After finishing fifth in the NFL in passing in 2021, the Los Angeles Rams tumbled all the way to 27th a year ago, averaging just 182.8 yards per game through the air. In addition, only two teams threw fewer touchdown passes (16), and just two clubs surrendered more sacks (59). Injuries were a big factor to be sure as stars quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Cooper Kupp played nine games apiece, while others that were penciled in as key contributors — such as WRs Allen Robinson (now with the Pittsburgh Steelers) and Van Jefferson — missed significant time as well.
The question for 2023 is how will things be different? And, will anyone, other than Kupp, hold value among the Rams receivers?
The NFL Offensive Player of the Year on the strength of a dominant 145-1,947-16 effort in 2021, Kupp racked up 75 receptions, 812 yards, and six touchdowns in nine games before being felled by a high ankle sprain that landed him on Injured Reserve — he might’ve returned if the Rams were in playoff position late in the season, but with that not the case he was shut down. Kupp underwent tightrope surgery to stabilize the ankle and is already back on the field.
While those are still impressive numbers, the lack of complementary talent led to Kupp doing a ton of work near the line of scrimmage. After averaging 13.4 yards per reception during his first season with Stafford, Kupp’s YPR dropped to 10.8 in 2022.
The early season absence of Jefferson, who was returning from offseason surgery, and lack of impact from Robinson severely undercut the Rams’ passing game. Looking at their current roster, it’s fair to wonder if that’ll be a problem once again as there’s no established No. 2 option. The Rams clearly hope that Jefferson, now fully healthy, will take another step, but Kupp figures to be the focal point for Stafford and defensive coordinators alike.
Jefferson had knee surgery early in training camp and didn’t make his 2022 debut until Oct. 30, putting a serious damper on what many thought could be a breakout season after he caught 50 passes for 802 yards and six touchdowns in Year 2. His injury meant he appeared with Kupp and Stafford for only three games. While that understandably put Jefferson behind the eight-ball, it’s still tough to view his 24-369-3 stat line last season as anything other than a disappointment.
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The Florida product is set to be a free agent after the season, so he’ll have extra motivation to prove he can be healthy and productive. One look at the team’s depth chart shows that, after Kupp, there’s nobody standing between Jefferson and a featured role in LA.
A second-round pick in 2021, Atwell caught zero passes in an abbreviated rookie season that ended with a shoulder injury. He fared better last year, though his 18-298-1 line didn’t land him on fantasy radars. The silver lining is the Louisville product finally recorded some live reps late in 2022, logging 278 snaps over the final seven weeks. Granted, the production wasn’t there as he worked primarily with John Wolford and Baker Mayfield, but experiencing the speed of the NFL is never a bad thing. Atwell has earned some praise from head coach Sean McVay during OTAs, so we’ll see if that translates into a bigger role.
Ben Skowronek and Demarcus Robinson
With all the injuries the Rams’ receivers suffered in 2022, it was Skowronek who led the position in snaps (696) despite missing three games of his own. He posted modest numbers (39-376-0), but he knows the offense and could fill one of the outside starting roles in Week 1.
Robinson was signed after catching 48 passes for 458 yards and a pair of touchdowns with the Baltimore Ravens last year. The veteran has finished with between 440 and 470 yards in three of the last four seasons and looks like a fallback option if the younger receivers aren’t ready for primetime.
Fantasy football outlook
A year ago, Kupp was pretty much an ironclad lock as the first receiver off draft boards. This year, he takes a backseat to Minnesota Vikings WR Justin Jefferson, and then a case can be made for the Cincinnati Bengals‘ Ja’Marr Chase and Miami Dolphins wideout Tyreek Hill to go ahead of Kupp as well. Still, he’s a strong WR1.
Beyond that, the only one to consider taking a flier on is Jefferson, who might pay late-round dividends as your No. 5 receiver.