Will this season be TE Tyler Higbee's last hurrah with the LA Rams?
By Bret Stuter
In 2019, the LA Rams offensive line was devastated by injuries, and as a result, the offensive output seemed to sputter without hope of improvement. Well, that is until the LA Rams paired up TE Tyler Higbee with blocking TE Johnny Mundt. The effect of Mundt was to give then-starting quarterback Jared Goff more time in the pocket, as well as the ground attack led by RB Todd Gurley more open holes to run through.
But it was also one of the most productive Decembers for any offensive weapon that season, and the most productive month in the career of TE Tyler Higbee. Higbee put up 522 yards and two touchdowns that month, opening the door to speculation that he had broken through into the upper tier of NFL tight ends.
But that was it. Just one spike of production in an NFL career that has been good but not great, enough to contribute, but never enough to carry the load. And that is why 2023 may be the most important season of LA Rams tight end Tyler Higbee's NFL career.
Workload increased, but production declined
For the LA Rams, Higbee has been the featured tight end since 2019, after he won the informal competition with teammate tight end Gerald Everett by putting up such a proficient month of December. But since that month, he has not come close to replicating that level of NFL production. In fact, coming off a catch rate of 77.5 percent in 2019, his catch rate has declined in each consecutive year ever since. In 2022, he catch rate had fallen to just 66.7 percent, the third worst rate of his seven year career.
Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that his Yards per Reception, Yards per Target, and Scrimmage Yards per Touch were all the lowest they've been since his rookie season. Even his ability to score had dropped from five touchdowns in both 2020 and 2021 back to three touchdowns in 2022. That was in spite of the fact that his targets increased by 125 percent, from 85 targets in 2021 to 108 targets in 2022.
As the LA Rams pivoted to work Tyler Higbee more and more into the offensive playbook, Higbee's production declined, which resulted in fewer yards per reception and fewer touchdowns. That seems very counter-productive. That is in spite of the fact that Tyler Higbee set a new Rams Franchise receiving record for tight ends on Christmas Day 2022 against the Denver Broncos.
To be, or not to be, a Rams TE. That is the question
I don't believe that the LA Rams envision Higbee as one of the core three players to build around, as they have been identified as QB Matthew Stafford, DL Aaron Donald, and WR Cooper Kupp. And the LA Rams have not exactly committed to veterans who age past 30 years of age. For the record, Higbee is 30 years old this year.
Higbee is in the final year of his current contract. Right now, with the Rams pushing hard to become a rookie rostered team, Tyler Higbee will likely need an incredible 2023 NFL season to entice the Rams into negotiating another extension to keep him on the team. TE Brycen Hopkins is also in the last season of his current contract, meaning that the LA Rams 2024 roster currently projects to have just one tight end, the recently acquired Hunter Long.
That places a lot of pressure on Tyler Higbee for 2023. Not only is his future with the LA Rams hanging in the balance, but his 2024 NFL contract terms are likely very dependant on his production this season as well.