In 2020, the Rams traded Brandin Cooks and a future 4th round pick to the Houston Texans in exchange for a 2nd round pick in the 2020 draft. I don't know if I've ever been as angry with Les Snead as I was on that day. I was steaming mad. The Rams got no salary cap benefit from this move. They actually took a cap hit in dead money due to his accelerated bonuses when the trade was made. Dumping his salary in future seasons ended up making no sense, because he proved to be a very effective WR over those years. Losing Cooks had a big impact on the ability of the Rams and Jared Goff to throw deep passes in the 2020 season.
The Rams used the 2nd rd pick they received on Van Jefferson. He was supposed to develop into another Robert Woods or Cooper Kupp, but it didn't materialize. The Rams dumped him in the middle of the season, getting almost nothing in return, just a swap of late round picks in the 2025 draft. Since being traded to Atlanta, Jefferson has 6 catches for 56 yards, catching an unbelievably low 37.5% of his targets for an anemic 3.5 yards per target. He also had a critical dropped pass in one of their losses. He has a 49.5 PFF grade on the season.
Meanwhile, Cooks had back to back 1,000 yard receiving seasons the following 2 years with the Texans. A leg injury in 2022 prevented him from making it 3 straight years. This season, Cooks has been slow to develop chemistry with Dak Prescott in Dallas, but this isn't because Cooks has performed poorly. His statistical efficiency remains excellent. He's posted the 2nd best catch rate when targeted of his NFL career, has the best "success rate" of his career (a PFR metric measuring the impact of each catch), only has one dropped pass and has a very healthy 9.6 yards per target. His efficiency numbers are nearly identical to those of CeeDee Lamb, but for whatever reason, Dak doesn't target Cooks more often.
Adding to the pain for the Rams is that the most important part of that trade was what initially seemed like the most trivial part of the deal. The future 4th round pick ended up being at the very bottom of the round, because the Rams won the Super Bowl. It effectively was more like a 5th round pick on paper. Plus, it was in 2022, not 2020, so if you discounted it by a round per year, it was almost the equivalent of a 7th round pick in 2020. Useless, right? Not exactly.
A couple of the prospects that even without hindsight would have been top draft targets for the Rams at that slot were Zach Tom of the Packers and Tariq Woolen of the Seahawks. Woolen is a tall, outside CB who has 8 career INTs in the NFL. Tom is the starting RT for the Packers and has filled in at LT when Bakhtiari has been injured. A great thing about Tom is he's capable of starting at any of the 5 OL positions. When he was in the draft, I was most interested in him as a potential starting C. The Rams are looking for a long term solution at LT. If the Rams had drafted Tom, he might have been able to fill that need. Tom has a 78.1 PFF grade this season. He has the 16th best pass block win rate among OTs, and since some of the other OTs haven't played in every game, if you made a minimum of 250 plays to qualify, he'd be the 10th best OT. In SIS points, Tom has the 7th most points among all OL and is tied with Penei Sewell for the best OT in the NFL. Tom and Sewell have more SIS points than any LT in the NFL.
The craziest part of the Brandin Cooks trade is that the "meaningless" future 4th round pick the Rams threw in could have become more valuable to the Rams than a 1st round pick. If Tom were on the roster right now, it might substantially alter the team's 2024 draft strategy. Tom's ability to play LT might be just as good, if not better, than any OT prospect the Rams might take in next year's draft.
The predicament the Rams are in now at LT, part of it can be traced back to what happened the day Brandin Cooks was traded away, an extra reason why I don't think I'll ever get over being mad about that decision.
Name: Roman Wilson. Turns 23 years old in June of 2024.
School: Michigan. True senior. General studies major. Academic All Conference in 2021.
Size: Listed 6'0'' tall, 192 pounds. As a HS junior at recruiting event, ran 4.37 seconds in the 40.
4 star recruit from Hawaii. From Maui, which was devastated by fire in 2023. Played HS ball on Oahu, had to commute there by airplane for a year. Same HS as Marcus Mariota and Tua Tagovailoa. Sprinter and jumper on track team. Mom was a high school track star. Family was poor when he was a kid, family was homeless at one point, living out of their car, mom worked multiple jobs, on food stamps. His HS recruiting profile projected him to be a Day 3 NFL draft pick.
Wrist injury in middle of 2021 season. Knocked unconscious vs Iowa in 2022, then missed multiple games. Injured vs TCU. Huge hit vs Maryland in 2023, likely concussion.
2020 (6 games) 9-122-1
2021 (13 games, 5 starts) 25-420-3
2022 (12 games, 4 starts) 25-376-4
2023 (13 games) 41-662-11
7-117-2 career rushing. 15.8 career yards per catch average. 6 career kickoff returns for 22.3 yard average. zero career fumbles.
