At first glance, the Los Angeles Rams wide receiver room looks full. Cooper Kupp and Van Jefferson are fully recovered from injuries, while Tutu Atwell and Bennett Skowronek both showed signs they have made the transition from college to pros. Those four spots are locked and that doesn’t leave much room.
Even so, L.A. drafted Puka Nacua at #177 of Round 5 and signed four UDFAs for camp competition. The rookies will have to compete with Lance McCutcheon, everybody’s camp crush in 2022, and Austin Trammel, the poster boy for the type of player the Rams prefer at the bottom of their positional units.
With this incoming slate of wide receivers, each have varied skillsets and upsides. Let’s meet them and try to project if one, or more, can become 2023’s preseason darling and/or a role on the Rams opening roster.
Wide receiver Braxton Burmeister - San Diego State
Hmm, this should be different, trying to project a college quarterback as an NFL wide receiver. It’s not unheard of, but still rather rare. The only one currently in the NFL is WR/RB Jerrick McKinnon, who was a triple option QB at Georgia Southern.
A San Diego native, Burmeister is well-traveled. Recruited and signed as a dual-threat QB by Oregon in 2017, he passed for 373 yards and ran for another 171 rushing. Justin Herbert passed him on the depth chart and he transferred to Virginia Tech and redshirted in 2019. Got his feet wet as a starter in 2020 and took over that role in 2021. In 20 starts as a Hokie, he threw for 2997 yards, ran for 790 yards, and accounted for 24 touchdowns. The lone season with the Aztecs was mired with injuries and he moved to wide receiver, but only recorded two receptions.
He’s got wide out size measurables, 6’ 200 lbs. with 9 5/8” hands and 31 3/4” arms, with big hands (9 5/8”) He’s also got good athleticism. Runs a 4.56 forty, 7.01 3Cone, 4.26 shuttle, 32.5” vertical, and 10’ 1” long jump.
Since there’s no wide receiver game film, film study will have to be his Pro Day workout video and some of his past work running the football. Burmeister does a good job of snatching the ball away from his body, breaks down and gets his hips low when making breaks, and tracks the ball well. It’s a workout, but he shows good body control and reaction to off target throws. He does round off his breaks a bit and obviously doesn't have much of a route tree. He certainly appears physical enough.
1 on 1 #2 physical at the top of this out route and a nice catch pic.twitter.com/sP7ir9S8Aj— Koll_0ne (@Koll_0ne) May 2, 2023
Wide Receiver Sam James - West Virginia
Solid, but not outstanding five-year college career, who was a 400 meter state champion. Started 33 of 50 games and racked up 190 catches for 2229 yards and 15 touchdowns. He added 487 yards on 26 kickoff returns.
Well put together, high-cut build with long legs. Taped at 5’ 11” 185 lbs., 9 1/4” hands and 30 1/2” arms (They look longer on film). Ran a very good 4.50 forty and 6.90 3Cone, but only 4.24 in the shuttle. Good lower body explosion with a 36.5” vertical and 10’ 2” broad. He only repped 11 on the bench, but looks like he plays strong on film.
James is a sneaky good receiver. He is adept in all areas of the field, began his college years split out wide and rotated into the slot in 2002. Not great, but a willing blocker. He shows good hands, comes back to the ball, and catches away from his body with his hands. Very good open-field runner and surprisingly strong and slippery through contact, showing very good vision and contact balance.
It seems that WVU always looked at James as a secondary weapon on offense and used him as such. Early in his career, he often worked in the mid and deep areas, as a senior it was mostly short drags and flat passes out of motion. Along with the kickoff returns, he also played on coverage units. The West Virginia head coach said that his special teams play was elite. For James position on the roster bubble, that ability is his possible lane to winning a roster spot.
Wide Receiver Xavier Smith - Florida A&M
Diminutive speedster entered college as a walk-on and left with a truck full of accolades, including being a finalist for the Walter Payton Award as the top offensive player in the FCS. In his three seasons, Smith gained 3465 all-purpose yards in 33 games. He caught 87 passes, carried 20 times, returned 14 punts, and ran back 20 kickoffs.
Even at his size, 5’ 9” 174 lbs., he’s not a dancer. More of a one-cut linear runner, who gets north/south in a hurry. In the open field he can stack moves at speed and uses more head/shoulder than stop-and-go cuts on a dime. Stellar burst and long speed, at the FAMU Pro Day, depending on which report you want to believe, his forty time was clocked at either 4.38, 4.39, or 4.40. Supporting the linear speed projection, he timed ho-hum numbers, 4.42 in the shuttle and a 7.19 3Cone. He leapt a nice 36” vertical.
