From Biggest Show to a Cooper Kupp/OBJ Combo

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LOS ANGELES — By the time Les Snead took over as general manager in 2012, the Rams had gone more than half a decade without a difference-making wide receiver.

It also didn’t improve much in Snead’s first five seasons on the job. Between 2007 and 2016, no Rams yardage even reached 800 yards. For a fanbase that associates the Rams’ success with top-notch production — Tom Fears, Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch, Henry Ellard, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt — that wasn’t enough. The demand wasn’t just for better, it was for elite.

“Now thinking about it like that, I can’t believe they didn’t burn my house down considering you go from those receivers to what we were doing,” Snead said with a laugh.

Snead can laugh now because the Rams have reversed wide receiver trajectory, a position that has been integral every time they reached the Super Bowl.

As Los Angeles prepares to take on the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI on Sunday at SoFi Stadium (6:30 p.m. ET, NBC), it’s no coincidence that the Rams’ return to football’s biggest stage is on the rise. is aligned with the resurgence of a once-dormant receiver. body.

In 2021, led by three-time 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) .

Since their 1999, 2001 and 2018 Super Bowl seasons, the Rams have finished no worse than third in receiving yards, fifth in receptions and seventh in touchdowns in any of those seasons.

The connection between winning production and receiver production is not lost on Kupp. He stays in touch with Bruce and Holt — Bruce even praised Kupp for breaking his single-season receiving record — and wants to do the right thing with them.

“I grew up with my high school coach talking a lot of respect for the guys who came before you, respect for the position and the standard that was set because of the guys who came before you,” Kupp said. “I have a lot of respect for these guys and what they were able to accomplish and I’m happy that we’re able to put a good product on the pitch respecting these guys.”

What happened this year is a far cry from, say, 2015, when the Rams’ wides struggled for a total of 137 catches, 1,635 yards and eight touchdowns. That year, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones nearly passed them in receptions (136), eclipsed them in receiving yards (1,871), and tied them in touchdowns.

“The Rams have a very long heritage with wide receivers,” Bruce said. “Just to see the group struggle like we did and really not have that No. 1 receiver…we’re not used to seeing that. We’re used to seeing guys on the Rams perimeter constantly and consistently mentioned with the best receivers in the National Football League.”

Finding the Next Biggest Turf Show

Bruce was kind of a one-man band at first. In 1995, his sophomore season, he broke out with 1,781 receiving yards — a franchise record but one largely lost in the team’s 7-9 final.

Bruce continued to put up big numbers when he was healthy, but the wins didn’t follow. Bruce and Rams coach Dick Vermeil knew they needed more options, especially on the perimeter.

“I don’t think I’m naive or, let’s just be stupid enough to say that I don’t need help or that I don’t accept help,” Bruce said. “No, bring those guys.”

When the Rams added receivers Az-Zahir Hakim and Ricky Proehl in 1998 and Holt in 1999, Bruce didn’t bat an eyelid. Ditto when the team traded for running back Marshall Faulk, who technically wasn’t a receiver but had more receiving yards in 1999 (1,048) than any Ram from 2008 to 2017.

As part of a team dubbed The Greatest Show on Turf, Bruce and Holt would each have over 1,000 receiving yards in five seasons and the Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV.

“They all come out on the ball snap and you can’t cover them all,” Vermeil said. “When you put together a package like we did, there was nobody there that they couldn’t beat one-on-one. … All of those guys, you could say, didn’t were not coverable.”

Snead aspired to something similar when he took the reins in 2012 as chief executive for the first time. He and then-coach Jeff Fisher thought they had the right quarterback in Sam Bradford, but needed the supporting cast to make it all work.

Over the next five drafts, the Rams used seven picks on receivers, ranging from No. 8 overall (Tavon Austin) to No. 206 (Mike Thomas), and they also tried to improve their body via the free agency.

Looking back, Snead says he ‘wasn’t good enough at my job yet’ to really understand what to look for in the job and believes he did Bradford a ‘disservice’ with his inability to do the job well.

“If I were to see Sam today, I would apologize for those early days,” Snead said. “He had talent. He deserved accurate receivers. He deserved a Robert Woods. I’m not saying you can find Robert Woods or Cooper Kupp in every draft; that doesn’t happen, but he deserved accurate receivers.”

When Sean McVay arrived as a coach in 2017, he wasted no time in identifying the receiver as a weakness in need of upgrading. He went to Snead and quickly helped clear any gray areas in the assessment.

For each of the receiver positions, McVay was clear about what he wanted: versatility, adaptability, willingness to block and competitiveness.

The process that previously prioritized size, weight and speed has been abandoned in favor of a more simplistic approach. Can the player be where he is supposed to be when he is supposed to be there? Can it open? Can he catch the ball?

The first player the Rams signed in 2017 was Woods. They followed that up by selecting Kupp in the third round of that year’s draft. Both fit the philosophy that emphasized what Snead calls “competence over talent”.

“They went to this huge ballroom, and since then they’ve set the standard,” Snead said. “The culture in this room is probably as unique and rare as any wide reception hall in the NFL.”

The Rams’ commitment to the position has not wavered. Even after landing Woods and Kupp, they traded for Sammy Watkins, and when Watkins left for free agency the following offseason, they acquired Brandin Cooks. Just before Woods suffered a season-ending ACL tear in November, the Rams signed Beckham.

Since McVay’s arrival, the Rams have spent $137,810,910 on receivers. It may not be a coincidence, only the Bengals have spent more money at this position during this period.

The results speak for themselves. From 2008 to 2016, Rams receivers finished 27th in receiving yards, 32nd in receiving yards, and 30th in touchdowns. As of 2017, the Rams Wideouts are second in yards, 12th in receiving yards and sixth in touchdowns.

“You want to have almost complementary pieces to each other, like a basketball team,” McVay said. “They are great competitors who love football and you tick the box with all these guys we have.”

“Distribute Wealth”

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The Fantasy Focus team unanimously agree that Cooper Kupp is this season’s fantasy MVP.

None of this works if you don’t also have players like Bruce who were willing to share the wealth. That’s why Snead likes to tell the story of how Beckham ended up in Los Angeles.

After cornerback Jalen Ramsey started Beckham’s recruiting process, the Rams were right, but Beckham wanted to talk to Kupp, Woods and Jefferson to make sure he was welcome. Without hesitation, Kupp & Co. signed on, and Beckham took on a role that quickly rose to prominence after Woods’ injury.

What this has created is a room of receivers that like to compete, whether it’s catching passes, blocking, or running “cheese” routes – routes that aren’t designed to finish with the ball going to the road runner. There is an ongoing competition among the broads to see who can record the fastest time on the GPS plotter on these routes.

It’s all part of the process of returning the Rams’ receiver corps to its previous heights. And that will likely play a big part in how the Super Bowl unfolds.

The last time the Rams won the Lombardi Trophy, Bruce and Holt became the second pair of teammates in that position with 100 receiving yards and a Super Bowl touchdown. Those 1999 Rams remain the only Super Bowl champion to be held within 50 rushing yards (29).

If the Rams are to elevate the Lombardi again, it could very well come down to the position that got them out the door in the first place. The key could be Kupp. It could be Beckham. It could be Jefferson. It could be a combination of all three or maybe even someone else.

Anyway, it will not be by chance.

“I feel like there’s more greatness in a player who’s willing to concede numbers for the good of the team,” Bruce said. “You’re still that great player and if need be, if you need to take over a game, you have to take over a quarter, you can do that, but at the same time you just have to spread the wealth and make sure that “everyone’s eating. Making sure the other guys are full. That bodes well. That’s what drives teams to Super Bowl success.”

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