PFF board 135th overall (late 4th to 5th round), 22nd WR
PFN 76th overall (Dalton Miller 80th, Ian Valentino 72nd, Ian Cummings 86th)
Steve Shoup 158th (late 5th round)
BuffaloFambase 90th (late 3rd)
Drafttek 108th (4th rd)
NFLMDD 95th (late 3rd)
Shane Hallam mock draft 34th overall (early 2nd rd)
Luke Easterling mock draft 97th (compensatory 3rd rd)
Josh Edwards (CBSSports) 57th overall (2nd rd)
Big spread among the draft experts. High enough to sneak into the bottom of the 1st round or low enough to slide into the 6th round.
Has some swagger and street toughness in his personality, scrappy and carries a chip on his shoulder. Hasn't forgotten where he's come from and it has given him some perspective to want to give back to the community and help kids, but also drive and motivation to fight for his goals. He might be small, but he's not soft in mentality.
Explosive speed. Bursts off the LOS. Dangerous when used with pre-snap motion, already at speed when ball is snapped. If he's even, he's leaving, runs away from defenders and leaves them in the dust. Instant acceleration, can freeze the CB or get them to lean with release move, then suddenly burst by them. On shallow drag routes, CBs are stressed to run with him and keep up, if he puts them behind with his release, they stay behind and can't make up the separation.
Uses his speed judiciously. Not a one speed runner. Slows down in passing window to help his QB. Changes speed inside route so that he maintains tempo and comes open within structure of the play. Outstanding at dodging collisions if there is traffic in his way and continuing in his route without losing tempo.
Speed commands respect from defense. Clears out space for other players by going vertical and dragging multiple defenders with him.
Sudden athlete. Sharp COD on pivot routes. Near 90 degree turns. Good body control near the boundary. Quick twitch. Another player nearly crashed into his lower legs, but WR had quick ninja-like reflexes to hop over him and avoid potential injury.
Very fast hands to fight off jam attempts. Lined up both outside and inside. Can be on the LOS, not necessary to hide him from press coverage by stacking him behind another WR or exclusively in the slot. Sometimes in a tight split. Arm pumps synched with lower body, making release moves effective.
Smooth route runner. One of the best speed outs you'll ever see. Has shake, wiggle, start/stop ability in the stem that makes it difficult for the CB to mirror and stay in phase. Crafty movements of his hips and upper body to sell a different route and win leverage. Instincts for how to uncover in QB scramble drill.
Good ability to use his body to lean into the CB in middle of the route without losing his balance or tempo, in order to create space and leverage.
Very good feel for knowing exactly where and when to sit down vs zone defenders to make himself available to the QB. Adjusts well on the fly, very smart cut to go under DB on over route.
Fantastic hand eye coordination. Made a "helmet catch" pinning the ball to the back of LB's helmet vs Nebraska in 2023. Snatches the ball out of the air. When ball is away from his body, extends his hands and can precisely frame the ball between his hands with proper technique.
Tracks the ball very well in the air, can turn and adjust to the flight of the ball.
JJ McCarthy doesn't have enough arm strength to fully take advantage of Wilson's speed and downfield ability. There was a controversial play vs TCU where Wilson runs downfield, is 3 yards past the coverage, but McCarthy underthrows the pass, resulting in Wilson being ruled down just short of the GL instead of a stand up, walk in TD. It ended up being a pivotal play in the game. One play, defense puts 9 players in the box. Wilson runs a deep post and is 1 vs 1, there is no other defender available to help. In the NFL, if you have a speed WR, that should be an automatic throw and potential very long TD, but McCarthy instead elects to throw it to the shorter route.
Plays on the wrong team. Michigan has a run oriented, old school scheme and philosophy under Harbaugh. They use power formations with multiple TEs and sometimes a fullback. At times, they completely abandon the passing game and just run it every single down. McCarthy is a very good runner, so sometimes he'll just take off instead of staying in the pocket and looking to throw. JJ McCarthy only has 2,630 passing yards this season. He had 2,719 yards in 2022 (Ronnie Bell was the leading receiver with 889 yards.) In 2021, Cade McNamara led the team with 2,576 passing yards. Wilson has unimpressive stats, but how often do they actually throw the ball to him?
