You can never have too many receivers in the NFL - and Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams understand this as well as anyone.
Even with training camp reports that indicate the starting duo of Mr. Triple Crown, Cooper Kupp, and the rebounding Allen Robinson could be as formidable as any this year, McVay is still recruiting Odell Beckham, Jr. to re-sign with the team.
Now Van Jefferson has reportedly not recovered from the knee injury he played through towards the end of last season - and he is in danger of missing the start of the regular season. Jefferson, early in the 2021 season when he had a clean bill of health, showed instant chemistry with Matthew Stafford and was able to get behind defenses on a regular basis.
The Rams will be in good shape with Kupp and Robinson - barring any injury to either of them - but they will need complementary pieces to carve out roles and help shape what could become one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL this season.
Which young pass catcher could step up as the third receiving option?
Tutu Atwell, (2nd round; 2021)
It’s possible that Jefferson’s injury means we won’t see Atwell play during the preseason, as McVay prefers to keep starters and key contributors on the sideline. This means we might not have the opportunity to check in on Atwell’s development until the start of the regular season, but this would also mean that there wouldn’t be much film on the speedy receiver for defenses to sift through.
Atwell enters his second season as a complete unknown: unknown as to whether a player of his size can take hits and sustain a career in the NFL; unknown as to whether his explosive athletic ability will translate to the next level; and unknown as to how McVay will utilize him as a downfield threat, a gadget player, and potentially on special teams.
We may not see Atwell take the field until Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills. Sean McDermott and the Bills will be focused on slowing down Kupp and Robinson - but this could be the perfect opportunity for Atwell to sneak behind the defense and introduce himself to the NFL.
Ben Skowronek (7th round, 2021)
It’s unlikely that a single player will replace Jefferson’s role - there will be multiple individuals leveraged situationally in order to complement Kupp and Robinson.
At this point, it actually seems like Skowronek might be seeing more reps with the first team offense than the aforementioned Atwell.
Due to injuries last season, Skowronek was thrust into playing time on the playoff and Super Bowl stages before he was truly ready to take the field. The former seventh round selection was always supposed to be primarily a special teams ace, but he also has a large frame and skillset that could lend itself towards development on offense.
We may have been provided a glimpse towards that unique skillset this weekend - as both Skowronek and Kupp were used in the backfield with the first team unit - look closely:
Dodging the rain drops here at Rams training camp. pic.twitter.com/oGOBBjUqNY— Eric Williams (@eric_d_williams) July 31, 2022
McVay has hinted in the past that he believes Skowronek has the big frame and ability to play a move tight end or H-back type role. This could mean favorable matchups in the passing game by starting in the backfield and then being isolated against a linebacker. After the Rams struggled on the ground at times last year and during the playoffs, perhaps using Skowronek as a blocker could open up running lanes for Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson.
It may be time to get excited for second-year receiver Ben Skowronek.
Jacob Harris (4th round; 2021)
It’s now clear that Harris is a full-time receiver and not a tight end for Los Angeles.
While Harris has all the athleticism and talent you can hope for out of a fourth round pick, it’s fair to wonder how soon he can make an impact in the NFL.
Can the Rams leverage Harris’ size to outmatch smaller defenders in the red zone? Is he best used as a deep threat or a YAC (yards after catch) generator?
It’s easy to get excited about Harris, but it’s harder to understand how he fits into the offense and why he should be on the field over Atwell or Skowronek. It’s not that training camp reports suggest we should be down on Harris - it’s more that we need to see it before we should believe it.
Wolford with a rope down the middle to Jacob Harris pic.twitter.com/1cDK8b8091— Cliff Jackson Jr. (@CliffJacksonn) July 30, 2022