Time to track the LA Rams evolving tight end depth
By Bret Stuter
It was not so long ago that the LA Rams tight end roster was practically a toss-up on offensive snap opportunities between tight ends Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett, and supported in the run department with a minor rotational role for backup tight end Johnny Mundt. This year, that is all changed.
The LA Rams still boast starting tight end, Tyler Higbee. But behind him? It’s a new chapter of tight end depth with the Rams. What do I mean? Well, the team no longer boasts either Gerald Everett or Johnny Mundt on the roster. In fact, the Rams offense is suspected to be weighing carrying just two tight ends on the roster on the initial 53-man roster. Will those suspicions play out? I’m not sold, as the Rams have so many different ways to play a versatile tight end, and will want to have two active for 12-personnel packages, plus one spare just in case a primary tight end is dinged up, needs a rest or suffers an injury.
So who do the LA Rams have at the position?
There is no surprise in learning that tight end Tyler Higbee will be the starting tight end for the LA Rams once more. And with Higbee, the LA Rams have a comfort level of known and dependable production. Higbee is a Steady Freddie, with a catch rate that will hover on either side of 75 percent, and yards received upwards of 500+ yards.
Despite the talent to do more, as demonstrated in his 500+ yard month in December 2020, the Rams are content to sprinkle in Higbee as more of a garnish than as a main course.
It may be a bit of a mild surprise to learn that tight end Brycen Hopkins parlayed his Super Bowl LVI performance into leaping over everyone to earn the TE2 role. He is probably the only player in NFL history whose Super Bowl production, four catches at four targets for 47 yards, outperformed his first two NFL seasons where he caught one of one passes thrown his way for nine yards. So how will he perform for the Rams this year?
I believe that he will fill a role that is very similar to that of former tight end Gerald Everett. In saying that, his numbers will likely come in on or about 50 targets, 35 catches, and 380 yards with three touchdowns. While Higbee covers all the Rams’ TE responsibilities well, Hopkins is beginning to showcase his ability to make catches, even the circus variety. If Hopkins gets hot, his production could exceed projections handily.
If the Rams do carry a third tight end, I project Roger Carter in that role. Carter has the luxury of a long-standing career of lining up practically anywhere that the coaches asked him to. While most of his role will be blocking, he could be used to test secondary depths, much like former Rams tight end, Johnny Mundt had a way of putting up big numbers against the Chicago Bears.
Carter has a strong background in playing fullback, and I’d love to see the Rams finally adopt some plays with a fullback or blocking back to help out the running game.
Other tight ends
The Rams have been savage to their backup tight ends. Since assembling the 90-man roster, the Rams have waived tight end Kyle Markway, tight end Jamal Pettigrew, and tight end Kendall Blanton.
The only remaining tight end is 6-foot-4 257-pound Jared Pinkney. While that does not bode well for Pinkney making the team’s 53-man roster, it does give him a significant edge at winding up on the team’s practice squad.
While the case can be made for the Rams evolving away from the tight end position, much like the team abandoned a true fullback, I don’t believe that the questions that surround the offensive line nor the ability of the ground game to handle any physical defenses allow the Rams to short their tight end position. I may be wrong, but it just doesn’t feel as though that is a step that the Rams will take this season.