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Rams 2020 position battles: Wide Receiver 3

This one is expected to come down to two names only

Los Angeles Rams v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

One glaring difference about the LA Rams offense next season is that they traded Brandin Cooks and this time didn’t bring in another “Brandin Cooks” type veteran to replace him. The persona of this offense has been that they consistently have three great receivers and going into 2020 we only really know about Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods as starters.

But we also have to remember that they were in a similar situation in 2017 and that turned out pretty good.

Back then, Sean McVay and Les Snead signed Woods, traded for Sammy Watkins, and drafted Kupp in the second round. Kupp ended up leading the Rams in receiving yards that season but nobody expected that to happen.

Three years later and LA still has Woods and Kupp. What they don’t know for sure yet is if they have a third who can contribute as much as Watkins and Cooks did. Well, we should also re-examine what the “wide receiver three” has actually produced for the Rams in those seasons.

The Rams finished first in points scored in 2017 but Kupp led the team with 869 yards and five touchdowns, Woods has 781 yards and five touchdowns, Watkins had 593 yards and eight touchdowns. Though those three players mixed six games combined, others like rookie Josh Reynolds, didn’t really step in and replicate near that kind of production. The three names are big now, but LA was first in scoring without unbelievable production from any one of them individually.

In fact, Todd Gurley may have been the most efficient receiver on the team that year.

In 2018, LA effectively swapped out Watkins for Cooks and production skyrockets: 1,219 yards for Woods; 1,204 yards for Cooks; 566 yards in only eight games for Kupp. Not only was there a huge shift in the top three, but even Reynolds added 402 yards and five touchdowns.

With Kupp out, Reynolds started the final six games, catching 22 of 41 targets for 304 yards and three touchdowns. The catch rate is pretty bad, the yards per target fairly low.

The Rams still scored a lot of points in those games, including 54 against the Chiefs and 48 against the 49ers. Against Kansas City, he catches six of eight targets for 80 yards and a touchdown.

In 2019, roles are reversed for Kupp and Cooks, the latter leading the team with 94 catches and 1,161 yards. Next is Woods at 90 catches, 1,134 yards. And Cooks, though he only misses two games, falls down to 583 yards. He was 2017 Sammy Watkins without the touchdowns.

Available to help if they wanted him was Reynolds, but he so far seems less reliable with anything more than two or three targets.

So the difference is that the Rams aren’t perceived to have an elite trio of receivers this time but when have they ever had that? The closest came in 2018, but even that cut Kupp’s season in half. LA had a high-quality duo last season and that’s it and both of those players return. Past that, we just might not see that many targets go to the number three receiver anyway. Not unless somebody does elevate themselves into that conversation as Kupp did three years ago.

That being said, who is in that competiion?

It can only really be Josh Reynolds or Van Jefferson at this point. There’s just not enough known about any other receiver on the roster to judge them as capable of that at this point in their careers. Nsimba Webster and Greg Dortch return as 2019 undrafted free agents and are joined by five new UDFAs.

Reynolds provides experience and McVay has expressed confidence in his ability to start for them. Jefferson was drafted with an even higher pick than the one used on Kupp and provides a higher perceived ceiling than Reynolds or any other receiver on the roster save Woods or Kupp.

But the team also may want to utilize Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett together in the passing game more and Higbee was the go-to guy by the end of 2019. They’d also like to see rookie running back Cam Akers utilized in the passing game too and as we saw in 2017 and 2018, that really seems to be a big help to Jared Goff. That’s five players who are a good bet to be the top five in targets on the team anyway. There will only be significant space fo a WR3 if he manifests it.

Can any of these players do that next season?