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With receiver Robert Woods out, Sammy Watkins must step up for Rams

Sammy Watkins has a chance to prove himself as a No. 1 receiver while the Rams are without Robert Woods. AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Coach Sean McVay talked about doing it "by committee." He brought up Josh Reynolds, Pharoh Cooper and Mike Thomas, all Los Angeles Rams receivers who could see an uptick in snaps now that Robert Woods will miss at least the next two games with a sprained left shoulder. McVay even brought up Tavon Austin, the fifth-year receiver who has been utilized as a backfield decoy.

But there's no mistaking it: Sammy Watkins is the man who must step up.

Watkins was brought in to be the Rams' No. 1 receiver, but he hasn't been used like one. As of Monday, 104 receivers had been targeted more frequently, 102 of them had hauled in more catches, and 59 of them had compiled more receiving yards. It's largely a byproduct of an offense that likes to spread the ball around, but it also stems from what appears to be faulty chemistry with Jared Goff.

Watkins, who was acquired in a trade and didn't join the Rams until the day before their first preseason game, has hauled in 63.2 percent of his targets from Goff, which ranks within the bottom 40 percent of qualified NFL receivers.

They have connected on only two of 10 passes that have traveled at least 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

"Football is hard, first of all," Watkins said recently. "We run at different speeds; you're throwing at a guy who's going at different speeds. He's thrown at so many guys, and to gain that connection is hard."

Watkins said this moments after his best connection with Goff, a 67-yard touchdown on a deep ball against the New York Giants in Week 9. There was also a beautiful over-the-top hookup that went for 47 yards against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3. But Watkins -- with 24 catches for 408 yards and four touchdowns in the first 10 games -- hasn't drawn the workload and hasn't come close to providing the numbers of a traditional No. 1 receiver.

That may change now. Cooper Kupp is as polished a rookie as they come, but he isn't as physically imposing. Reynolds, a rookie fourth-round pick, has played in only 81 offensive snaps. Thomas and Cooper are second-year players with 23 NFL receptions between them. McVay sounded adamant about getting Austin more involved, especially after a game that saw him receive only two offensive snaps. But Austin is 5-foot-8 and has never projected as a traditional go-to receiver.

All signs point to Watkins getting more involved.

The Rams are 7-3, but they're coming off a loss to the playoff-bound Minnesota Vikings and their schedule will continue to be daunting. Watkins will draw even more attention from the opposing team's best corner over these next few games. That means a lot of Marshon Lattimore against the New Orleans Saints in Week 12 and a lot of Patrick Peterson against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 13.

Two weeks ago, Watkins identified Woods as the man who's "leading" the Rams' receivers. He leads the Rams in targets (70), catches (47) and receiving yards (703), but Watkins wasn't talking about that.

"The way he practices, the way he plays the game, the way he does everything moves this wide receiver group," Watkins said of Woods, also his teammate with the Buffalo Bills over the past three years. "I had to push my game up the way he was competing."

Now Watkins will have to push his game up because Woods won't be there.