It’s not an absolute worst-case scenario for the Rams to start the year, but being without Cooper Kupp in the season opener (and possibly longer) certainly isn’t the way they hoped to open the 2023 campaign – not after losing player after player to injury last season.
Kupp will be out at least this week against the Seahawks and according to Sean McVay, he’s a candidate to go on injured reserve due to his hamstring issue. That would sideline him for a minimum of four games.
The Rams have good depth at wide receiver but their overall talent behind Kupp is certainly lacking. Here’s how the roster looks at the position with Kupp out.
Not exactly an inspiring group of receivers, to say the least. No one will replace Kupp’s production or reliability on the field, but the Rams certainly need someone to step up and help carry the load at wideout during his absence, however long that may be.
So who will it be?
Jefferson is an obvious candidate to take over the No. 1 receiver role and it’s likely that he’ll see the most targets of any wideout on Sunday. That doesn’t mean he’ll play the role that Kupp does in the slot. Jefferson is more of a true X-receiver on the outside, lining up one-on-one against boundary corners.
Jefferson can still play the slot and he probably will more on Sunday than he typically does, but he’s not your traditional slot receiver. And he doesn’t need to be. He just has to keep doing what he does on the outside, hopefully opening up things on the inside for the Rams’ slot receiver.
Atwell has gotten plenty of praise from Sean McVay this offseason for his versatility and ability to play anywhere in the formation. That bodes really well right now with Kupp out, allowing Atwell to line up outside and in the slot.
When he does line up inside, he can stretch the field vertically up the seam, especially against Cover 2 when the two safeties are covering each half of the field. But he also won’t be someone who goes over the middle as often as Kupp does because he’s so much smaller.
That being said, Atwell is capable of taking jet sweeps for big gains and turning quick screens into chunk plays. That’s how the Rams will need to utilize him Sunday.
Nacua is the wild card in all of this. He had a great summer and played so well that the Rams held him out of the final two preseason games, expecting him to contribute right away. That’s even more likely now with Kupp out.
Nacua is a player who could excel in the slot for the Rams. He’s almost the same exact size as Kupp, standing 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds (same height and 3 pounds lighter than Kupp), so he can be the team’s big slot receiver the way No. 10 is.
And as we saw on his film from BYU, he’s not afraid to go over the middle and make contested catches in traffic. His elusiveness after the catch is underrated, as well. Expect Nacua to get opportunities early on with Kupp sidelined.