Late in the game against the Chicago Bears last season, Rams receiver Josh Reynolds lined up to the right just inside the on-field number at the 50-yard line.
As quarterback Jared Goff executed a play-action fake, Reynolds ran up the field, and then angled diagonally across the middle. With two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Kyle Fuller futilely giving chase, Reynolds caught a perfectly thrown pass, took a few strides and then somersaulted across the goal line into the left corner of the end zone for an apparent 51-yard touchdown.
Unfortunately for the Rams, the spectacular play was nullified because of an illegal-formation penalty.
But Reynolds’ long-distance route and catch left an impression.
In the aftermath of a trade that sent speedy receiver Brandin Cooks to the Houston Texans, Rams coach Sean McVay and Goff cited the long play against the Bears as one that convinced them that Reynolds was fully capable of giving the Rams a dynamic deep-ball threat.
“You’ve got to have some legit juice to be able to do that,” McVay said.
Reynolds, a fourth-year pro, is on track to join Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp as a full-time starter for a remade Rams offense. After missing the playoffs last season, the Rams cut star running back Todd Gurley and traded Cooks to clear salary-cap space. So McVay will be challenged to reignite an offense that ranked as one of the NFL’s highest-scoring units in 2017 and 2018 before faltering last season.
The Rams added depth to the receiving corps by selecting Florida wideout Van Jefferson in the third round of the draft. But Reynolds is the immediate heir apparent to Cooks, a four-time 1,000-yard receiver.
“We would not have made the move on Brandin Cooks had it not been for the confidence we have in Josh Reynolds,” McVay said.
Reynolds, at 6 feet 3 and 196 pounds, cuts a different figure than the 5-10, 183-pound Cooks. McVay and receivers coach Eric Yarber have repeatedly referenced Reynolds’ long, smooth stride, his deceptive speed and prolific body control since the Rams selected him in the fourth round of the 2017 draft after his senior season at Texas A&M.
“I’d say I give a pretty good downfield element,” Reynolds told reporters this week when asked whether he could provide a deep threat similar to Cooks. “That was a lot of my college game, and I just didn’t get too many opportunities to actually stretch the field too much. But hopefully I can show that I can kind of fill that role.”
Reynolds has 61 catches for 832 yards and seven touchdowns in his career.
After Kupp suffered a major knee injury during the eighth game of the 2018 season, Reynolds moved into the starting lineup and finished with a career-best 29 catches, five for touchdowns, to help the Rams reach the Super Bowl. Last season, Reynolds started two games while Cooks was sidelined because of concussions. Reynolds finished with 21 catches and one touchdown.
Now he is poised to join Woods and Kupp as a full-time starter.
“We came in together so I’ve spent a lot of time with Josh,” said Kupp, a third-round pick in 2017. “I’m really excited about him being able to step into a bigger role.”
The Rams began their virtual offseason program Monday. Rookies cannot participate until May 11. With all NFL facilities closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it remains doubtful whether teams will be able to conduct on-field workouts before the program ends June 26.
Reynolds said that he had ordered weight-lifting equipment to work out at home. He is contemplating purchasing an indoor cycling bike.
The virtual program will present some challenges, Reynolds said.
“It’s just going to be a little tough with some guys that are more active learners, that kind of need to be on the field to learn it and kind of stick in their minds and stuff,” he said. “But I think ultimately it gives us a new way to be able to study and learn different things.
“So I think it’s a plus and minus, pros and cons for sure.”
When the Rams return to the field, Reynolds will sport a slightly different look. He is switching jersey numbers — from 83 to 11, the number he wore in college.
But he plans to continue showing that he is the same versatile receiver.
Consider: Three plays after Reynolds’ long catch was nullified against the Bears, he caught a 26-yard pass for a first down. That reception set up the final touchdown in a 17-7 Rams victory.
Reynolds, like Kupp, is in the final year of his rookie contract. Of a possible extension, he said, “We’ll just see where it goes.”
His approach this season will not change, he said, even with an expected larger role.
“I’ll approach it the same way I was approaching it when Brandin was there,” Reynolds said. “Just get better a day at a time and try to understand this offense more and more so ultimately I can be in a position to make plays.
“But it does show a lot of trust in me, so I’m glad I was able to kind of build that trust with the team.”