In December, CBS Sports’ Jared Dubin highlighted some of the top slot receivers in the NFL who were still playing on their rookie deals in 2020. Among them was LA’s Cooper Kupp, who was the most targeted player on a 16-person list that also included JuJu Smith-Schuster, Deebo Samuel, Chris Godwin, Brandon Aiyuk, Curtis Samuel, and CeeDee Lamb.
Kupp is tied with Lamb as the tallest on list at a height of 6’2, followed by Smith-Schuster and Godwin at 6’1, then Aiyuk at 6’, and finally both Samuels at 5’11.
Dubin describes how the evolution of football has helped the three shortest guys in that small group I just highlighted, plus 6’1 2020 rookie Laviska Shenault, thrive in a modern passing offense that is essentially asking running backs to line up as slot receivers.
These guys are basically wide receiver/running back hybrids whose coaches try to get them the ball however, whenever, wherever they can. Deebo Samuel had a game where he had a negative average depth of target. Aiyuk’s first two career touchdowns were runs. Curtis Samuel has seven games with multiple catches and multiple rush attempts. Shenault has three of those. The way this last group breaks tackles allows for them to be used in a wide variety of ways, which forces defenses into all kinds of uncomfortable positions.
Most fans are also aware at this point that backs are regularly lining up as receivers and diversifying their skills as weapons, featuring players like Alvin Kamara, J.D. McKissic, Nyheim Hines, Christian McCaffrey, James White, and Austin Ekeler regularly catching passes.
It makes the job of finding defensive players who can cover the slot a complicated tug-of-war for strategical advantages.
In addition to the advantage of having pseudo running backs as receivers, Dubin breaks down what makes guys like the 6’2 Kupp and 6’1 Godwin so valuable in the slot.
Godwin lines up inside more as a proactive tactic, with the Bucs preferring to use him there so he can gain a physical advantage over the smaller cornerbacks who tend to play inside. Kupp benefits from the free releases lining up off the line of scrimmage affords to slot receivers (he’s not particularly fast), but he’s also arguably the best blocking wide receiver in the league right now, and aligning close to the formation allows him greater participation in the run game.
Last season, the Rams featured Kupp, 6’ Robert Woods, and 6’3 Josh Reynolds as their top three wideouts. Second round pick Van Jefferson measured in at 6’1, 200 lbs, and while he didn’t participate in the combine or run a 40-yard dash, it was speculated that he could have run in the low 4.4-range and been one of the fastest players in the 2020 draft.
The other two receivers on the roster last season were 6’1 Trishton Jackson and 5’10 Nsimba Webster.
There’s been speculation that LA needs a “speedy” receiver next season, but Jefferson is probably one of the fastest players on the team and the one expected loss from the group is Reynolds, who finished with 85 targets in 18 games, including playoffs. Reynolds also had an average depth of target of 10.4 yards, highest on the team. Jefferson was second at 10.2, while Woods was at 6.7 and Kupp at 6.0.
But there are reasons to believe those averages won’t stick.
In 2019, Woods had an ADOT of 8.4 and Kupp was at 7.2. In 2018, when the team was its most successful, Woods was at 11.4 and Kupp was at 8.4. With the changeover at quarterback from Jared Goff to Matthew Stafford, we can safely speculate that LA’s deep passing will at least improve from the passer’s perspective:
Per NFLSIS Data Hub, Stafford had 62 deep attempts and ranked fifth in rating, whereas Goff only had 42 attempts (third-lowest rate of any quarterback with at least 400 total attempts) and ranked 16th.
With Reynolds entering free agency and looking unlikely to re-sign, two questions to ponder are “Do the Rams need a deep threat?” and “Do the Rams need height at the position?”
I think the first question has already been addressed and could be answered with low-cost, low-risk moves at receiver while focusing on the top three players who are under contract: Kupp, Woods, and Jefferson. The team is also believed to think highly of Jackson. But with Kupp now the tallest receiver on LA’s roster at 6’2, is it still expected that NFL offenses need “tall” receivers?
Perhaps no more than cornerbacks and it’s becoming evident that height is not nearly as big of a concern with that position as speed and the ability to tackle unique and physical runners like Deebo and Curtis Samuel.
Or shifty, intelligent, fast receivers like Woods.
And this guy...
Cooper Kupp is shift team certified pic.twitter.com/bO9RDMguRm— Footballism™ (@FootbaIIism) February 22, 2021
As a matter of fact, outside of DK Metcalf, Seattle’s 6’4, 230 lb receiver who may also be the Seahawks’ fastest player — at least in the only sense that matters — the NFC West doesn’t really feature any tall receivers of note.
It’s actually becoming increasingly harder to find them anywhere in the league.
DeAndre Hopkins is 6’1. So is Justin Jefferson, Davante Adams, and Calvin Ridley, and those four players, including Hopkins, ranked 3rd-6th in receiving yards in 2020. Stefon Diggs, the NFL’s leading receiver last season, is 6’ even. So is Terry McLaurin and A.J. Brown. Receivers under 6’ include Tyreek Hill, Brandin Cooks, Tyler Lockett, and Diontae Johnson.
Buffalo’s Cole Beasley, a second-team all-pro last season, is 5’8.
The only wide receivers who are above 6’1 and totaled at least 1,000 yards last season were Metcalf, Allen Robinson (6’2), Robby Anderson (6’3), and Mike Evans (6’5). Several more just missed the 1,000-yard cutoff, including Keenan Allen (6’2), Corey Davis (6’3), Marvin Jones (6’2), and Kupp.
Though LA might lose their tallest wideout, it doesn’t seem to be a specific “need” for any team. The Kansas City Chiefs do most of their passing work through a 5’10 receiver and a tight end. Aaron Rodgers forced more than twice as many targets to Adams as any other player, including the 6’4 Marquez Valdes-Scantling. The Bucs do have Evans, but also heavily featured Antonio Brown and Scotty Miller, both under 6’.
The top receivers entering the draft are JaMarr Chase (6’1), DeVonta Smith (6’1), and Jaylen Waddle (5’10). Other sub-6’ receivers who could go in the first two days are Kadarius Toney (5’11), Rondale Moore (5’9) and Tutu Atwell (5’9). The only “tall” receiver who might be projected that high is LSU’s Terrace Marshall (6’4), a potential late first round pick. It was only back in 2019 that Marshall was teamed up in a trio with Chase and Justin Jefferson, which is also when he was the number three player on his team instead of the number one.
It doesn’t necessarily hold true these days that the tallest receiver is the number one receiver. It seems to be harder to find and the real search might not be for the right receivers anymore, but the right cornerbacks, safeties, and linebackers who can help cover these increasingly dangerous weapons.
What "type" of receiver should the Rams target in the draft?
This poll is closed
"Receiver? Dang. Draft a corner!"