When the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams kick off the 2022 NFL season on Thursday night against the Super Bowl LVII odds-on favorite (+600), the Buffalo Bills, they will set out to break the longest drought of not having back-to-back Super Bowl champions in league history.
Seeking to become the first repeat champion since the New England Patriots in the 2003 and 2004 seasons, the Rams will once again rely heavily on Super Bowl MVP and 2021 NFL Offensive Player of the Year, Cooper Kupp. To expect him to carry as high of a degree of their offense again for 20 games as he did last season isn't sustainable long-term and could eventually wear the 29-year-old down in the coming years.
Enter wide receiver Allen Robinson.
The ninth-year pro signed a three-year, $46.5 million deal this offseason to be the Rams' new Robert Woods, the second No. 1-caliber wide receiver in head coach Sean McVay's offense. Los Angeles traded Woods -- one of the first free agents signed and featured in their offense after McVay became head coach in 2017 -- to the Tennessee Titans. Woods will make his return to action in Nashville after tearing his ACL midway through last season.
Robinson's 2021 season was just as much of a bust as Woods' -- only 38 catches for 410 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown. He missed five games (three with a hamstring injury and two on the reserve/COVID-19 list) during the final season of Matt Nagy's disappointing run as head coach of the Chicago Bears. However, the former Bear had 200 receptions and 2,397 receiving yards across the 2019 and 2020 seasons, each the fourth-most in the NFL in that time, trailing only Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in those categories. After Kupp had arguably the greatest single receiving season in NFL history, perhaps lining up alongside him can allow the 29-year-old Robinson to recapture a majority of his form from his second NFL season when he led the NFL with 14 receiving touchdowns, catching passes from quarterback Blake Bortles on the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"His resume kind of speaks for itself, he's a pro's pro," McVay said in July. "With a guy like Allen Robinson's caliber as a possibility to acquire, we wanted to be very proactive and urgent about pursuing him. He's wired to be able to separate and has body control for a bigger, physical player. His contested catch point consistency in terms of being able to go up and high-point the football, he's been an upgrade for our football team."
Having lost both of the playoff games he has participated in during his career and having played with quarterbacks like rookie Justin Fields, post-Eagles Nick Foles, Chase Daniel, late career Andy Dalton, Mitchell Trubisky, and Bortles (all with career passer ratings under 90 and with an average of seven or less career passing yards per attempt), Robinson didn't need much persuasion to join the defending champs.
"We [McVay] and I spoke before we came to an agreement on a deal, but I don't think they [the Rams] knew that they didn't have to sell me on coming here as much as they did," Robinson said on the "Around The NFL" podcast in early August. "He [McVay] put on some tape and showed me how I would be used and I saw myself fitting in well."
His new quarterback, Matthew Stafford, personally conveyed an urgency to win during the wide receiver's decision process despite the Rams coming off a Super Bowl victory. Stafford conveyed this win-now tone, despite having a great year personally, tying his career-high in passing touchdowns with 41. Why? He was caught staring down Kupp one too many times in 2021, co-leading the NFL in interceptions (17) with Jacksonville Jaguars rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
"When I was on the sidelines in Detroit [with the Lions], I spent a lot of time watching him [Robinson] get after our defense when he was in Chicago," Stafford said in July on NFL Network. "Special player [Robinson] who has done an unbelievable job of being a pro, year in and year out, and it kind of worked out. I was able to hop on a couple calls with him before we got it done and talk to him. Everything I thought about him from afar was apparent when I talked to him one-on-one and even more of the same when he's out here on the field. [On Zoom], we just showed him clips of what we do and where he can fit in this offense, and I guess that was exciting and enticing for him. We're happy that he decided to come here, he obviously had a bunch of options and we're happy to have him."
Stafford, a player Robinson has admired immensely as a Michigan native, immediately becomes the best passer the newly minted Ram has worked with in his career.
"It's a blessing to be able to play with a quarterback like him [Stafford]," Robinson said on the "Around The NFL" podcast in early August. "Even for me growing up in Detroit and watching him from afar, to be able to play with him now has been fun. He's a person who comes to work to compete and sees everybody on the field. It's been exciting. When you're around like-minded guys in terms of the work and dedication each and every day, being around Aaron Donald and Cooper Kupp working out, it brings the best out of you."
Rams offensive coordinator Liam Coen couldn't get enough of Robinson's route-running in June and has since made comparisons between Robinson and Woods, the receiver who profiled as Los Angeles' lead wideout before tearing his ACL halfway through his 2021 campaign. Woods was an all-around player for McVay, just as appreciated for running underneath patterns as his ability and willingness as a blocker in the running game. Coen can't wait to get to work again with another significant matchup problem alongside Kupp this upcoming season.
"Robert [Woods] was absolutely one of my favorites to ever work with," Coen said. "His mentality, his work ethic, kind of that dog that he gets into when he gets into competitive situations — Allen has some of those similarities. When we get into competitive spots in practice, you can see a little bit of a different look in his eye, which is great to see."
Both Robinson and Woods were two of the NFL's most productive pass catchers prior to their ill-fated 2021 campaigns.
Allen Robinson & Robert Woods
* Top 10 in NFL
"I think his [Robinson's] route tree is extremely expanded from probably years ago, or maybe what we've had our other receivers do," Coen said after the team's June 8 minicamp practice. "I mean, he can run a lot of routes that Cooper [Kupp] can, you know – some of those option routes and choice routes and things that we asked Cooper [Kupp] to do – because he just has an unbelievable ability to play underneath, himself."
Robinson has lined up predominantly as a traditional outside receiver on 72% of his career snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Joining a team that ran the highest percentage of plays in the NFL with three or more wide receivers on the field (85.6%) last season, he'll be moving across the line of scrimmage more freely.
"He [Sean McVay] allows players to play, he corrects us and things like that, but it's his ability to allow players to play," Robinson said of McVay at his introductory press conference in May. "Each and every day, we go out there and as we're practicing and things like that, we're able to make corrections and make adjustments based on things that guys are doing right or doing wrong. It's his coaching style that truly allows players to play freely, and then we just correct off of that. Coach McVay and the offense that he's put together and offense that these guys run, it's been a top offense in the league for a reason. I truly believe that it'll bring the best out of me, and I'll be able to display all the elements of my game."
Robinson may also allow Kupp, who totaled the second-most receiving yards (1,947) on the second-most catches (145) in a single season in NFL history, while also leading the NFL in touchdown receptions (16) and targets (191) in 2021, to achieve his top of the league play for longer since he'll receive less focus from opposing secondaries. First-ballot Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson, the only player with more receiving yards in a single season than Kupp, retired early at the age of 30 after the 2015 season in large part to his pile-up of injuries while feeling the toll of years of being hunted by opposing defenses as the only Pro Bowl-caliber pass catcher at Stafford's disposal in Detroit.
"He [Robinson] looks really good, he's been huge for us this offseason," Kupp said on "The Rich Eisen Show" in September. "It's been incredible to see him work, find his niche and find how he's gonna fit into things with his ability to run all the routes and do all the things he wants to do in this offense, all things Coach [McVay] asks receivers to do, he's not only willing but he is able. I'm really excited for him and his mentality has been great. He's been a great addition as a sounding board for me even to run ideas by him, talk football with. It's been a lot of fun."
Robinson's presence as a co-star to Kupp in the passing game could allow both to be highly productive into their thirties, while making life easier for their already 34-year-old quarterback Stafford, as the Rams continue to go "all-in" in their pursuit of more Super Bowl glory.