We saw the beginning of the tight end revolution in 2011. After years of serving as overgrown wideouts and undersize linemen, football finally evolved into a game that understood one of the league’s least glorious positions. Actually, it’s probably fairer to say that the position evolved into something that made the league take notice. Two tight ends — Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski — made their way into the league’s top 10 for receiving yardage. That came after a 27-year stretch during which a tight end appeared in the top 10 just four times. Perhaps more impressively, Gronkowski emerged as arguably the best red-zone receiver of his generation, scoring 17 touchdowns at the tender age of 22. A tight end led the NFL in touchdown receptions for the first time in the modern era. The fact that he was Gronk? Just a bonus. Tight ends are catching a higher percentage of their team’s passes than they have since the early ’70s. The big man is back.
That's Bill Barnwell, formerly of Grantland and now ESPN proper, back in 2012 on the rising value of tight ends to the passing game as pure receiving targets.
And while no tight ends made the top 10 in receiving yards in 2015, three made the top 18: Gronk at #12, Carolina Panthers TE Greg Olsen at #17 and Tennessee Titans TE Delanie Walker who was tied for 18th with Kansas City Chiefs WR Jeremy Maclin.
The Los Angeles Rams, though, aren't swept up in the winds of change in the NFL. Jared Cook came in, floundered and is now off to the Green Bay Packers. Last year saw the Rams put up the league's worst offense in yards in the same season that Todd Gurley exploded as the 2016 Offensive Rookie of the Year.
The Rams aren't part of the revolution. They're counterrevolutionaries, standing guard in front of the old NFL with a list of the running backs they've drafted in the last five years inscribed on their insignia and a picture of former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer emblazoned on their uniforms.
Enter North Carolina State TE Benson Browne, a late addition coming in just more than a week ago. After completing his RS senior season and playing in every game in his final two seasons, Browne finished his career at NC State with four receptions.
How does Benson Browne fit into the 2016 NFL? Only the Rams would feign the wisdom to answer that.
If there's something unsettling here, it's that there's some precedence for Browne to make space on the 53-man let alone the 90-man.
Justice Cunningham made the Rams' initial 2014 53-man roster as a blocking specialist, though he offered much more than Browne as an occasional receiving option finishing with 50 receptions in his career at South Carolina. And Cory Harkey has been around since 2012 and remains listed as a tight end on the official roster. There's an obvious penchant for the blocking bulldozer in this offense, whether it's warranted or not.
But in a year in which the Rams drafted two tight ends (Western Kentucky's Tyler Higbee in the fourth round and Temarrick Hemingway in the sixth round out of South Carolina St.) how does Browne leapfrog Cunningham for a potential spot?
None. He's at the back of a very deep pack. If anything, his time with the team is a tryout not just for the Rams but among the entire labor pool to show out as a blocking specialist hoping that someone gets desperate.
Chances of Making Final Roster: 1/10
I'm tempted to go with a 0, but this is Fisherball. This is perhaps the only team in the NFL that would sign a tight end who had just four receptions in his entire college career despite the playing time he got over the last two seasons.
In the end Browne's reflexive of something going on with the 2016 Los Angeles Rams offense. If Todd Gurley is the only reliable component, what else do you stock up around him as a backup plan? How do you accentuate the one positive in your entire arsenal?
What's the failsafe when you already failed?
It's unfair to expect Browne to unlock that one, but his presence at least indicates where the Rams feel most comfortable ultimately.