But something was missing: The deep game.
One glance at the 2020 receiving yardage, and there’s the proof the explosive side went missing. No Ram wide receiver – not even the 90-catch tag team of Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods – surpassed the 1,000-yard mark. Josh Reynolds, the team’s third-best receiving option, only got to 618 yards.
Changes had to be made by the Rams. Matthew Stafford came to L.A. via trade to reignite the lost deep game. But with a passer known for attacking downfield comes wide receivers needed who can attack deep. All the more reason why there are new faces in this year’s WR unit. Here’s a closer look.
Liberty City Legend and L.A. Legend Both on Board
Why? The Liberty City, Florida native and Los Angeles native are tabbed as the guys who can blow the top off defenses, which was again missing a year ago.
As a Louisville Cardinal, Atwell caught eight career passes that stretched beyond 50 yards, including a streak of four straight games in 2019 that saw him stretch the field on receptions that covered between 74 and 90 yards. One of his explosive catches was caught here.
The Rams, though, could also be convinced to feed Atwell the ball on these kind of sweeps.
Meanwhile, “D-Jax” has made his living torching defenses for nearly 15 years. In every NFL season he’s played, his longest season reception has gone 41 yards or more. Even though he was limited to 14 catches in his last season with the Philadelphia Eagles, he still showed he’s got deep capability left in his tank through his season-best 81-yard grab.
Their speed will be pivotal in opening up the Rams’ offense. But that’s not all.
Inside WR Work Needed Once Again
Woods and Kupp have become the bar setters among the Rams WR group in leading the team in receptions the last two seasons.
Kupp continues to be masterful in his footwork and in getting open, as seen here working against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ top shutdown cornerback Carlton Davis.
And he’s skilled at showing high concentration on the aerial lob when going against hard-hitting safeties like Jamal Adams of the Seattle Seahawks during the playoffs.
Woods gets praise for executing the route tree at a high level. He’s additionally able to sneak behind the front seven and still get open. He shows that rare skill here against the Miami Dolphins in the red zone. Though lined up much closer to the line, Woods is still considered the furthest receiver to the right.
Another example of Woods sneaking behind the defense is captured here against the Bucs. He finds a lane through the field congestion and scores the touchdown.
However, outside of his slot work, the Rams have used him as a closet running back, viewed here against the New York Jets on this jet sweep handoff.
Kupp and Woods are route technicians. And the Rams clearly play better on offense when they get going. But there’s another WR who could add to the Rams’ weaponry, and one head coach Sean McVay is openly high on.
The Potential X-Factor Among the WR’s
Van Jefferson has drawn rave reviews from his head coach, to the point where his 19 receptions and 220 yards from his rookie season is anticipated to improve, making him the potential “X-Factor” or surprise breakout receiver in this group.
Jefferson, who is the son of former NFL WR and current Arizona Cardinals receivers coach Shawn Jefferson, showed an NFL-veteran like receiving catch last year here.
But that’s not his only major catch from last year. He proved he can win one-on-ones inside the red zone as seen here versus Jamel Dean of Tampa Bay.
Plus, he showed in the playoffs that he can work out of the slot and score, which was what he did against the Green Bay Packers.
Jefferson will be aiming to see an increase in snaps. But so will third-year pro Nsimba Webster. Even if Webster doesn’t see action at WR, the Rams know he can be stellar on special teams (10 tackles there) and return punts.
Meanwhile, undrafted rookies Landen Akers, Jeremiah Haydel and 2019 UDFA J.J. Koski will aim to keep their names on the Rams roster by fighting for a spot. Second-year wideout Trishton Jackson is also aiming for action.
In a down year for the offense, the receiving group was a bright spot in 2020. However, expectations are higher than ever for this unit. The changes create more excitement, plus a higher demand to produce.