Without a pick on day one of this year’s NFL draft, the Los Angeles Rams—per usual—have found themselves in a sticky spot with limited top-tier draft capital. For a roster that’s found itself at the basement of the NFC West just a year after winning the Super Bowl, it’s now about bolstering back up and putting the pieces together for a run in the seasons to come.
While Cooper Kupp will remain in town for the long haul, there isn’t much behind the triple crown winner from 2021. An aging Allen Robinson, a disappointing Van Jefferson, Tutu Atwell, and Ben Skowronek have become the leaders in a receivers’ room in need of fresh legs. While a run to the Lombardi Trophy is out of the cards this fall, let’s turn the attention to the 2023 NFL Draft and a few talents to become familiar with on days two and three that could take attention off of Kupp in the seasons to come.
Rashee Rice, SMU
Currently holding the 35th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, adding a talent like Rice to work opposite of Kupp could allow the Rams to have one of football’s most electric pass-catching tandems. A four-year impact talent for SMU, Rice has become the Mustangs’ top target this fall and one of the country’s premier perimeter weapons.
A three-star prep talent by way of Richland Hills High School in Texas, Rice didn’t have a gaudy list of offers from the nation’s blueblood programs. Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio State—the schools that are usually first to offer the elite athletes from the hotbed of Texas—opted to stand pat on Rice, much to their chagrin nearly four years later.
Rashee Rice is 𝘦𝘢𝘴𝘪𝘭𝘺 a top 10 receiver in college football pic.twitter.com/TqWtm8VtVa
— Texas Football Life (@txfblife) September 18, 2022
Second in the nation in receiving yards this fall (1,355) Rice was dominant all campaign long leading into draft season. Eight receptions for 166 yards and a score against North Texas to kick off the year, 9/132/2 against Lamar, 11 catches for 193 yards against Maryland, 74 more and a trip to paydirt against the CFP-bound TCU defense… defenses had no answer for No. 11 on the outside.
An alpha at the catch point, he understands how to use his 6-foot-2 frame to consistently out-leverage corners when the ball is in the air. An explosive jumper who turns 50-50 balls into 80-20 catches, placing any corner on an island against him welcomes nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators. While his aerial prowess is just another club in his deep bag of traits on the outside, what makes Rice’s skill set so projectable to the next level is his knack for finding ways to create separation no matter the alignment of the defensive back.
The name of the game at wideout moving into Sunday football is the ability to consistently create separation and throwing windows for your quarterback. Some learn it over time, some never find their footing at all. For Rice, however, it comes naturally. And for a prospect who’s taken his lumps, become a veteran in the Mustangs locker room, and is now one of the draft class’ top pass-catchers, the progression of his game has just begun to scratch the surface of his potential. The Rams would be lucky to have him.
Zakhari Franklin, UTSA
A fourth-year member of the UTSA program, Franklin is one of the most ball-dominant pass-catchers in the draft class. He’s been uber-impressive at all three levels of the field.
— Conference USA (@ConferenceUSA) December 3, 2022
An uncoverable weapon at times, wrapping up his 2022 campaign with 10 catches (12 targets) for 144 yards and three trips to paydirt in the C-USA title game placed a firm cap on an athlete NFL scouts have become awfully familiar with over the last few seasons. For the second consecutive season, he’s eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark through the air—it’s been too easy for him at times as draft season approaches.
Expected to run in the mid-4.4s when he lines up for his 40-yard dash, while his speed is enough to press vertically at the next level, his alpha mentality in the air allows him to consistently place his body in position to snatch passes away from less aggressive corners. It’s a brand of football that translates, and while drops have been a knock on him this year with seven on 119 targets, it won’t be a concern for a team like the Rams who are in need of an immediate impact outside.
Xavier Hutchinson, Iowa State
He doesn’t get the necessary attention like some of the nation’s top pass-catchers, but Hutchinson can BALL. He’s been a staple of the Cyclones’ offense for three campaigns and he remains one of the premier senior wideouts in the country.
A 6-foot-3 physically-overpowering prospect, he led the Big 12 in all major receiving categories and would be a nice fit to complement Kupp. An ideal complementary target that could thrive against opposing defenses’ rotational corners, his addition would immediately provide Rams QB Matthew Stafford with a sure set of hands when teams bracket Kupp’s side.