Brandin Cooks is getting what Sammy Watkins didn't: time with Jared Goff

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Rams didn't get their vertical threat until August of last year. An entire offseason program and training camp had come and gone, preseason games were about to begin, and Jared Goff had spent too much time working with other receivers to build any real, significant accord with Sammy Watkins.

Their clunky chemistry manifested itself mainly on deep balls, the ones Goff and Watkins were expected to connect on. They hit on only three of 15 passes that traveled at least 20 yards through the air, placing Watkins 55th among 65 receivers with at least 10 of those targets. That brings us to Brandin Cooks, the new Sammy Watkins in many ways except for one notable difference: Cooks is here now, early enough to build chemistry with Goff before the throws start to count.

"It’s all rhythm; it’s all timing," Goff said Monday, which marked the start of the Rams' offseason program. "I think any time you can get this extra time with guys like that, especially the deep stuff, getting open -- I look forward to working with him, and I know he’s excited."

Phase 1 of the offseason program, which comprises the first two weeks, consists merely of classroom work and on-field strength and conditioning. Goff won't start throwing to Cooks until Phase 2, which coincides with the start of May.

The Rams gave up this year's No. 23 overall pick to acquire Cooks from the New England Patriots two weeks ago. At the time, the Rams were relatively deep at receiver. But Watkins' offseason departure left a void for a vertical presence who could take the top off a defense and open the rest of the field for Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp.

Cooks is only a year away from free agency, but the Rams are hopeful of signing him -- and Aaron Donald, who wasn't with the team on Monday -- to a long-term contract. Still only 24, Cooks has surpassed 110 catches, 1,000 yards and six touchdowns in each of the past three seasons while catching passes from two future Hall of Famers in Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Last season, he tied the Houston Texans' DeAndre Hopkins with 16 receptions on passes that traveled at least 20 yards through the air -- and he needed only 35 targets to do so.

"I think that rapport that exists between a quarterback, receivers, tight ends and backs is really important," Rams coach Sean McVay said. "The more time they get to be comfortable and familiar with each other, I think the better that we'll be served as an offense. I think the learning curve won't be quite as steep."

Cooks isn't as physically imposing as Watkins, whose size helped him make seven touchdown catches in the red zone. But he is faster, which will require an adjustment from Goff.

Goff called this his "first real offseason." In 2016, when he was the No. 1 overall pick, Goff transitioned to the NFL. In 2017, a season that ended with a Pro Bowl invite, Goff transitioned to McVay's offense. Now he's settled in. And now he has a new receiver to break in, one who, if maximized, can take the Rams' offense to a whole new level.

"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," McVay said. "I thought the quarterbacks he’s played with have done an excellent job of giving him a chance and putting them in the right location. Those are things that we’ll try to utilize moving forward."