Has more than speed to create separation, shows good moves off the line, fairly sharp and very quick in/out of breaks, and doesn’t fear the middle. Shorter arm length (29 1/4) could limit him in contested catch opportunities. Had some drop issues while battling a thumb issue in 2021, but actually has good, soft hands (9”)
Smith plays bigger and stronger on film than he measures, that may be because of the level of competition, but overall, his play style is more physical than finesse. The FAMU coaches love his effort and work ethic. Because of his size you have to mention durability concerns, he was healthy in 2022, but in the two previous seasons, he worked through ankle, shoulder, and thumb issues.
Florida A&M WR Xavier Smith showed out at the HBCU Combine yesterday but take a look at the route-running prowess he has here.— John Vogel (@DraftVogel) February 21, 2023
Sell the go over the top with the head fake, then he has the body control to cut straight into the gap and open himself between two defenders.
Wide receiver Tyler Hudson - Louisville
Spent his first three college years at FCS Central Arkansas where he tallied 167 receptions, 3022 yards, and 27 touchdowns. Some of the accolades he earned were Hero Sports Freshman All-American, Athlon Sports All-American, and Southland Conference Offensive Player of the year. In his single year at Louisville, he chalked up 69 catches for 1034 yards, and two touchdowns.
At the Hula Bowl, Hudson measured 6’ 2” 193 lbs. with 9 1/4” hands and 33 3/8” arms. His speed, agility, and explosion numbers are from the Louisville Pro Day. He recorded a 4.69 forty, 7.14 3Cone, 4.59 shuttle, 38.5”vertical, 10’ 3” long jump, and 11 reps on the bench.
Long, lanky wide out with a strong basketball background. Great leaper and hand/eye coordination, his court skills skills show out on how he high points the football, blocks out with his body, and fights to come down with the contested catch. Shows good hands and the body control to snatch off-target passes.
He did not test well in the forty, but on film, has buildup speed and looks more like a 200 meter runner with his long strides. Runs pretty good routes and can create his own seperation. Has good hands, is fearless catching over the middle and knows how to use that length to advantage.
I like this prospect. He has good film and seamlessly made the step up from FCS-level competition. Relatively polished receiver whose held back by only adequate speed. Wasn’t much special teams play in his background, with one exception, he did return 41 punts at Central Arkansas.
Opening roster challengers?
One of the problems with projecting wide receivers out of college is they are all so good. It’s relatively easy to point out the elite and second tier standouts, but when you get into those late round and priority undrafted prospects, it becomes as much about figuring out a teams “type” rather than splitting hairs on who’s better.
This group all fit the Rams mold of high-effort, football IQ, and versatility. Realistically, competition will be fierce and they’ll be competing for what, maybe one or two roster spots at best. L.A. will likely keep six receivers, maybe seven if one can stand out a a return man. If all the on-field offensive production is equal for candidates WR#5 and #6, what becomes the criteria for one of these rookies to win a role?
If its returning kicks, the edge goes to Xavier Smith. He’s got top speed and experience in both punts and kickoffs. He’s never had return, punt or kickoff, over 45 yards, but his burst and speed cannot be overlooked. On offense, that speed can help the Rams force defenses to account for the outside and not pack the box.
When non-return special teams work is key, Sam James has the inside lane. He has a big leg up on the other candidates in special teams snaps played and was considered the best on his college team. He has solid all-around game film, but never really became “the guy” at WVU. That says something.
Tyler Hudson could fill the contested catch receiver role. Smooth operator is probably the best natural receiver of the group. Did return punts early in his career, but he’s not a quick-cutting darter, he’s got long strides and has to build up to speed. He’s proven he can transition up in class, now comes the big jump.
Although Braxton Burmeister could theoretically offer some value as emergency quarterback insurance, but having almost zero college wide out experience makes the chances of even a practice squad spot nil. He’s tough, athletic and ultra-competitive, just hard to make any case for that to be enough.
Naysayers aside, the Rams do do have a deep receiver room and unless one (or more!) of these UDFAs are really flying under radar, none seem a real upgrade over the incumbents. But with that said, this is an opinion piece. So, I like Hudson and James, I think they are the most versatile, as well as the best “receivers”. Bring on camp!