If you put Roman Wilson on one of those video game offenses like Washington, LSU or pair him with Caleb Williams at USC, Roman Wilson would burn the house down. He'd put up monster statistics. He's "hidden" playing for Michigan. Imagine if he just flipped rivalry teams and was playing for Ohio State when they had CJ Stroud and all their other 1st round WRs. Seriously, if Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba (the 20th overall pick in 2023) were in the same draft, which of those 2 WRs would you take? Chew on that question for a second. Why was one guy a 1st round pick and the other one a potential 4th to 5th round pick? I think that Wilson is flying under the radar, because he wasn't showcased as much in Michigan's scheme.
Since he's so small, initially you might assume that he's a terrible blocker, but it is the opposite, he's a surprisingly effective and very consistent blocker. He lacks mass and strength, so defenders can push him backwards or push him away, but he's outstanding at "getting in the way" at the moment of truth, with a keen understanding of blocking angles and excellent effort level. Very difficult to find plays on his tape where he takes a loss on a run block. Virtually every single time, he impedes the defender in some manner to help the runner.
Good hand placements. Consistently gets to the proper blocking angle, hustling if he has to beat the defender to the landmark. Mirrors to defend the angle. Not afraid to pop pads and mix it up, punches above his weight class. Good effort blocking way downfield. Battles and looks for work as blocker.
Reliably adjusts to block the safety as his secondary assignment if his CB moves away from him. Different WR came in motion and Wilson made smart audible to him to tell him to block a different defender.
Sneaky move where he can fake like he's blocking, then quickly spin away to release into a route. Being so small helps in selling the fake, because he can act like he has to get in an odd body position just to try to block, but it is a trick to deceive the opponent.
Not afraid or soft on the field. Plays with confidence and a playmaker's assertiveness. Not selfish, celebrates with his teammates, doesn't complain or act like a diva when he's not getting the ball.
Smart and crafty. Plays with football instincts and IQ. One of those players who seems like a natural for the game, understands what to do from moment to moment, even in chaotic situations when things change on the fly.
Has small hands. Short, with short arms. Small effective catch radius. Wildly bobbled catch, juggled it in air, before pressing the ball against his shoulder pad. At the very limit of his catch radius, hands not always able to control the ball cleanly.
He doesn't look 6 foot tall on the field. Per his listed size, he's supposed to be exactly the same size as Will Fuller, the former Notre Dame WR, but it feels like he's smaller, maybe 5'10''. Maybe it is because of his slight build. He has thin arms and legs and has short arms. He looks like a high school player on the field, he's so small. In terms of size, he makes me think of former Rams UDFA, Landen Akers, who was measured at 5'11 5/8'' tall, 189 pounds. The Rams listed Akers at 6' tall, 191 pounds, nearly identical to the listed size and weight for Wilson. So, maybe his measurements are correct, but like Akers, it just visually looks like he "doesn't belong" in the NFL, like defenders will break him in half.
Too small to use his body to box out defenders and protect the catch point. Arms are too short to dig out some low passes as he's running. Not a good WR to use on back shoulder throws or certain routes over middle of the field. Not advisable to loft 50/50 jump balls and expect him to win them. Won't win many contested catches when crowded by DBs.
Below average play strength. CBs can grab him on jams and he doesn't have the necessary play strength or length to disengage and break their grasp. Not enough size and strength to block inside the box the way Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua are sometimes used.
Not an all around receiving threat for every situation. Reliant on speed and specific routes that capitalize on that trait. Not as dangerous in the RZ when the field gets condensed.
As a runner, can speed past defenders and he's not afraid of attack them head on, but he doesn't have run power and won't break many tackles, limiting his ability to consistently add YAC. Not used much as a runner on jet sweeps.
There's a split second pause when he catches the ball with hands, before he can tuck it into his chest and if the CB is close enough, they can try to punch the ball out. This happened on one of his catches, causing an incompletion. It also creates a slight fumble risk.
Concerning concussion history. I wonder if this by itself could cause him to fall multiple rounds in the draft.
Doesn't profile as a WR1. If you had a bigger franchise WR, he could be the faster WR2 to pair with him, or he could be part of a talented trio (e.g. Kupp, Woods and Cooks), but he's not the foundation upon which you can construct an entire offense.
Limited career statistical production in college. Yet to have a season with at least 700 receiving yards (he'll presumably reach that mark in the college football playoffs.)
Draft Grade and Pro Comp
2nd round grade. (Brandin Cooks, 20th overall selection, 2014, Saints, Oregon State)
Cooks was in a phenomenal WR draft class. He was the Biletnikoff Award winner in 2013, ahead of Mike Evans and Sammy Watkins. Roman Wilson has 1,580 career receiving yards. Cooks had 1,730 receiving yards in his 2013 season alone. He had nearly 3,000 yards in his final 2 seasons at OSU. In a weaker draft, maybe Cooks would have been a top 10 pick like John Ross, the 9th overall selection in 2017, who was 5'1l'' tall, 188 pounds and ran 4.22 seconds in the 40.
