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LOS ANGELES – When Les Snead took over as general manager in 2012, the Rams had gone more than half a decade without a wide receiver making a difference.
It also didn’t get much better in Snead’s first five seasons on the job. Between 2007 and 2016, no Rams wideout even reached 800 yards. For a fan base that associates Rams success with top-notch broad-based production – Tom Fears, Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch, Henry Ellard, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt – it wasn’t close enough. Demand was not only for the better, it was for the elite.
“Now that I think of it that way, I can not believe they did not burn my house down considering you went from these recipients to what we did,” Snead said, laughing.
Snead can laugh now because the Rams have turned course on wide receiver, a position that has been integrated every time they have reached the Super Bowl.
While Los Angeles prepares to face the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI on Sunday at SoFi Stadium (18:30 ET, NBC), it’s no coincidence that the Rams’ return to football’s biggest stage is in line with the resurgence of a eleven resting recipients. corps.
In 2021, led by triple crown winner Cooper Kupp as well as Van Jefferson and Odell Beckham Jr., Rams receivers were first in yards (3,964), receptions (286) and touchdowns (32).
The Rams, who hail from their 1999, 2001 and 2018 Super Bowl seasons, finished no worse than third in receiving yards, fifth in receptions and seventh in receiving touchdowns in any of those seasons.
The connection between winner and recipient production is not lost on Kupp. He maintains contact with Bruce and Holt – Bruce even congratulated Kupp on beating his franchise record receptions in a single season – and wants to do justice to them.
“I grew up with my high school coach talking a lot about having respect for the guys who came before you, having respect for the position and the standard that has been set because of the guys who have come before you, said Kupp. “I have great respect for those guys and what they were able to achieve, and I’m glad we’re able to bring a good product to the field with respect for those guys.”
What has happened this year is far from e.g. 2015, where Rams widouts battled for a total of 137 catches, 1,635 yards and eight touchdowns. That year, Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones nearly topped them in receptions (136), dwarfed them in receiving yards (1,871) and tied them in touchdowns.
“The Rams have a very long legacy with wide receivers,” Bruce said. “Just to see the group fight the way we did and really not have the No. 1 receiver … we’re not used to seeing that. We’re used to seeing guys on the edge of Rams constantly and consistently mentioned with the best receivers in the National Football League. “
To find the next best show on Turf
Bruce was something of a one-man band in the beginning. In 1995, his second season, he broke out with 1,781 receiving yards – a franchise record, but one lost largely during the team’s 7-9 finish.
Bruce continued to make big numbers when he was healthy, but victories did not follow. Bruce and Rams coach Dick Vermeil knew they needed more opportunities, especially on the perimeter.
“I do not think I’m naive or, let’s just be right, stupid enough to say I do not need help or accept help,” Bruce said. “No, bring these guys.”
When the Rams added recipients Az-Zahir Hakim and Ricky Proehl in 1998 and Holt in 1999, Bruce did not turn a blind eye. Same for when the team switched to running back Marshall Faulk, who technically was not a wideout but had more receiving yards in 1999 (1,048) than any Ram from 2008 to 2017.
As part of a team called The Greatest Show on Turf, Bruce and Holt would each have more than 1,000 receiving yards in five seasons, and the Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV.
“They all go out on the ball and you can not cover them all,” Vermeil said. “When you put a package together like we did, there was no one there that they could not beat one-on-one … All those guys, you could say, were not comprehensive.”
Snead was striving for something similar when he took the reins in 2012 as a first-time GM. He and then-coach Jeff Fisher thought they had the right quarterback at Sam Bradford, but needed the support crew to make it all work.
Over the next five drafts, the Rams spent seven picks on receivers, ranging from No. 8 overall (Tavon Austin) to No. 206 (Mike Thomas), and they also tried to improve their corps through free agency.
Looking back, Snead says he “was not good enough for my job yet” to really understand what he was looking for at the position, and believes he was doing Bradford a “bear service” with the inability to get the position right.
“If I were to see Sam today, I would apologize for the early days,” Snead said. “He had talent. He deserved accurate recipients. He deserved a Robert Woods. I’m not saying you can find Robert Woods or Cooper Kupp every draft; it does not happen, but he deserved accurate recipients.”
When Sean McVay arrived as a coach in 2017, he wasted no time identifying recipients as a weakness that needed to be upgraded. He went to Snead and quickly helped delete any evaluation gray areas.
For each of the receiving positions, McVay was clear with what he wanted: versatility, adaptability, willingness to block and competitiveness.
The process, which previously set a premium on height, weight and speed, was rejected in favor of a more simplified approach. Can the player be where he needs to be when he needs to be there? Can he stay open? Can he catch the ball?
The first player the Rams signed in 2017 was Woods. They followed up by selecting Kupp in the third round of this year’s draft. Both fit the ethos that underlined what Snead calls “skill over talent.”
“They went into the wide receiver room, and ever since then, they’ve set the standard,” Snead said. “The culture of that space is probably as unique and rare as any wide receiver space in the NFL.”
Rams’ commitment to the position has not faltered. Even after landing Woods and Kupp, they traded for Sammy Watkins, and when Watkins traveled freely in the following offseason, they bought Brandin Cooks. Just before Woods suffered a season-ending ACL tear in November, Rams Beckham signed.
Since McVay arrived, the Rams have spent $ 137,810,910 on receivers. Perhaps not coincidentally, only the Bengals have had a major cash outlay on the position during that time period.
The results speak for themselves. From 2008 to 2016, Rams receivers were No. 27 in receiving yards, 32nd in yards per carry. reception and 30th place in touchdowns. Since 2017, the Rams wideouts are number two in yards, 12th place in yards per. reception and sixth in touchdowns.
“You almost want complementary pieces of each other that look like a basketball team,” McVay said. “They’re great competitors who love football, and you tick all the guys we have.”
‘Spread of wealth’
The Fantasy Focus team unanimously agrees that Cooper Kupp is this season’s fantasy MVP.
None of this works if you do not also have players like Bruce who were willing to share the wealth. That’s why Snead enjoys conveying the story of how Beckham ended up in Los Angeles.
After cornerback Jalen Ramsey got the ball rolling with recruiting Beckham, the Rams were right in the mix, but Beckham wanted to talk to Kupp, Woods and Jefferson to make sure he would be welcome. Without hesitation, Kupp & Co. announced from, and Beckham embraced a role that quickly gained importance after Woods’ injury.
What has created is a receiving space that loves to compete, whether it’s catching passes, blocking or running “cheese” routes – routes that are not designed to end up with the ball going to the route runner. There is an ongoing competition among wideouts over who can log the fastest time on the GPS tracker on these routes.
It’s all part of getting the Rams’ receiving corps back to its former highs. And that will likely play a significant role in how the Super Bowl plays out.
The last time the Rams won the Lombardi trophy, Bruce and Holt became the second teammate pair in the position with 100 receiving yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl. These 1999 Rams remain the only Super Bowl champion to be held under 50 rushing yards (29).
If the Rams are to raise Lombardi again, it may well come down to the position that got them on the doorstep in the first place. The key could be Coup. It could be Beckham. It could be Jefferson. It could be a combination of the three or maybe even another.
Either way, it will not be random.
“I feel there is more greatness in a player who is willing to concede some numbers for the sake of the team,” Bruce said. “You’re still the big player, and if you need to be that, if you have to take over a game, you have to take over a quarter, you can do it, but at the same time, you just have to spread the wealth and make sure everyone eats. “Making sure other guys are full. That’s only promising. That’s what drives the teams to Super Bowl success.”