The Los Angeles Rams are facing the real possibility of being without star receiver Cooper Kupp in the season opener against the Seattle Seahawks. He aggravated his hamstring injury last week and is considered day-to-day, which is worrisome for a Rams team that’s already lacking talent across the roster.
If Kupp does miss Week 1, which Ian Rapoport believes is likely to happen, don’t expect one player to replace him. Van Jefferson is a solid No. 2 receiver, but thinking he’ll seamlessly replace Kupp in the starting lineup is unwise – and also unfair to Jefferson.
Kupp isn’t your typical receiver. He can play everywhere in the formation, he knows how to find holes against the zone and he can beat man coverage better than most wideouts. Jefferson is more of an X-receiver who primarily plays on the outside and gets one-on-one coverage against a boundary corner.
In his career, Jefferson has only played 32% of his snaps from the slot. And that’s mostly because the Rams move their receivers around so much that it gives him a chance to line up inside.
It’s natural to think that Jefferson will become the No. 1 receiver with Kupp out, but they’re not the same type of player. Not to mention, he certainly isn’t going to see the target share that Kupp has in the last two years.
What’s much more likely is Matthew Stafford will lean on more of a committee at wide receiver. Fortunately, the Rams have decent depth at that spot with Jefferson, Tutu Atwell, Puka Nacua, Ben Skowronek and Demarcus Robinson, but none of them have been as productive as Kupp (obviously).
Sean McVay will need to be much more creative with his game planning without Kupp in the lineup. He’ll have to get Atwell involved on jet sweeps and short crossers beyond just the deep shots. He’ll need to get the ball in Nacua’s hands in space, which is where he’s at his best. And with Jefferson, he needs to be more than just a deep threat, which is what the Rams have tried to use him as.
The Rams are a considerably worse team without Kupp, as we saw in the second half of last year. They can overcome his absence, but not by force feeding it to Jefferson the way they have with Kupp. The ball will have to get spread around much more.