No one can predict the future (except for Miss Cleo), but there is information available that may aid us in getting close. As fantasy footballers, we are always looking for an edge, which is likely why you’re reading this article now. We’re always looking for the next big time player who can be a vital addition to our rosters. Everyone wants to hit the lottery like the owners of Josh Gordon did in 2013 and though a situation like that is rare, there are gold mines throughout National Football League rosters just waiting to be discovered. Perhaps, one of those gold mines is Rams wide receiver Stedman Bailey.
Up to this point, Bailey’s press coverage has been overshadowed by his West Virginia teammate, Tavon Austin, who was also drafted by the Rams in 2013. While most people deemed Austin the undersized darling of the draft, many recognized Bailey has some genuine skills of his own. Standing at 5’10”, 193 lbs, Bailey’s size doesn’t jump off the page as the elite prototype, but he more than makes up for his modest frame with crisp route running, a strong presence getting off the ball and very soft hands. In fact, the main criticism of him coming into the NFL Draft was his size. Much like Julian Edelman, Bailey uses technique and body control to gain the advantage when on the field. He has tremendous hands, excellent ball skills and a knack for finding gaps in coverage. His mental game is stellar and when given the chance, he has shown flashes of what is to come.
The overwhelming question in St. Louis is with all of those young wideouts on the roster, can Bailey really rise to the top of the depth chart? I believe he can, and will, this year. Austin Pettis and Brian Quick are the “big guys” on the outside of the numbers, but they aren’t scaring anyone, and realistically, their jobs may be in jeopardy, depending on what St. Louis does in the draft. Chris Givens is the wild card, as he is also young (24 years old), slightly bigger than Bailey and was receiving consistent targets before Sam Bradford went down with a torn ACL. Givens and Bailey will have quite the camp battle this year as they play a similar role in the offense, but chances are they will split time early on in the season – then it’s up to Bailey to capitalize on his opportunities. Obviously, Tavon Austin will still be heavily involved in the game plan if Brian Schoettenheimer ever figures out how to utilize his skillset, and Jared Cook’s relevance could also alter the offensive snaps Bailey gets. The silver lining to Bailey’s debut season was he never played wide receiver in a game in which Sam Bradford started.
The return of Sam Bradford helps Bailey’s chances at succeeding. The Rams weren’t the same team with Kellen Clemens under center, as they averaged 37 passing attempts per game with Bradford at quarterback, and 26 pass attempts per game with Clemens. While there are several variables that could factor into why the Rams reduced their pass attempts, a drop off of that nature seems to be directly correlated to their comfort level in Clemens’ abilities. It definitely seems the Rams opened up the offense with Bradford at quarterback and there is little reason that wouldn’t be the case again in 2014. Naturally, that bodes well for the wide receivers in St. Louis.
Still, Stedman Bailey’s rookie season did little more than whet the appetite, there are comparable indicators that project his stock to rise quickly. When Bailey’s size, age and 2013 statistical averages are weighed against other wide receivers over the past 13 years, it puts some perspective on the potential of his career arc.
When comparing wide receiver statistics this detailed, it is important to take the quarterback situation into account. For instance, Stedman Bailey had Kellen Clemens throwing him the ball, whereas Reggie Wayne had Peyton Manning. No offense to Kellen Clemens, but he is no Peyton Manning. Two players who are intriguing and could possibly correspond to Bailey are Lavelle Hawkins and Damian Williams. Hawkins and Williams were both drafted and played for Jeff Fisher when he was the coach of the Tennessee Titans. Both of them were the WR3/4 on the Titans which is where Bailey ended up on the Rams depth chart in 2013. Hawkins is nearly identical in size to Bailey, but isn’t nearly as polished as a route runner. Bailey is a better football player overall and this is probably the last time Lavelle Hawkins and Stedman Bailey will ever be compared in their careers. Damian Williams, on the other hand, is a good route runner and is slightly bigger (6’1, 199 lbs) than Bailey. Williams has good ball skills, but unlike Bailey, he is weak at the line of scrimmage and can be easily overpowered by strong defenders.
A common, and valid, comparison to Stedman Bailey’s size and athleticism is veteran receiver Greg Jennings. That is an accurate observation and could very well be appropriate. Now, Jennings played with two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever take a field, but the way he moves in a game parallels Bailey’s style. At the combine, Jennings posted a better 40 yard dash (4.42 to Bailey’s 4.52), and his vertical jump was a full inch higher than Bailey’s, but sometimes too much emphasis can be put into those numbers. Kendall Wright is a great example of how combine numbers don’t necessarily reflect the impact a player can have on a football game.
Time will be the true tell-tale on Stedman Bailey, but he stands a good chance to succeed in the National Football League. The question mark at the quarterback position in St. Louis could be answered if Bradford can stay healthy, assuming he is the day one starter. Ideally, the game plan reverts back to what it was early on the 2013 season for the Rams. Sam Bradford was a lot better in the first six weeks of last year than people give him credit for. Still, the wins didn’t stack up in St. Louis’ favor, but they seemed to be on the right track. Unlike the first quarter of 2013, Zac Stacy is now a presence to be reckoned with and should help keep defenses from focusing on attacking Bradford. Offensive Coordinator Brian Schoettenheimer doesn’t necessarily have the most creative playbook, to put it nicely, but he has the ability to get his wide receivers in positions to succeed — specifically, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. If the Rams take a wide receiver in the first round of the 2014 draft, it would be more than likely to replace Austin Pettis or Brian Quick, not to create more of a log jam between Givens, Bailey and Austin. Opportunity will knock on Stedman Bailey’s door this year, hopefully he answers.