Cooks was a hair under 5'10'' tall and 189 pounds. He ran 4.33 seconds at the Combine. Injuries impacted 3 of his seasons (including concussions with the Rams) and it is possible that if it weren't for those injuries, he would have had 9 straight 1,000 yard receiving seasons to begin his pro career.
Just as the cloud of multiple concussions hung over Cooks when the Rams traded him, Wilson's concussions might scare off teams in the draft. If Wilson drops well into Day 3, he could become one of the biggest hidden values in the draft.
Roman Wilson is a better prospect than Tutu Atwell. I don't agree with the experts that have Wilson ranked low. The only experts who have him properly ranked are the ones highest on him, like Shane Hallam's mock draft, where he's an early 2nd round pick. If Cooks and Wilson were in the same draft, I'd rank Cooks higher, but Wilson shares many similar play traits with Cooks.
Pure speed isn't a necessary trait to be a great NFL receiver. Amon Ra St Brown was a 4th round pick in 2021 by the Detroit Lions. He measured 5'11 1/2'' tall, 197 pounds, with 30 3/8'' arms and a 74 5/8'' wingspan. He didn't test at the Combine and only ran 4.61 seconds in the 40 at his pro day. In less than 3 full seasons, St. Brown already has over 3,100 receiving yards as Goff's most trusted target in Detroit. When St Brown was in the draft, his profile said that he had focus drops, was a poor run blocker, didn't have play strength, was bothered by press coverage, wouldn't be able to separate vertically with his limited speed, lacked burst and ability to separate out of breaks and only "had a chance" to become an "average" starting slot WR. Based on his draft slot, all the NFL teams (including the Lions) saw him the same way.
Tutu Atwell and St. Brown were in the same draft. NFL teams scooped up the speedy Atwell and D'Wayne Eskridge (4.39 seconds 40 time) in the 2nd round. Eskridge has 122 career receiving yards with the Seahawks. Terrace Marshall Jr., 6'2 5/8'' tall with 4.38 second speed, also was a 2nd round pick. Marshall has never had at least 500 receiving yards in any season in the NFL. Anthony Schwartz, 6 feet tall, who ran 4.26 seconds in the 40 at his pro day, was a 3rd round pick. He has 186 career receiving yards. Released by the Browns, Schwartz is on the PS for the Miami Dolphins.
St. Brown was drafted well after those (plus other) WRs. All the NFL teams were proved wrong and the "slow slot WR" has outproduced all of those WRs taken ahead of him, combined. So much for prioritizing 40 times and speed in the draft. Maybe scouts should have paid closer attention to St. Brown beyond just how fast he could run in a straight line.
It is hard to praise Brad Holmes too much for the St Brown pick, because Holmes drafted a disappointing DB in the 3rd round of the same draft, who is a backup safety. So, if Holmes really knew what St. Brown would become, his 3rd round selection doesn't make any sense, he should have grabbed St. Brown at that slot. If Holmes had flipped the order and drafted S at St. Brown's slot, he would have gotten Camryn Bynum, a starting S for the Vikings, who has an 85.0 PFF grade this season, the 5th highest graded S in the NFL. Before any of you start saying this is all hindsight, I remember Bynum from that draft and I thought he was a good prospect. If Holmes had waited even later and taken St. Brown's USC teammate, he would have gotten Talanoa Hufanga (another player who was supposedly too slow for the NFL.)
In other words, the Lions "lucked out" on the St. Brown pick in a very similar way to how the Rams lucked out on the Cooper Kupp draft pick. While skill is an important factor for a GM, some of the best draft picks are only an indirect result of good scouting and decision making. The element of random luck is a key thing in determining winners and losers among the NFL teams in the draft. Just the nature of the beast, because human beings have limited ability to reliably predict which players will and won't succeed in the pros.
The Rams already have WRs like Puka and Kupp who are capable of doing the things Amon Ra St. Brown does for the Lions. So, unless McVay wants all of his WRs to be identical, there is some logic behind trying to get a very fast WR who can stretch the field and help Stafford (and whoever eventually replaces him at QB) attack the deep part of the field. Tutu Atwell was supposed to fill that need, but unless he's going to breakout and jump to a higher level of performance, maybe the Rams need to find a new WR to play that role. Roman Wilson could be that guy. He could be the next "Brandin Cooks" for the Rams. If we draft Wilson, I just hope that Les Snead doesn't immediately trade him away to the Houston Texans.