With Sammy Watkins, Rams finally have a true No. 1 receiver

From ESPN - August 11, 2017

LOS ANGELES -- The 2014 draft was coming up, and the Rams -- at that point still playing in St. Louis -- badly needed help at wide receiver. Timing was on their side. The Rams held the No. 2 overall pick, and Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and Odell Beckham Jr. were all among the best players available. But they chose Greg Robinson, a freakishly athletic left tackle who never quite figured it out. After three years, Robinson was gone, sent to the Detroit Lions for a sixth-round pick, and the Rams' desire for a legitimate No. 1 receiver persisted, leaving them to wonder what could have been.

"In '14, I often said, 'Wow, this might be one of the best wide receiver drafts I have ever seen," Rams general manager Les Snead recalled Friday, the day he finally acquired the bona fide outside threat he long coveted. "A handful of players were going to make major impacts in this league."

The Rams finally have one of those players. On the morning before their first preseason game -- at home against the Dallas Cowboys, with kickoff set for 6 p.m. PT on Saturday -- they sent cornerback E.J. Gaines and a 2018 second-round pick to the Buffalo Bills and received Watkins in return.

It was the kind of trade the Rams desperately needed to make, the type that gives their offense a real chance to finally emerge as a legitimate unit.

Watkins, who went fourth overall in that 2014 draft, possesses the talent of a true No. 1 when healthy, boasting the NFL's fourth-most yards per reception since he came into the league. He gives rookie head coach Sean McVay a deep threat similar to what DeSean Jackson was for him in Washington. It will create a lot of single coverage for Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Tavon Austin, three guys who make most of their impact in the intermediate passing game. It will open up more running lanes for Todd Gurley, who saw his rushing yards per carry drop from 4.8 in 2015 to 3.2 in 2016. And it will give second-year quarterback Jared Goff the tools he needs to succeed after a tumultuous rookie season.

"When you attack a team with your pass game, you'd like to use the width of the field and the length of the field, and that's what speed can do," said Snead, who also received a sixth-round pick in next year's draft from the Bills. "It's really just trying to open the field up."

Losing Gaines hurts the Rams. He was very good as a rookie in 2014 and was performing well throughout training camp. But newcomer Kayvon Webster, who is very familiar with Wade Phillips' system from his time in Denver, already had locked down the starting job opposite Trumaine Johnson. And younger players such as Nickell Robey-Coleman, Lamarcus Joyner, Troy Hill and Mike Jordan gave the Rams some adequate depth at the position.

What really hurt was giving up a second-round pick, but the chances of hitting on someone like Watkins in the second round seem far less favorable than the chances of Watkins staying healthy enough to be productive.

The key is making sure this is not only a one-year stint.


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