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What the Cooper Kupp injury update means for Rams in the near future and Puka Nacua

If Kupp misses all of training camp, how does that impact the Rams other receivers?

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Los Angeles Rams Offseason Workout Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The early reports about Cooper Kupp’s leg injury suffered in L.A. Rams training camp practice on Tuesday evening are relatively positive, with ESPN’s Adam Schefter saying that the receiver had an MRI on his hamstring and that a source told him the injury could keep Kupp out “a few weeks”. If the source’s timeline is correct, Kupp won’t miss any games that he would have played in, since we know Sean McVay wasn’t going to risk him in the preseason, and he’ll be back by Week 1.

However, this doesn’t mean that the 2023 Rams would be completely unaffected by not having their best offensive player in practice for virtually all of training camp.

If the Rams plan to again have Kupp as the team’s leading slot receiver—Kupp averaged 2.40 yards per route run in 2022, second-best in the NFL per PFF—then we know what position McVay will need to replace in practices as he looks to get his offense back on track after a down season. And clearly, Kupp is the focal part of that offense and L.A. has to change everything they plan to do when he’s not available.

Kupp led the NFL in catches, yards, and touchdowns in 2021, winning Offensive Player of the Year after recording 145 receptions, 1,946 yards, and 16 touchdowns. He was also dominant in the playoffs, winning Super Bowl MVP en route to helping the Rams win it all. Kupp posted 478 yards and six touchdowns in four games. Kupp had an NFL-leading 191 targets that season, 22 more than second-place Davante Adams.

Kupp then had 98 targets in nine games last season, on pace for roughly the same number of targets and catches in 2022.

When Kupp missed the final eight games of last season, the main benefactor was Tyler Higbee, who had 43 targets over the span of time. He gained 235 yards on 28 catches, clearly failing to produce at the same level...which doesn’t surprise anybody and isn’t a criticism. Nobody expects Tyler Higbee to replace Kupp’s production, even when he becomes the focal point of the passing game.

Van Jefferson, who missed the beginning of the season, had 36 targets in the final eight games. Tutu Atwell had 31 targets. And Ben Skowronek had 22 targets in five games.

It’s pretty clear that Jefferson is the most obvious candidate to take on Kupp’s role in practice, but how will that impact Van Jefferson in his attempt to finally have a breakout season? If he’s not gaining reps in the actual spot he’s going to play in, like the X for example—and he’s already getting multiple rest days per week—then is replacing Kupp going to setback Van?

Should Van Jefferson spend the next three weeks practicing in the slot, only to start Week 1 on the outside?

Puka Nacua might be the best option to replace Kupp if it was an actual game situation. But that’s not the expectation right now, this is “How do you replace practice reps?” and if Puka is playing Kupp’s role right now, it will be interesting to monitor how it impacts his development as a rookie who few expected could even have a place on the offense in Week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks. But he might and it wouldn’t be Kupp’s role, if Kupp is healthy.

It could still be the best thing in the world for Puka to gain experience by playing in Kupp’s role in practice.

With Demarcus Robinson being a standout in training camp, he might be in the lead to play outside opposite of Jefferson and Kupp, therefore keeping Nacua in more of a “utility backup” role to start the season. Ben Skowronek and Tutu Atwell have more unique roles on offense and not necessarily ones that will ever be assigned to Nacua. Given the Rams recent injury history, Nacua could be super valuable as a super utility.

Kupp missed half of the 2018 season and the entire playoffs, as L.A. lost to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl without being able to score a touchdown. He missed eight games in 2022 with a high ankle sprain the required surgery. Ben Skowronek missed the final three games last season. Tutu Atwell is a player who fans just generally always fear will get hurt.

So while Kupp’s injury surely isn’t a blessing. There could be a silver lining.