Rams hope Brandin Cooks is the deep-ball threat they wanted Sammy Watkins to be

As the Rams prepare for the NFL draft, the Los Angeles Times will examine their roster. Part 6 of 8: receivers.

For a short time, after Sammy Watkins signed a huge free-agent contract with the Kansas City Chiefs in March, there was a deep-threat void in the Rams' receiving corps.


The Rams flirted with the New York Giants about trading for Odell Beckham Jr., but ultimately replaced Watkins by sending their first-round pick in this year's draft to the New England Patriots for Brandin Cooks.

"If there is one thing that Brandin has done a nice job of, specifically the last few years, it's being able to go get that deep ball," coach Sean McVay said Monday as the Rams opened voluntary offseason workouts.

Cooks, who has 27 touchdown catches in four seasons, joined a Rams receiving corps that includes fellow starters Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, along with Pharoh Cooper, Josh Reynolds, Mike Thomas and Tavon Austin.

"Great receiver, great talent," Woods said of Cooks.

Austin, the eighth pick in the 2013 draft, was recovering from wrist surgery during last year's offseason program. He then suffered a hamstring injury during training camp and served mainly as a decoy during the season, finishing with just 13 catches for 47 yards.

Can McVay find a way to utilize Austin, who had 181 catches including 12 for touchdowns in his first four seasons?

"This offseason will provide an opportunity for him to go in healthy and really compete and develop him as a receiver — where we're playing him in the slot, we're playing him outside," McVay said, adding, "He never really got a chance to compete to the best of his ability and get involved in this system like we would've liked going back to a year ago.

"I think now we get that opportunity."

McVay came to the Rams after relying heavily on tight ends as the Washington Redskins' offensive coordinator. But the position group was seemingly under-utilized last season.

McVay is expected to raise the profile of tight ends Gerald Everett, Tyler Higbee and Temarrick Hemingway. Everett, if he improves, could replace Watkins as a go-to receiver in the red zone.

Receivers under contract: Robert Woods ($9 million), Brandin Cooks ($8.4 million), Tavon Austin ($7 million), Cooper Kupp ($878,000), Pharoh Cooper ($769,000), Mike Thomas ($659,000), Josh Reynolds ($717,000), Fred Brown ($480,000), Gerald Everett ($1.3 million), Tyler Higbee ($775,000), Temarrick Hemingway ($670,000), Henry Krieger-Coble ($555,000), Johnny Mundt ($480,000).

Free agents: Cooks fit under the salary cap but there's no room for someone such as Dez Bryant.

Draft: The Rams went heavy on receivers in the last two drafts, taking Cooper and Thomas in 2016 and Kupp and Reynolds last year. Their draft capital would be better spent on other positions.

Roster decisions: Cooks is in the final year of his rookie contract and the Rams have talked about trying to extend him. Austin appeared on his way out, but he agreed to restructure his contract, which is now a one-year deal with a base salary of $1 million.


NEXT: Quarterbacks.

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein