We all know which NFL team has the best defensive line. (We do all know that, right? And we're going to have to have a serious talk if you say any other team besides the St. Louis Rams). But St. Louis' offensive position groups don't get much love ... until now. Football savant Danny Kelly has a look at the NFL's best tight end groups over at SB Nation, and the Rams make an appearance on that list.
Not at the top of the list, but as one of the teams that could easily leap into the top of the class with a big season in 2014.
(Italics denote a rookie).
TE Lance Kendricks, TE Jared Cook, TE Justice Cunningham, TE Corey Harker, TE Alex Bayer
The Rams have a solid duo of tight ends in Lance Kendricks and Jared Cook, but Cook in particular carries weight with this ranking for me. The former Titan quietly racked up 51 catches and five touchdowns in 2013 but looks poised to improve on that number next year with improved chemistry with Sam Bradford and familiarity with the offense. Cook's athleticism makes him comparable to Vernon Davis from a size/speed point of view, and he's got that seam-stretching go-route ability that should scare defenses on every snap.
We've come a long way since the days of waiting and waiting and waiting for second-round pick Joe Klopfenstein to live up to his potential. But the Rams still aren't getting all that they could be from their tight ends.
The Rams spent big to sign Jared Cook last year, giving him a $35 million deal with $19 million guaranteed. That's as much guaranteed money as Jason Witten gets in his contract. Depending on what happens with Jimmy Graham, Cook's average annual salary of $7.02 million is the fifth highest among all tight ends.
His 671 yards were just the 11th most, not exactly what the Rams had in mind when they signed him to be one of the centerpieces of this offense. Most disappointing of all were his eight dropped passes, that contributed to a Pro Football Focus drop rate of 13.89 percent, the highest among all tight ends with at least 50 targets.
Expectations are key with Cook. He plays more like a receiver, but lacks the physical ability to win battles with corners or strong safeties. He's a matchup weapon for the seam and straight routes where he's not the focus of the defense. If the rest of the offense, the receivers specifically, can get going, Cook's one-dimensional ability will be an asset. He's just not capable of being the Jimmy Graham type who can catch 75 balls a year.
The Rams have an interesting situation with Lance Kendricks. This is the last year of his contract. He caught 76 percent of the 42 balls thrown his way, and only dropped two. Since being drafted in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Kendricks has never blossomed into the weapon Josh McDaniels supposedly pounded the table for during the second day of the draft. He has been a better pass catcher over this last two seasons, topping 71 percent in 2012, albeit in a limited role.
Kendricks contributes as a blocker, and that's not to be overlooked in a run-heavy offensive system. The question is whether or not his hands are good enough to justify keeping him beyond 2014.
There's no question the Rams could get more production from their tight ends. It's just a matter of whether or not we've already seen their ceiling. If that's the case, it might be time to find a tight end in the draft next year.