It’s difficult to understand why the Los Angeles Rams didn’t play it more cautious with Cooper Kupp’s hamstring this offseason. Hamstring injuries tend to linger throughout a season once they happen, especially in older wide receivers. Instead of holding Kupp out until practice leading up to Week 1, the Rams brought their star wide receiver back just a few weeks after suffering the injury for joint-practices against the Denver Broncos.
This is something that may have been out of their control, but with the benefit of time on their side, it seems fair top wonder why they didn’t use it.
Kupp may have re-aggravated the injury anyway, but with just five days before the Rams play the Seattle Seahawks, his status for the game remains uncertain. Instead of being at practice in preparation for Week 1, Kupp has been in Minnesota to see a specialist over the last few days. We’ll have more clarity on the wide receiver’s status on Wednesday, but for now, he remains day-to-day.
Should the Rams play it safe now and put Kupp on short-term IR, putting him out for four weeks? Yes, the Rams would be without Kupp for at least four weeks, but it would give him time to get his hamstring in a good place.
The question becomes, if the Rams are without Kupp for any amount of time, are they prepared to overcome it? Ever since the fourth-quarter of the Super Bowl, the Rams offense has ran through Kupp. As it stands, the Rams have a lot of question marks or unproven talent at wide receiver.
This isn’t to say that Los Angeles can’t get by for a week or two, but given that a specialist is involved, the injury is clearly out of the ordinary and it’s within the realm of possibility that Kupp has to miss some time.
At the wide receiver position behind Kupp, the Rams have a group of very unproven players. The only guy with some experience and has shown that he has the ability to produce at the NFL level is Van Jefferson. Even with Jefferson, however, he only has one season of production. Coming off of a breakout season of 50 catches for 800 yards, Jefferson had 24 receptions for just 369 yards last season.
Sure, there is some context needed as Jefferson missed the first six games of the season with injury. Still, dispersed over a 17 game season, that would have put Jefferson at just 570 yards on 34 catches. When he’s been a primary target on the field, the former second-round pick has struggled to prove that he can be that in an offense. In 11 games last season, he had more than 50 yards in just two games.
Behind Jefferson is where things get really scary. TuTu Atwell has reportedly take a step forward this offseason. With that said, he also hasn’t shown a lot of consistency when he’s played. Whether or not you have a positive outlook on Atwell this season, he is still a pretty big unknown. Atwell had moments last years, but there are still questions on whether or not he has developed into a more complete receiver or if he will continue to just be a deep threat in the Rams offense.
Over the last four years, the Rams have spent two second-round selections on wide receivers. In 2020, they selected Jefferson 57th overall and then the following year took Atwell at 57 as well. It’s time for Jefferson and Atwell to live up to their draft position. The Rams haven’t had a lot of draft capital, but with the high picks that they’ve had, Los Angeles has taken those two wide receivers. You would expect your wide receivers taken in the second-round with three years of experience to be able to step up in this moment. If they can’t, it just underscores a failed draft process.
Lastly, there’s Puka Nacua who the Rams drafted in the fifth-round. Nacua has answered the bell at every step of the way this offseason. He impressed during OTAs and continued that into training camp. During the first preseason game, Nacua was a primary target for Stetson Bennett in the lone game that he played. Still, Nacua is just a fifth-round rookie. That’s not to say that he can’t produce. That’s just a lot of expectations on the player to ask him and a committee of other wide receivers to replace Kupp.
Of course, the Rams also have Demarcus Robinson and Ben Skowronek. However, when looking at the primary targets in the offense without Kupp at wide receiver, it’s Jefferson, Atwell, and Nacua. Higbee will obviously be heavily involved in the passing game, but one of these players at wide receiver will need to step up in Kupp’s absence.
The only positive here is that the Rams have essentially been preparing for this all offseason. Kupp first went down with the hamstring injury in early August. For three weeks, the Rams wide receiver group was able to practice without Kupp in the offense. Matthew Stafford has been able to build a rapport with the young wide receivers. Obviously none of them are Kupp. With that said, in a sense, the Rams have prepared for this moment and the wide receivers should be familiar with Kupp’s general role in the offense.
After going through a serious case of the injury bug last season, the Rams were unable to begin Week 1 fully healthy, despite their best efforts. In the NFL, it’s all about next man up and having a roster with depth. We’ll see just how deep the Rams are wide receiver and fair without their biggest offensive playmaker.