and concussion history), and are best suited for run blocking, and three other guys to fight with to catch the ball. Let's face it, despite limited options Avery has not distinguished himself and the fact that he let 2 perfectly placed TD bombs fall through his forearms last year keeps me worried. His routes are a work in progress, isn't a posession type guy, and his concentration on the deep bombs leave much to be desired. If he's not catching long routes he isn't a great option.

On the positive side, from all reports the guy has grown up quite a bit. According to Jim Thomas he spent the offseason gaining 20 pounds of muscle while looking "quicker than ever". He also spent 3 weeks working with Henry Ellard working on his routes. His fellow receivers are injury risks. He's got the upside. He could end up with 40 catches and 500 yards, 3 tds or upside of 65 900 6. I would wager he'll improve to 60 760 5tds.


Donnie Avery projections

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