The competition for the third receiver slot for the Los Angeles Rams is heating up after Van Jefferson had surgery to repair his injured knee. Jefferson is expected to be out for a few weeks, which puts his status for the season opener on September 8th in question.
Fortunately the Rams have a 6-3, 224 lbs. backup that can be active as a run blocker, has the speed to stretch the field vertically, and is able to leverage his size to make contested catches.
No - that backup is not the incredibly athletic and much-discussed Jacob Harris, who was a fourth round draft selection for the Rams a year ago.
It’s Ben Skowronek, who was drafted in the seventh round - five rounds later than Tutu Atwell and three rounds after Harris.
Big Whit climbing to the second level and Skowronek's and Blanton's blocks here are pic.twitter.com/2GPrOjtycw— Sosa Kremenjas (@QBsMVP) February 3, 2022
Up to this point of training camp Skowronek has been lost in the shuffle amidst the news of Jefferson’s injury, a potential breakout year from Atwell, and special teams ace Brandon Powell working to carve out a role on offense.
But if you pay close enough attention you will see that Skowronek is in line to receive the most playing time during Jefferson’s absence.
Perhaps we’d be much more excited for the receiver’s second year if he hauled in this 35-yard touchdown grab in the NFC championship game against the San Francisco 49ers.
In one of the biggest moments of his career he dropped an easy touchdown that would have taken the lead for the rams. He is lucky he had a actual good team behind him to win the game but I would much rather have Jacob Harris than Ben Skowronek pic.twitter.com/chwNRdJ6y1— Carter (Rams House) (@CarterMusich) August 1, 2022
Sure, it’s much more likely that Atwell is the most productive receiver behind Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson at the start of the season. He’s the most unique pass catcher on the LA roster, and Sean McVay is going to schematically find ways to get the football to him in space. It’s possible that Atwell may only be on the field for 10-20 snaps per game this season, but there will be plays specifically designed to make the most of his skillset.
Jefferson played 80% of the offensive snaps last season, so if Atwell is in on 10-20 of those that still leaves a void of 30-40 plays.
And that’s where Skowronek will go to work and earn his pay check. He will be active in the ground game and open up running lanes for Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson. With his size you can realistically expect him to take on tight end-type blocking duties in pass protection, similar to what we’ve seen asked of Kupp and Robert Woods in prior years.
rams receiver ben skowronek has that dawg in him pic.twitter.com/s7IEcloA41— Denny Carter (@CDCarter13) August 2, 2022
The ability to contribute as a blocker is an extremely important aspect of playing wide receiver for the Rams - and it allows McVay to play up-tempo without having to make personnel changes. As we’ve heard from McVay since he joined the team in 2017, his offense is designed around “the illusion of complexity” - and he wants to start out by giving you the same look that turns out to be slightly different in the end.
So one play you could see Skowronek helping to block a defensive end. The next he might be running a deep post off of play action.
Skowronek is built like a Rams receiver. He has the skillset expected of a Rams receiver.
Ben Skowronek makes a very tough, competitive TD catch during redzone work on a Wolford pass.— Stu Jackson (@StuJRams) August 4, 2022
That’s not to say Atwell can’t be successful or carve out a role in the same offense, it’s just at 5-9, 160 lbs. things are going to look a lot different for him.
It will take multiple individuals to replace the well-rounded kit of Van Jefferson, but don’t be surprised when you see Ben Skowronek on the field for most of the game. Tutu Atwell will get his opportunities to produce - though him being on the field regularly could keep Sean McVay from digging deep into his back of tricks.
It’s time to appreciate Ben Skowronek, and welcome him to the role of WR#3 while Jefferson works his way back from injury.