Why Givens is on the list
There's track speed and there's football speed. Givens has football speed. The fourth-round draft pick out of Wake Forest opened eyes early last season after breaking a rookie record with a catch of more than 50 yards in five consecutive games. I watched all of Givens' 78 targets from last season on Game Rewind: His speed continually surprised deep safeties, who took bad angles when trying to cover him. Even some of the best safeties in the game.
It doesn't get much better than beating Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman off the line and then getting behind Earl Thomas deep. More than 30 percent of Givens' targets came on throws 20 or more yards down the field, which is an exceptionally high number. That caused defenses to back off Givens, and he often made them pay with his after-catch ability.
I expected Givens to be a one-trick pony because of his reputation, but his versatility was impressive. So many of his yards came after making defenders miss following short grabs. He ran a lot of double moves. He lined up in a variety of places, including the slot. He ran the football on occasion and was willing to take on defenders despite his size, showing some toughness. He was an effective kick returner. Givens combines good hands and great straight-line speed with the choppy steps and change of direction skills of a return man. That's a dangerous combination.
Sam Bradford told Fox Sports during the season that he just throws the ball as far as he can when he throws it to Givens. But even Givens couldn't catch up with too many Bradford passes. A lot of targets thrown to Givens missed by a big margin. There were miscommunications on option routes, but the misfires were more about Bradford's inconsistency problems. Givens and Bradford need to grow together, and Bradford needs time to set up and deliver those deep balls.
The Rams say they will use Givens at both the "Y" and the "X" position more this year. Bradford talked up Givens' intelligence in handling a variety of roles. There is a risk that Givens could take a step back because too much is being thrown at him. Rookie Tavon Austin will have a big role, as will free-agent pickup Jared Cook. The Rams have a lot of numbers at wide receiver, making it tougher for Givens to post big numbers.
I'm past my fantasy football advice dispensing prime, but it's fair to say Givens would be near the top of my "undervalued" list. Austin is going to be a dynamic player, but Givens has better size and a big head start in his development. They aren't such different players in terms of explosiveness.
It wasn't hard to find highlights of Givens because he had so many big plays, but I choose to wrap up this piece with a 6-yard reception because it typified what didn't show up in the highlight reels. The play to the right shows Givens reaching back for a poorly thrown Bradford pass to keep a drive going. The Rams finished off their biggest win of the season over the San Francisco 49ers just a few plays later.
These are the plays that win games. Givens made plenty of them as a rookie; he absolutely can top 1,000 yards as the Rams' No. 1 receiver in his second season.