What Cooper Kupp’s injury might mean for the Rams
How serious is Cooper Kupp’s hamstring injury?
That’s the big question for the Rams as they try to navigate through their star receiver’s latest setback. Kupp had an MRI exam to determine the extent of the injury, a team official said Wednesday.
Kupp might return soon and be no worse for the wear. But considering he’s one of the Rams’ biggest financial investments, they might be wise to limit his activity — as they are doing with star quarterback Matthew Stafford and star defensive lineman Aaron Donald — before the Sept. 10 opener against the Seattle Seahawks.
However, a larger issue looms. Should the hamstring or other injury issues sideline or slow Kupp, are other receivers capable of filling the void?
The answer, based on game performance to date: Probably not.
Fourth-year pro Van Jefferson and third-year pros Tutu Atwell and Ben Skowronek have shown flashes of potential but are not regarded as players the Rams will re-sign when their contracts end. Recent additions Demarcus Robinson and Tyler Johnson have experience, but none in the Rams’ system. Rookie Puka Nacua performed well in offseason workouts and made some plays during the first week of training camp, but he has yet to play in an NFL game.
Regardless, coach Sean McVay, offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur and Stafford no doubt will continue saying all the right things about the next-man-up philosophy.
“We’re just looking for guys that know where they’re supposed to be, that are going to play with great energy, great detail, then trust their skills when the ball is in the air, go out there and make big plays,” Stafford said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys that are doing that right now and looking forward to giving them more opportunities and letting those guys kind of go do their thing.”
Yet McVay, LaFleur and Stafford cannot be confident that the offense will function effectively without Kupp, the 2021 NFL offensive player of the year.
The hamstring issue — serious or not — is the latest injury to cause a setback for Kupp, a seventh-year pro who turned 30 in June.
In 2018, Kupp suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee that forced him to sit out the Rams’ run to Super Bowl LIII. In a 2020 season wild-card playoff game against the Seahawks, Kupp suffered a right knee injury — skin and tissue separated from underlying tissue. He was forced to sit out the Rams’ divisional-round loss to the Green Bay Packers.
Kupp rebounded in 2021 to claim the so-called triple crown of receiving by leading the league in receptions, yards receiving and touchdown catches. He ended the season by catching two touchdown passes in a Super Bowl LVI victory over the Cincinnati Bengals and was voted the Super Bowl’s most valuable player.
But during the Rams’ disasterous 5-12 season last year, Kupp was sidelined for the final eight games because of an ankle injury that required surgery. He sat out most of the offseason program to be with his wife as they awaited the birth of their third child.
Through the first week of training camp, Kupp looked like his old self, connecting with Stafford on short, medium and long routes. He did not appear limited in any way.
“The ball’s in the air and it’s like, man, that’s my ball, you know?” Kupp said last week of competitiveness kicking in. “So there’s still that piece, and no matter where you’re at, health aside, like once the ball is snapped it’s just about playing football.“
But when Kupp was escorted off the field Tuesday by a member of the team’s medical staff, McVay’s dark sunglasses could not shade his uncertainty.