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Rams receiver depth chart is a puzzle not yet solved

More changes are probably coming

Las Vegas Raiders v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

From the 2021 offseason until now there have been four consistent presences in the wide receiver room: Cooper Kupp, Van Jefferson, Tutu Atwell, and Ben Skowronek. That’s actually a pretty rare feat, to keep around four players at the receiver position for over two years. And yet in spite of that consistency, which in itself is interesting given that three of those four names have yet to establish themselves as receivers who have long-term NFL futures, the Los Angeles Rams have had so many other players enter, leave, and rotate through the wideouts room.

Names like Odell Beckham, Jr., Robert Woods, Desean Jackson, and Allen Robinson.

Now after Les Snead’s latest move, signing former Kansas City Chiefs receiver Demarcus Robinson on Thursday, the Rams have 13 players competing for five or six spots on the roster in 2023. No matter how you run the numbers, somebody in L.A.’s receiver competition is going to be the odd man out, and it may not be the “easy cuts” and expected names like you think.

With two additions in the last week, including Tyler Johnson, and heaps of praise for fifth round pick Puka Nacua already, how will the Rams sort out their best combination of receivers for the 2023 season? Perhaps more importantly, how will the L.A. Rams keep around the four or five best players for the 2024 season and beyond?

First, let’s review the 13-man depth chart at receiver:

#1 - Cooper Kupp

There are only two options with Kupp, that being the option you like and the option you refuse to acknowledge as being an option. Well, there is no option to cut Kupp, so don’t worry about that. He’s also perhaps the team’s best player and the most-likely star of the three we know about to still be helping the team win games in 2024 and 2025. Kupp carries a $27.8 million cap hit in 2023, the highest on the roster.

Just for arguments sake, if a team offers two first round picks for Kupp, the Rams save $20 million this year (which can be rolled over into next year). They also save $10 million next season.

If L.A. went full-on rebuild mode like that, then of course the rest of the depth chart at receiver changes dramatically, but it’s not like we haven’t seen this team before. Kupp missed the second half of 2023 and it was not pretty. It is doubtful that the Rams would have a number one receiver step into Kupp’s shoes just because the team had many more targets to go around. It would only mean that the L.A. Rams wanted the additional draft capital and to get further out of debt.

I only acknowledge this as a possibility because everybody else who covers the Rams refuses to do so. It’s not that I believe the Rams are shopping Kupp, only that they would take phone calls on EVERYBODY. But Kupp helps out in more ways than most players and having him on the roster means helping to develop a quarterback and as I said, no other receiver on the team has proven to be worthy of the 100+ target share.

That’s the top of L.A.’s depth chart and he is alone.

#2 - Van Jefferson, Tutu Atwell, Ben Skowronek

Jefferson was essentially getting 100% of the snaps after Kupp went on IR and over the last seven games he caught 18-of-31 targets for 301 yards and two touchdowns, mostly playing with Baker Mayfield. That’s a 58% catch rate, 9.7 yards per target, and over a 17-game season would pace out to 44 catches and 731 yards. We saw similar production from Jefferson when the Rams were running out of receivers during the 2021 playoffs and his snap count went up with Matthew Stafford.

Atwell was getting about 75% of the snaps in the last seven games and he caught 16-of-30 targets for 182 yards and no touchdowns. That would amount to 39 catches for 442 yards over 17 games. As many of you have noted, Nacua is not the first receiver to get praised by teammates and coaches in the offseason, as Atwell was perhaps the biggest star of 2022 training camp. We never saw the player who they were talking about once the regular season began.

I legitimately blocked out that Skowronek was practically a 90% snap share player for 14 games last season and yet he only caught 39 passes on 61 targets, gaining 376 yards and scoring zero touchdowns through the air. (He rushed for a touchdown.)

With Kupp atop the depth chart, it’s a wide open race to be the number two. Clearly it would seem that Jefferson is the favorite based on how last season ended and how L.A.’s social media team is pumping him up lately and not the other two, but we might ultimately find out that another receiver on the depth chart is higher than any of these three.

#3 - Puka Nacua, Demarcus Robinson, Tyler Johnson, Lance McCutcheon, Austin Trammell

I am calling this “the third level” and not necessarily the “number three receiver” but could we eventually see a starting unit of Cooper Kupp, Van Jefferson, and Puka Nacua? Sure, why not? What about Kupp, Nacua, and Atwell?

Anything is possible at this point.

Robinson had 48 catches for 458 yards with the Ravens last season, which is basically ahead of Atwell and Skowronek already. Johnson had 36 catches for 360 yards in 2021 with Tom Brady, so he’s been around the same level.

I’ve been high on Trammell since before he went undrafted. But he and McCutcheon are both competing to have a role on special teams and be the fifth or sixth option on the depth chart. However, we’ve seen how deep McVay has had to dig on the depth chart at receiver before and we can’t rule anything out.

#4 - Xavier Smith, Braxton Burmeister, Tyler Hudson, Sam James

All undrafted free agent rookies.

If you take the top three levels, that’s nine wide receivers competing for five or six spots. Let’s say that after Cooper Kupp and Van Jefferson are taking two of those spots, then who would be next? Maybe Nacua could be the third-safest bet actually because L.A. at least has four rookie contract years left to work with him.

Jefferson will be a free agent in 2024, Atwell and Skowronek in 2025.

If the Rams keep Kupp, Jefferson, Nacua, Atwell, and Skowronek, then what will they even do with Robinson? He’s not a guy you sign to play special teams. Who is he even competing against for a job? As JB Scott noted on Thursday, Robinson could be pushing for a number two or number three role and that means somebody we expect to make the roster will not make the roster.

You could say, “Well, Robinson won’t make the roster” and that’s fine. But then why bring him in—and what was he told?—if you “love” Jefferson, Nacua, Atwell, and Skowronek? Clearly somebody needs to be pushed, according to the Rams.

Tyler Johnson may only be fighting for his NFL life at this point, but he still signed with the L.A. Rams likely because he’s under the impression that he has a chance to make the roster. Who is Johnson pushing for a role?

Perhaps Atwell and Skowronek are closer to the door than we think. Perhaps it’s somebody else. But I think the Rams are not done making changes to their receiver room and one of the new players may have a much larger role than is currently predicted.