Hearing Rams general manager Les Snead and head coach Sean McVay answer the latest version of the question about adding a wide receiver who can stretch the field vertically, the prevailing sentiment on March 19 was that it was a luxury more than a necessity.
However, they also didn't completely rule out the possibility.
"It seems like a loaded question, but here's what I would say, every offense probably in the NFL would love a deep threat, right?" Snead said during a joint video conference with McVay that day, as part of his response to whether new starting quarterback Matthew Stafford needed a deep threat or if one was already in the building.
"Anytime that you have guys that can do that, that definitely is a benefit," McVay said as part of his response to the same question. "But we have guys on our roster that have done that, when you look at the big-play production from those guys in particular. Saw a lot of good things from some younger players that we drafted last year, but we're always trying to add some juice and we'll see what the next month and a half entails."
Less than a week after that small hint, the Rams signed veteran wide receiver DeSean Jackson to a one-year deal, giving Stafford another explosive playmaker.
Besides adding the arm talent of Stafford, the signing of Jackson marks yet another step toward addressing McVay's priority of creating more explosive plays on offense.
Jackson boasts a career average of 17.4 yards per reception, highest among active players. In 11 of his 13 NFL seasons, the 34-year-old's longest reception has gone for 60 or more yards – including, most recently, an 81-yard touchdown grab against the Cowboys last year. However, he's also proved he's capable of making plays after the catch. Per the NFL's Next Gen Stats, 26 percent of his total yards gained since 2016 have come after the catch.
Meanwhile, Stafford's 9.0 average intended air yards – air yards are defined by Next Gen Stats as "the vertical yards on a pass attempt at the moment the ball is caught in relation to the line of scrimmage" – tied with Deshaun Watson and Baker Mayfield for sixth-highest in the league last year. From a traditional statistics standpoint, Stafford's longest completion in a season has gone for 66 or more yards in nine of his 12 seasons; the two of the three that fell below the threshold were at 57.
In other words, the numbers suggest Stafford and Jackson are likely to connect and help McVay accomplish his goal.
McVay emphasized on March 19 that the Rams have been an explosive offensive before, with wide receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp and tight end Tyler Higbee as the "centerpieces of it." However, two months earlier, McVay also said they felt the absence of speedy, deep-threat receiver Brandin Cooks – who was traded to the Texans last offseason – last season, with the lack of long explosive plays narrowing Los Angeles' margin for error.
Similarly, Snead on March 10 recognized the value of having that kind of receiver beyond just the ability to create those chunk plays through the air, in terms of opening up underneath throws. Jackson's ability to keep defenses honest downfield would then, in theory, benefit Kupp and Woods, who are very capable of creating explosives through their ability to gain yards after the catch on those short and intermediate routes.
"It doesn't necessarily have to be someone that catches one deep ball a game, those can be low-percentage throws," Snead said. "But when you definitely have skill players with juice, that can threaten the top-shelf of the coverage, most defensive coordinators are going to want to ensure that top shelf. A lot of times that means backing some people off the ball, or committing two to cover one, and it allows some intermediate explosives to occur."