Fans may still have some questions about the St. Louis Rams' wide receivers, but another player to keep an eye on when camp starts is second-year tight end Lance Kendricks. For all the talk about how important Danny Amendola will be for Sam Bradford's season, Kendricks will likely be even more important in Brian Schottenheimer's offensive system.
The second-year tight end out of Wisconsin has some believers in his ability, too.
Kendricks had a disastrous rookie season, along with pretty much everyone else on the offense, rookie or seasoned veteran. After being touted for his hands coming out of college, he caught just 28 of the 53 passes thrown his way, dropping nine of them, according to the charting stats at PFF. Only his run blocking salvaged the season from a total disappointment (little known fact, the University of Wisconsin will not allow its players to leave school without passing a graduate level course in run blocking).
In ranking the tight ends for SB Nation on Thursday, I put the Rams pretty far down the list, as you can see.
29. St. Louis Rams
The Rams' lack of receiving talent gets plenty of attention, but quarterback Sam Bradford could have benefited from some help at tight end too. Last year's second-round pick Lance Kendricks had a disappointing introduction to the pros, dropping passes at key moments. He does block well, but teams need second-round picks to do more than block. If Kendricks washes out, it will be trouble for Bradford. Michael Hoomanawanui has caught the ball well, but his knack for getting injured holds him back.
I fully expect that ranking to look much different once the seasons gets started; in fact, I think Kendricks might become the most important offensive chip the Rams have.
In their 2012 Almanac, Football Outsiders predicted a rebound for Kendricks, explaining why he gets a mulligan for his rookie season.
Here's the line FO predicted for Kendricks:
54 receptions, 67 percent catch rate, 668 receiving yards, 4 touchdowns and a 10.4 percent DVOA
Kendricks has yet to score an NFL touchdown.
In the past, I have pointed out on these pages before just how much the Rams' new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer loves to use the tight end. Dustin Keller was the Jets' top receiver last year, in both yards and catches. He led the team in catches the year before that. All of which bodes well for Kendricks' future under the new coaching staff.
Like most everything associated with the Rams last year, we can probably set aside Kendricks' 2011 season. He did struggle with drops, but, in the bigger picture, the quarterback situation was a mess, early-season snaps as a flexed tight end fell off after tackle injuries required more max protect, and he was dealing with concussion symptoms late in the season. The situation is much more favorable heading into 2012. St. Louis took steps to shore up their offensive line, so Kendricks will be on the field more in his natural receiving role, and hopefully he won't be trying to catch passes from backup quarterbacks. Most importantly, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and tight ends coach Rob Boras have a much better track record with tight ends (Dustin Keller, Greg Olsen, Desmond Clark, and the 2010 version of Marcedes Lewis) than their predecessors ever did.
I'm not entirely sure about what the Rams did to "shore up their offensive line" since Jason Smith is still projected as the starting right tackle, but you get the idea.
Pat Shurmur's short passing game went through the slot receiver. I'm sure the tight end would have had more work had the Rams had a more reliable option in 2010. Schottenheimer's short passing game goes through the tight end and the running backs.
How do you feel about Kendricks' chances for a rebound next season?