Brian Schottenheimer sees big things ahead for his top tight end, but how does he plan to get him there?
Lance Kendricks is a player who has confounded fans since he was a surprise second-round pick by the St. Louis Rams in 2011. Former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels prized the University of Wisconsin product, seeing him as an offensive player capable of creating tough mismatches with opposing defenses.
Almost two seasons into his career, Kendricks is getting better, but his overall production is still not what most imagined when the Rams passed over names like Torrey Smith and Randall Cobb to draft him. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer inherited Kendricks on this year's roster, and, so far, he's impressed with the 24-year old's ceiling.
"He's got a chance to be an elite player," Schottenheimer said after Thursday's practice when asked if Kendricks had the potential to reach that level.
Most of Kendricks' playing time has come as a blocker this year. It's not a big surprise considering just how much injuries have required the Rams to pull in extra help for the front five. Approximately 55 percent of his snaps have come as a blocker. It's not far off his numbers from last season, with was an almost even 50-50 split, though with far less playing time.
"Most people want to put tight ends into one of two boxes," Schottenheimer said. "They're either a pass catcher or they're a blocking tight end. Lance is, what I would say, a guy that can do both really, really well. So, he might not ever get mentioned with the guys that are going to catch 90 balls a year, but I mean, is that really being a tight end? This guy's a great football player. He blocks at the point of attack better than probably anybody in the league. For a guy that weighs 245 pounds, that's really impressive."
Kendricks has a positive 5.1 grade as a run blocker from Pro Football Focus. Granted, that's something of a subjective number, but it gives him the best run blocking grade on the team, except for fellow tight end Matthew Mulligan. He's ranked eighth overall among tight ends in that category.
Kendricks is still coming along as a receiver. Through the first 11 games of the season, he has 26 receptions for 264 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He's ranked 30th in receptions among tight ends and 31st in receiving yards.
For whatever reason, he's not being targeted a great deal in the passing game. He's been targeted just 37 times, but does have a catch rate of 70 percent. Earlier in the season, the Rams were working with Kendricks on his ability catch passes away from his body, where there have been signs of improvement. He's dropped three passes this season, two against the Bears in Week 2 and his last one against the Cardinals in Week 5.
Interestingly enough, both of his touchdowns have come against Arizona this season.
The Rams, especially quarterback Sam Bradford, need Kendricks to be a more prominent option in the passing game, especially as the team struggles to find steady options in the middle of the field beyond just Danny Amendola (whose been doing more damage on the outside this year anyway).
"He's still a young player," Schottenheimer said of Kendricks. "He's getting better. Rob Boras [the Rams tight end coach] is doing a great job with him. Again, we expect to watch him grow throughout the years."