Matthew Stafford’s 13th season in the NFL will be his first away from the Detroit Lions. With the LA Rams, Stafford is now with a team that has been concentrating on upgrading its wide receivers unit year after year since Sean McVay’s arrival in 2017. Not that the Lions weren’t trying.
Detroit signed Golden Tate in 2014, then Marvin Jones in 2016, and in 2017, the Lions spent a third round pick on 24-year-old rookie receiver Kenny Golladay. When Tate and Jones suffered injuries in 2018, Golladay advanced into being Detroit’s number one receiver, prompting the team to trade Tate, then sign 34-year-old Danny Amendola in 2019. In Stafford’s final campaign with the Lions, Golladay missed 11 games and Jones enjoyed a career-high 115 targets.
Now compare that to what McVay has asked for since 2017.
The Rams signed Robert Woods, traded for Sammy Watkins, and drafted Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds in 2017. They next parted with Watkins and traded for Brandin Cooks. After two seasons, they traded Cooks, and drafted Van Jefferson in the second round, but all the while, Woods and Kupp stabalized the position enough to at least assure that Jared Goff had two solid starters.
As of 2021, the team has spent another second rounder on a receiver — this time it’s Tutu Atwell — and signed a 34-year-old of their own, DeSean Jackson. On top of all of that, fourth round pick Jacob Harris might be a wide receiver and he could end up being a fair replacement for Reynolds in the long-term.
Of course, Stafford was also gifted with T.J. Hockenson, the eighth overall pick in the 2019 draft, and he had a good campaign last season. However, there’s little comparison between how the Lions have operated their roster building in the last five years and how the LA Rams have chosen to do it. The Rams are experiencing a whole new offense because of Stafford, but so too is Stafford enjoying a new way of life thanks to the complement of receivers he’ll get to throw to next season.
Stafford recently told the LA Times: “We’ve got a lot of talented guys in that group,” he said. “Some veteran guys that know what they’re doing and some young guys that are learning quickly as well.”
“It’s something, as a quarterback, that is a lot of fun to have, a guy out there you know is thinking and seeing the game the same way that you are,” Stafford said.
Stafford had not-so-surprisingly nice things to say about all of his Rams receivers, including Woods, Kupp, Jackson, and Jefferson, who as I alluded to back in February, did have a slight connection to Stafford when his father Shawn Jefferson was coaching receivers in Detroit. Back then, the Lions had Calvin Johnson. That was back then.
In LA, Stafford has nobody like Johnson, but he has an argument for having the deepest wide receivers group in the NFL. That’s not something he had in 2020.
First, let’s focus on wide receivers:
- Marvin Jones, 16 games, 115 targets, 76 catches, 978 yards, 6 drops, 5 broken tackles
- Marvin Hall, 11 games, 30 targets, 17 catches, 290 yards, 4 drops, 0 broken tackles
- Quintez Cephus, 13 games, 35 targets, 20 catches, 340 yards, 3 drops, 0 broken tackles
- Danny Amendola, 14 games, 69 targets, 46 catches, 602 yards, 2 drops, 5 broken tackles
- Kenny Golladay, 5 games, 32 targets, 20 catches, 338 yards, 2 drops, 0 broken tackles
- Mohamed Sanu, 7 games, 23 targets, 16 catches, 178 yards, 1 drop, 0 broken tackles
Adding it up, those receivers were targeted 304 times and they dropped 18 passes.
What did the Rams receivers do with Jared Goff last season:
- Cooper Kupp, 15 games, 124 targets, 92 catches, 974 yards, 6 drops, 12 broken tackles
- Robert Woods, 16 games, 129 targets, 90 catches, 936 yards, 4 drops, 2 broken tackles
- Josh Reynolds, 16 games, 81 targets, 52 catches, 618 yards, 3 drops, 2 broken tackles
- Van Jefferson, 16 games, 31 targets, 19 catches, 220 yards, 1 drop, 2 broken tackles
Los Angeles used four wide receivers during the entire season. A fifth option never even received a single target.
Adding it up, those four receivers were targeted 365 times and they dropped 14 passes.
Lions WRs dropped 6% of their targets.
Rams WRs dropped 3.8% of their targets.
And I would argue that the Lions had a better quarterback throwing those passes in 2020. Additionally, as you can see, Kupp broke more tackles on his own than the entire Detroit wide receiver corps combined. Every single receiver on the Rams showed some ability to create on his own with the ball in his hands. LA was also healthier, and there is some statistical evidence that the Rams are one of the least-injured teams in the NFL since McVay arrived.
There is also history on the side of Woods and Kupp. The four drops by Woods are as many as he had in 2019, but he only had two drops in 2018. That’s a total of 10 drops over his last three seasons and he’s only sat out one game in that time. That’s 10 drops on 398 targets!
Kupp only had three drops in 2019 and he only had a single drop during his eight-game season in 2018. That’s only nine drops over 313 targets!
Jones and Hall alone had 10 drops on 145 targets in Detroit last season.
The worst offender in LA was Reynolds and he is now on the Tennessee Titans, a team so confident in him that they traded for Julio Jones this week. We have little idea how much DeSean Jackson will be able to play next season, or in what condition his game is right now, but when he received 74 targets with the Buccaneers in 2018, Jackson only dropped two passes.
Van Jefferson being a sure-handed receiver would not at all be surprising given his draft profile — it’s definitely not his weakness — and while Atwell had some concern with drops in his draft profile, we’ll find out how that translates to the NFL when the games begin. At least Atwell, unlike 2020 fifth round pick Quintez Cephus, most likely won’t be asked to contribute significant snaps next season because the Rams have done so much work to fortify the top-three or four spots at the position.
Cephus played in 62 snaps in Week 1 of his rookie season, catching only three of 10 targets from Stafford en route to a 27-23 loss at home to the Chicago Bears. Cephus had two drops in that game alone and he fell further and further out of the rotation, until injuries made him a regular contributor in the second half of the season. He did not belong, however. Cephus would regularly play 30-55% of the snaps, but could only command 2-3 targets and would consistently finish with under 40 yards.
And yet he was one of Stafford’s only options with the Lions in 2020.
Matthew Stafford finished the season completing 64.2% of his passes for 4,084 yards, 26 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 7.7 Y/A in spite of these weapons, so yes, I do think he’s a good quarterback.
Obviously his greatest weapon was Hockenson:
- 16 games, 101 targets, 67 catches, 723 yards, 7 drops, 4 broken tackles
Welcome to Los Angeles, Matt.