If you believe everything that we are hearing out of L.A. Rams training camp from the last two weeks, then Sean McVay might be able to rest Cooper Kupp for as long as he needs based on how the receivers are playing. The Rams could be at least six deep at that position despite finding out a year ago that they didn’t have any weapons besides Kupp.
Wait...many of the receivers in L.A.’s training camp were on the Rams last year.
Some of them are starring in camp this year just as the reports said they were last year.
Some of this year’s training camp stars are new to the team and could be steals out of free agency, such as Demarcus Robinson, and the draft, such as Puka Nacua. There’s no way to know if Robinson and Nacua are bargain receivers who are about to transform McVay’s offense and lead Matthew Stafford to a great comeback season. Or if it’s actually three training camps a charm for Tutu Atwell, instead of two...two.
That would be exciting.
But it was last August that Allen Robinson was cited as not only a star of Rams training camp, he was arguably getting more positive remarks than any free agent addition in the entire NFL. It was a year ago at this time that Atwell was held out of preseason games because McVay said that his “role” was too important to risk having him get injured. And it’s nearly the anniversary of Lance McCutcheon playing in the preseason, stealing the show, and taking a spot on the 53-man roster that nobody predicted he would get.
McCutcheon didn’t catch any passes. Atwell played in 23 snaps through the first nine games. The stats say that Robinson may have been the worst starting receiver in the NFL through September, for a price of three years and $48 million.
There’s no reason to not be curious about whether Nacua and Demarcus Robinson could be better than their cost as a fifth round pick and a late-wave free agent signing who didn’t get much attention on the market. Crossing over that bar wouldn’t be too difficult and it would still be worth the investment.
However, do the L.A. Rams actually have any key starters that we know of at receiver besides Kupp?
I prefer to go off of what we know has already happened in the regular season in the past before making predictions based on training camp reports. The following three examples from only a year ago will prove why it’s worth waiting to see results before counting the stats.
Important note: I am sometimes using predictions and examples from other websites and creators, but I assure you that Turf Show Times was just as hyped on Allen Robinson, Tutu Atwell, and Lance McCutcheon as everyone else. We were in on it too! That’s why I’m waiting to celebrate until the games begin this year.
“Allen Robinson has been an absolute ‘DAWG’ at Rams training camp...”
“With the plays he’s making, I assume Sean McVay has plays drawn up for this guy specifically.”
You would be wrong, Pat.
Doug Farrar said that Robinson would “finally shine” after being “freed from QB purgatory.” The Ringer’s Austin Gayle wrote the exact same premise.
Robinson had convinced everybody he was the “real deal”, but clearly two people who weren’t confident enough in him were McVay and Matthew Stafford. When the regular season appeared, Robinson vanished. If it was for lack of opportunities and not his fault, that wasn’t what McVay and Stafford were saying in training camp.
“I think just being able to get him those targets,” McVay said on August 1, when asked what excited him about adding Robinson to the roster. “He can really run a bunch of different types of routes down there. You saw there was a great job. Matthew kind of working through a progression… big, strong physical guy working across the back of the end zone. You talk about big catch radius where it doesn’t even feel like he has to leave the ground to really be kind of right at that goalpost.”
Stafford: “He went up and got it, great diving catch, strong hands. That’s what he’s about. That’s what’s going to help us put points on the board — making plays like that in the red zone.”
Perhaps we should have listened to the man himself, Robinson wasn’t as sold on Allen Robinson as everybody else.
“I have high expectations for myself, although those things are good, you definitely enjoy them and embrace them, but not to get too hyped about stuff like that,” Robinson said. “It’s training camp. We’re trying to make each other better.”
And even though Robinson criticized McVay’s play calling in April, saying “If you’re a fork, you don’t want to be used as a spoon”, he was singing a much different tune when he signed with the Rams:
“He allows players to play. He corrects us and things like that, but it’s his ability to allow players to play,” Robinson said of McVay in his introductory press conference in May.
Going into the season, McVay said the goal for Robinson was to build chemistry with Stafford.
“The goal is for Stafford and Robinson to establish ‘good rapport,’ McVay said. ‘Being able to establish their communication, their connection,’ McVay said, adding, ‘sometimes, the best things that can occur are, ‘all right, stay within the structure of what we’re trying to get done, but where they put their own ownership on it.’ ”
Of all the missions not accomplished by the Rams in 2022, Robinson establishing “good rapport” with literally anybody on the team was probably the one that fell the flattest. Though the narrative all offseason was the Robinson just kept getting these “bad quarterbacks on bad teams”, perhaps the only consistency with him is that his teams are always bad.
For Robinson’s first three seasons in Jacksonville, the Jaguars were terrible. In 2017, he went on IR after Week 1 and missed the season...the Jaguars reached the AFC Championship game. The Bears did go 12-4 in his first season after signing with Chicago in 2018, but the team also went 3-0 in the three games that he missed. The team then got progressively worse and he signed with the reigning Super Bowl champions last March.
