St. Louis Rams: The VERY Slow Adaptation At Tight End

Andy Lyons

The tight end position has changed drastically over the past few years. Once known primarily for their ability to assist in run/pass blocking, some TE’s are now utilized more like wide receivers. The Rams could certainly use the services of a pass-catching, potential deep-threat tight end. It’s been a very long time since they’ve had one.

Utilizing a tight end solely for blocking has quickly become a thing of the past. NFL teams are looking for bigger, faster tight end prospects who can be used as an extra receiver, and create match-up nightmares all over the field. Players like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates are the best to do it in recent memory, while others like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham look to be the heir(s) apparent.

Let’s have a glance at the Top Tight Ends [by rec. yards] over the past five years:

Tight End
Year
Rec’s
Yards
TD’s
2012
110
1,039
3
Rob Gronkowski
2011
90
1,327
17
Jason Witten
2010
94
1,002
9
Antonio Gates
2009
79
1,157
8
Tony Gonzalez
2008
96
1,058
10


So there you have it. It’s possible, more so probable, that NFL TE’s eclipse the 1000-yard mark on an annual basis. To be fair though, these are the elite of the elite, and can’t easily be drafted or taken away from their respective teams. But how easy is it to draft a TE who’s capable of putting up big numbers in the receiving game?

Tight End
Year
Rec’s
Yards
TD’s
2012
45
521
3
2011
28
352
0
2010
45
563
6
2009
30
346
2
2008
55
627
5


Easier said than done! Interestingly enough, the Rams did so in 2011. Well, I should say, they were able to select the most effective rookie tight end in that class. Kendricks, to his credit, has progressed since his entry into the NFL. At times though, he’s been unable to hold onto the ball, leaving many Rams fans wondering if there’s another answer to the NFL’s continued utilization of TE’s as deep threats.

But is it too soon to ‘give up’ on Lance as the Rams pass-catching TE of the future? We find ourselves less than two months from the upcoming 2012 Draft, and many fans/scouts/coaches look to the Three E’s [Eifert, Ertz, & Escobar] as this year’s elite group of college prospects. As we know, there are no certainties in the NFL, but is it worth the risk for the Rams to take a shot on Tyler Eifert at pick #16, assuming he could put up Gronk-type numbers? Would using the Rams' 2nd round pick on Zach Ertz fill the role of both TE and WR -- filling two positions the Rams [apparently] need assistance in? Or is there an answer in Free Agency?

Jared Cook is a player - who today - escaped being franchise tagged. He’s also gone on the record by stating that he’d have no hard feelings leaving the Tennessee Titans organization. Certainly there are coaches in the NFL who have ties to Cook, and would be interested in his services assuming the price was right. The St. Louis Rams just so happen to have a head coach who knows Cook very well. Jeff Fisher - then head coach of the Titans - selected Cook with the 89th overall selection in the 2009 draft. A possible reunion?

Opinions appear to be mixed on Cook…At least from a fan’s perspective, his blocking is nothing that will receive rave reviews. Kendricks, on the other hand, has done well in blocking, but has been known [from time to time] to have a case of the ‘dropsies.’ Is it possible that the tandem could be the recipe for success, or is the Rams offensive line in such a state of disrepair that we continue to look for added help by way of TE?

How long will it be before the Rams have a decent enough offensive line that they’re able to send their TE’s out on routes without fear protection will break down in seconds? The Rams could draft a TE this year, in hopes he can be all they predicate the pick upon, or they could take a chance on a known commodity. For those who want any of the aforementioned Three E’s this April, do you think that taking a receiving-threat TE isn’t passing on a chance to bolster the O-line? Is it possible Tyler Eifert is a better pick at #16 than a top-tier Right Tackle or Guard prospect? Or is it possible - if Jared Cook was to become a Ram prior to April 25th - the Rams could focus on bolstering the offensive front early on, and then allow Jared Cook to do what he does best?

Just so you know, he’s done it better than any TE the St. Louis Rams have ever had...

Jared Cook
Year
Rec’s
Yards
TD’s
[13 Games]
2012
44
523
4
2011
49
759
3
Rams’ Tight End
Year
Rec’s
Yards
TD’s
Lance Kendricks
2012
42
519
4
Lance Kendricks
2011
28
352
0
2010
41
391
2
2009
34
332
1
Randy McMichael
2008
11
139
0
Randy McMichael
2007
39
429
3
2006
20
226
1
Brandon Malumaleuna
2005
13
129
1
Brandon Malumaleuna
2004
15
174
1
Brandon Malumaleuna
2003
29
238
2
Rams’ Tight End
Year
Rec’s
Yards
TD’s
2002
34
419
2
Ernie Conwell
2001
48
431
4
Roland Williams
2000
11
102
3
Roland Williams
1999
25
226
6
Roland Williams
1998
15
144
1
Ernie Conwell
1997
38
404
4
Ernie Conwell
1996
15
164
0
Troy Drayton
1995
47
458
4

I stopped at 1995 simply because of the arrival of the team to St. Louis. Just FYI, I had originally done two decades [Troy Drayton also lead in ’93 & ’94, but didn’t come close to 523 reception yards]. I digress…523 yards. In 2012 - in which Cook only played 13 games - he amassed more receiving yards than any Rams’ tight end has since the team’s move back to St. Louis. Two seasons ago, he tallied 759 yards. Friendly reminder: No Rams
WR has eclipsed 700 yards since Torry Holt in 2007.

Maybe it’s just the offense that Cook was in. In 2011, the Rams were the third worst team in the NFL in passing yards per game. In 2012 though, the Rams outperformed the Titans, finishing 18th and 22nd respectively.

Either way, my intentions aren’t to endorse Jared Cook as the answer, but more so as a potential solution. I, like most, can see a very bright future for the TE’s of the NFL, and those who'll be drafted in approximately 50 days. Regardless of whether it’s Cook, the Three E’s, Lance Kendricks, or another free agent/rookie, the Rams should be expecting more from their tight end(s) as the team continues to progress. The expectations for the position have changed league-wide, yet the results just haven’t been there for the Rams for at least two decades.

Lastly, and possibly more important than anything I put in the charts above, is how you prioritize the need/value of the Tight End position going into 2013. Does Fisher’s familiarity with Cook, and our knowledge of what he’s capable of, make him a worthwhile investment? Possibly. Or do the Rams ‘roll the dice’ on a rookie, who has all the potential in the world, because he’ll come at a far more reasonable price? It could be that neither are viable options. Lance Kendricks is continuing to improve, and will hopefully live up to the expectations of being the receiving threat the Rams desired when he was drafted. Even in his best season though [2012], he finished 22nd in the league in reception yards among TE’s.

I don’t know the answer. It appears that the Rams are heading into 2013 without their two biggest offensive weapons over the past few years: Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola. The Rams are already the youngest team in the NFL. Adding someone with NFL experience to an offense that’s losing it’s mainstays can’t make matters worse.

If this were an offseason acquisition that the Rams were to make, don’t hold it against Jared Cook. Look at it as an opportunity to utilize the draft to bolster the offense in other - more dire - ways. The tandem of Lance Kendricks and Jared Cook, to me, is enticing. I do, however, think that regardless of who the Rams acquire, they'd be better served if the Rams’ offensive line freed them up to do what other TE’s in the NFL started doing years ago…revolutionizing the position and creating havoc for opposing defenses.

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