Cory Harkey: The St Louis Rams most under-rated player?


Heading into 2015, the St. Louis Rams are expecting great things from running backs Todd Gurley and Tre Mason. There are also hopes of a breakout season for wide receivers Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt and Stedman Bailey. With all this potential on offense, one player who is massively overlooked is fourth year tight end Cory Harkey.

Let me be clear from the off – Harkey is never in a million years going to be regarded as a top tier tight end in the NFL. With Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks on the roster, Harkey is not even the leading player at the TE position for the Rams. With an uninspiring -0.1 grading last season from Pro Football Focus (where he is listed as a fullback), it is easy to see why the former UCLA man is often forgotten. Despite relatively low numbers, Harkey was resigned by the Rams to a one-year $1.5M deal after being a potential target for the Pittsburgh Steelers in free agency.

So, it’s very clear that the front office saw some value in Harkey for them to bring him back. What I believe Harkey offers is an occasional, situational receiver, targeted often on plays when opposing defences expect the Rams to go to a theoretically more senior player – reminiscent of the way Austin Pettis was used by Sam Bradford in 2013. To illustrate the point, watch this touchdown scored against Oakland on a 1st and goal from last year. Kenny Britt (in motion) and Jared Cook are on the outside for the obvious receiving threat. Harkey is behind Shaun Hill, seemingly to act as an extra blocker for Zac Stacy who is behind him. As the play unfolds, Harkey cuts to the right and takes the pass, plowing through two defenders who catch on too late to the play design.

Dec 7, 2014; Landover, MD, USA; St. Louis Rams tight end Cory Harkey (46) stands on the field prior to the Rams

We all know how much Jeff Fisher likes to throw in trickery and misdirection. Harkey is ideally used in this kind of situation, and therein lies his value. As expected, with an underwhelming pre-draft analysis, Harkey went undrafted in 2012 -the year Fisher took over in St Louis. Harkey was given a chance by the new head coach and showed enough to keep his place on the roster. His role was never to be a starting tight end, nor was he expected to massively improve the quarterback’s passing yardage stats. It was to plug in as an extra blocker when needed, and give the coaching staff an extra option on passing plays.

So what can we expect from Harkey in 2015? Not 1,000 yards or a dozen touchdowns, that much is certain. Will he be a valuable squad member, taking pressure off the senior receivers and popping up occasionally with a crucial catch? Absolutely. As much as I think Harkey is greatly under-rated for his value to the team, I also believe if he was given more snaps and targeted more frequently on passing downs he would lose his surprise value which makes him the asset he is. The team does not need to get hundreds of yards from Harkey – they have plenty of others with that potential. If Harkey continues in the role of the occasional unsung hero, that is fine by me.