In the final year under Jeff Fisher, the Los Angeles Rams focused heavily on offense in the draft, selecting Jared Goff plus two tight ends and two wide receivers. Four years later, those two receivers combined to only catch 35 passes with the Rams, but both are still competing for jobs in crowded rooms for other teams right now.
Perhaps the more surprising half of that duo is Mike Thomas, an afterthought of afterthoughts in 2020 free agency who has taken advantage of opportunities with the Cincinnati Bengals this month.
Thomas, who was unsurprisingly not listed among SB Nation’s top 100 free agents this offseason, was not thought of as anything more than a player to “push the bottom of the receiver depth chart” and “hopefully contribute on special teams” by Cincy Jungle. And understandably so. In four seasons with the Rams, playing in one of the most successful passing offenses for two of those four years, Thomas caught 10 passes on 21 targets.
There hasn’t been a shred of evidence that Thomas was hiding additional receiver talent unless it was buried deep below the surface. Well they must have gotten Daniel Plainview on the Zoom because Cincy Jungle’s current take on Thomas is that “he’s either here to stay or he’ll find work somewhere else real quick.” With John Ross missing more time due to injury, Thomas has drawn praise for his explosiveness from head coach (and former Rams assistant) Zac Taylor and been specifically complimented for the chemistry between him and Joe Burrow.
Zac Taylor said he's been impressed with Auden Tate since Taylor arrived in Cincinnati. Has a great grasp of what the Bengals are trying to do. Also credits Mike Thomas' explosiveness— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) August 18, 2020
Keep in mind this is on an offense that has A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, Auden Tate (who is also being credited with a terrific camp), 33rd overall pick Tee Higgins, Ross, Alex Erickson and another sleeper breakout candidate in DeMarkus Lodge. Thomas would have a difficult time even cracking the top four on this depth chart but it would be interesting to see if the 2016 sixth round pick is finally able to take on more than a roster spot and a special teams role.
In the case of the other receiver, Pharoh Cooper was an all-pro special teamer with the Rams but waived by Sean McVay in December of 2018. He caught as many passes with the Arizona Cardinals in 14 games (25) as he did in 31 games with the Rams, plus his first career touchdown in 2019. This is not to say that Cooper was necessarily “the one that got away” and opportunities came in Arizona for reasons having to do with the Cards depth, but he’s getting positive reviews with the Carolina Panthers this year.
Cooper recently called returning punts and kicks “fun” but felt he was still a receiver first. Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said that Cooper is “one of the guys this camp who has really shown me something” and in more ways than simply on returns. Cooper wouldn’t be getting snaps over D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson or Curtis Samuel, but could win the number four job over Seth Roberts or UDFA Omar Bayless.
The Rams are more than satisfied with the receivers they’re bringing into the 2020 season, but it is interesting to see Fisher’s final draft class keep hanging on to precious few roster spots around the league. And for what it’s worth, the two tight ends were Tyler Higbee and Temarrick Hemingway.
Hemingway is also fighting for a roster spot on the Panthers.