The LA Rams could have a huge problem. Even as the Rams prepare for their Week 1 season opener against the Seattle Seahawks, they may have to go without their top offensive weapon, WR Cooper Kupp. You see, Kupp is consulting with soft tissue specialists. He has a nagging hamstring injury that has lasted far too long.
Cooper Kupp's hamstring problem has cast a shadow over what is a pivotal season for the LA Rams and head coach Sean McVay. The latter needs his go-to wide receiver available, but Kupp remains a doubt to face NFC West rivals the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1 while the Super Bowl MVP searches for answers about the injury.
Fortunately, tight end Tyler Higbee can step into the breach and become quarterback Matthew Stafford's No. 1 target. It's a role Higbee often adopted in 2022, a banner year during which he set career-high marks with 72 receptions for 620 yards.
What Higbee proved last season was that he's more than merely a clutch target in the red zone. Instead, the 30-year-old is a flexible athlete who can be deployed as a roving playmaker, much the way Kupp is used in McVay's system.
Kupp attacks defenses out of multiple positions from anywhere on the field. More imaginative usage of Higbee can create the same dynamic, and it wouldn't take much for McVay to put the plan into action. He did exactly that when Kupp was sidelined with an ankle injury and subsequent surgery.
Simply by reviewing some select game film from 2022 and '21, McVay can find the formula for utlizing Higbee just like Kupp.
Rams already used to leaning on Higbee
Leaning on Higbee became a staple for the Rams' offense last season, with or without Kupp on the field. He's unlikely to be risked when the Seahawks visit SoFi Stadium on Sunday, September 10, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
If the Rams do err on the side of caution, Stafford will have no problem targeting Higbee in bulk. As Pro Football Network's Derek Tate pointed out, Higbee's career-best 108 targets last season weren't dependant on Kupp being in or out of the lineup:
"Most might assume these career highs from Higbee are a direct result of Kupp sustaining a season-ending injury in Week 10 last year. But did you know that through the first 10 weeks of the season — every game Kupp played in last year — Higbee had four games with 9+ targets?- Pro Football Network's Derek Tate
During that same time span with Kupp, Higbee finished as a top-eight tight end on four occasions"
A Higbee-centric schematic blueprint should be defined by two alignments.
Rams must keep Tyler Higbee on the move
Keeping Higbee on the move will be key to attacking the Seahawks. It will mean shifting the 6-foot-6, 255-pound tight end across formations.
Higbee knows how to operate out of different alignments, having played 81 snaps in the slot last season, per Player Profiler. Kupp often beats defenses from the inside, but Higbee is a bigger body who can tower over and muscle slot cornerbacks between the numbers.
Moving out of the slot, Higbee will also be a size mismatch for corners playing on the perimeter. Splitting Higbee out wide created this touchdown connection against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 18 of the 2021 season.
The same ploy can be devastating against an undermanned Seattle secondary. Top draft pick Devon Witherspoon only recently returned to practice after dealing with a hamstring problem of his own, according to Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times, leaving Tre Brown to partner Riq Woolen on the outside, while Coby Bryant plays the slot.
Higbee against either Brown or Bryant is a matchup win for the Rams.
McVay could look to a wide receiver to cover for Kupp's absence. Somebody like potential breakout candidate Tutu Atwell or impressive rookie Puka Nacua, but Higbee is the pass-catcher most able to dominate the Seahawks physically the way Kupp would.