Like dark magic, the Rams posted a losing season for the first time in McVay’s career. Robinson caught one pass for 12 yards in the opener, then had 53 yards, 23 yards, 7 yards, and 12 yards in the next four games. Through five contests, Robinson averaged 8.9 yards per catch, 4.65 yards per target, and caught 12 of 23 targets for 107 yards.
Those numbers should be emphasized because they came with Stafford and Cooper Kupp and results that poor can’t be based on injury or even chemistry. Robinson’s Rams history shouldn’t be written like that because 4.6 yards per target and averaging two catches for 21 yards per game is not something that can ever be repeated with a player making that much money.
During “the good half” of Robinson’s career with the Rams, he caught 21 of 29 targets for 232 yards in five games, averaging 46 yards per game and eight yards per target.
He was signed to be the next Robert Woods. At his best, he was on pace to be the next Van Jefferson.
“Tutu with a dominant day at training camp”
Perhaps the only reason that Tutu Atwell wasn’t a bigger star at camp than Robinson is the fact that half of Rams fans have seemingly never wanted him to be a star. He committed the crime of not being Creed Humphrey.
But report after report, day after day, tabbed Atwell as being the hyped second round pick that the other half of Rams fans hoped he would be on day two of the 2021 draft.
Tutu Atwell is making the strides the Rams hoped he would in Year 2 after a quiet rookie season, standing out as one of the top players in training camp in the absence of Van Jefferson. The former second-round pick could be poised for a breakout season with all the speed he has to burn.
Perhaps the biggest improvement from Year 1 to 2 was by Atwell. He got plenty more opportunities this summer with Van Jefferson being sidelined, but he also took full advantage of them by making big play after big play.
So good was Tutu in training camp, so “necessary” to the season, that McVay held him out of all three preseason games. At most, McVay was prepared to let Tutu train on punt returns, but that never happened.
“He’s done a great job throughout camp. He’s gonna have a role with this team and we didn’t want to put him at harm’s risk. So he’s gonna be a part of what we’re doing this year and that was because he’s done well, not because he’s done anything other than that.”
Atwell, who had zero catches for zero yards and zero touchdowns during his rookie season, playing 10 offensive snaps all year, may have benefited from some sort of game action before this supposed “role with the team” that he was going to have. Especially because Van Jefferson would miss a couple of months.
That role resulted in seven snaps, two snaps, three snaps, inactive, nine snaps, two snaps, did not play, inactive, inactive, and seven snaps through the first 11 weeks of the season.
Through his first six appearances on offense, Atwell was targeted five times and caught two passes for 116 yards and a touchdown.
Getting legitimate playing time in the last seven games, after Kupp, Stafford, and Robinson were out, Atwell caught 16 of 30 targets for 182 yards and no touchdowns, also rushing eight times for 25 yards and a score.
Now we’re hearing that Tutu Atwell is once again “standing out” in camp, exactly as he did last year, but how can anyone believe that McVay has a role for him this season? He could say that there’s a role for Atwell, as he did last year, but that may not mean that there will be. He could sit him in the preseason, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s being protected. He could start him in the preseason, it doesn’t guarantee that he’s going to be on the roster in September.
If you believe that 2022 is real, that I’m not making up last year, then you know that nothing that happens this month can foretell what’s going to happen next month. Only after Stafford is actually consistently targeting Atwell during regular season games will we know if Atwell is going to be a notable part of the Rams offense in 2023.
Lance McCutcheon becomes the receiver who “earned” role on the roster
If I could find my own comments about McCutcheon from last preseason, I would gladly share them as more evidence that preseason reports and feelings are bullshit. I always caution fans against believing too hard in receivers who show out in the preseason, the whole exhibition experience is sort of designed to overrate receivers.
I got fooled too.
I defended McCutcheon as “different” than those other receivers who get over-hyped in the preseason and who won’t do enough to be worthy of roster spots. I did write that one downside is that he’s not going to give anything extra on special teams, so he would have to breakthrough as a receiver eventually.
Miraculously, that opportunity should have been there for McCutcheon in 2022 after all the injuries and the fact that L.A. was out of postseason contention by midseason. Why not give McCutcheon a chance when there was nothing else to play for? The clue might be in the fact that he caught zero passes on five targets with 56 total snaps.
McCutcheon has a skill set that translates to Sundays in the regular season, and he could potentially make a contribution sooner rather than later. He is a very smooth route runner with strong hands to make aggressive catches at the catch point. He gets in and out of his breaks very well, while also not being afraid to do the dirty work across the middle.
These are the qualities that Coach McVay looks for in receivers in his offense. LA Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp and wide receiver Allen Robinson will be constants this year, but with the WR3 position in flux right now, it’s not a stretch to think we could see McCutcheon steal some snaps with the first-team offense this season.
He did earn a roster spot, nobody can take that away from McCutcheon. But even without Kupp and Robinson, even without Ben Skowronek or Tutu Atwell performing very well, even with Van Jefferson coming off of injury, we didn’t get that breakout performance—or a small taste—at any point.
Based on training camp and preseason reports, we would have thought it impossible that McCutcheon couldn’t have at least made one catch after the rest of the offense had fallen apart.