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2016 Los Angeles Rams Roster Preview: Wide Receivers & Tight Ends

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The Rams lost a couple veteran presences in the group and replaced them with a crop of rookies. Both of these groups have struggled for years to find consistency and productivity.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
POS Name Chances of Making Roster
WR Tavon Austin 10
WR Kenny Britt 10
WR Pharoh Cooper 10
TE Lance Kendricks 10
TE Cory Harkey 10
TE Tyler Higbee 8
WR Bradley Marquez 7
WR Mike Thomas 7
WR Brian Quick 6
WR Duke Williams 5.5
TE Temarrick Hemingway 5
WR Nelson Spruce 5
WR Paul McRoberts 3
WR MarQuez North 2.5
TE Benson Browne 1
TE Justice Cunningham 1

(NOTE: TE Jake Stoneburner is not in this table. He recently joined the team.)

Gone from this group are WR Stedman Bailey and TE Jared Cook, but the Rams have brought in a bevy of young players in hopes to energize and lift the passing attack's productivity and potential to help franchise rookie QB Jared Goff.

There are an awful lot of circumstances to parse through on why these groups have struggled for so long.

Roster Battle

It's arguable that these two groups are the most wide open on the team.

After veteran players like Britt, Austin and Kendricks, there are plenty of snaps and targets up for grabs. Rookie Tyler Higbee is pushing to become the top TE on the team and may already be a better pass catcher than Kendricks. Pharoh Cooper has a leg up on the third WR spot but he must hold off veterans Brian Quick (this is the year) and Bradley Marquez who has been getting work with the first team offense. Duke Williams also will not go away quietly if his early camp is any indication and Nelson Spruce will look to the preseason games to showcase his ability. Sixth-round draft pick Mike Thomas has impressed in camp as well.

Expectations

Optimism is always high this time of year with Rams receivers and tight ends, and 2016 is no different.

Gone are Jared Cook, Stedman Bailey and Wes Welker. In 2015 that trio accounted for over 27% of the Rams' league worst receiving yards and grabbed 23% of the team's receptions. That void in "production" must be filled somehow and just giving the ball to Todd Gurley will not do. That likely lends credibility to the Rams publicly stating they think Tavon Austin can catch 100 passes. Britt, Cooper and a player yet to emerge will likely pick up the slack for those remaining touches/targets and look to boost the offense. The Rams have relied heavily on TEs in the past but Kendricks and Harkey shouldn't be asked to step up in the passing attack and instead should lean more on Higbee.

Playing second fiddle to Cook for the past three years, Kendricks has been averaging 28 receptions for 254 yards but had three more TDs (11) than Cook in that same time frame. Say what you will about Cook(I know you will) but through his faults he was the Rams' leader in targets, receptions and receiving yards since 2013. Not many teams can cut their most "productive" pass catcher and improve their offensive output but the Rams have the rare opportunity to do so in 2016.

I expect Higbee to eventually to take over for Cook in the passing attack and for Britt and Austin to become much more relied upon. The Rams need to find ways to get Britt and Austin the ball more often. Britt was second in the NFL in 2015 when he averaged an impressive 18.9 YPR but only had a pedestrian 36 catches and Austin is a true homerun threat. Adding a talent like Cooper gives the Rams another option to attack defenses in the middle of the field.

I expect some struggles early with this group as its mostly comprised of very young and inexperienced players but with adept QB play and game planning, this group should comfortably outperform their awful 2015 performance.

Impact On Final Roster

The Rams are likely to keep six wide receivers and three, possibly four, tight ends on the roster and there's still a bit of sorting out to do. The Rams aren't going to be asking their 4th, 5th, or 6th receiver to contribute much on offense so who can offer a unique skillset and special teams ability likely gets bumped up. The pass catching group has been a main reason the Rams offenses have struggled for so long. No Rams player has broke the 800 receiving yard plateau since 2007. No one has done it under Fisher since 2004. It goes without saying the Rams need to get better at moving the ball through the air.

There is reason for optimism. They've poured assets into the offensive side of the ball and there is plenty of competition among themselves. Former TE coach Rob Boras has had a full offseason as offensive coordinator and Mike Groh has been brought in from Chicago, where he worked as WRs coach, to be the passing game coordinator. Maybe these two coaches can finally maximize and effectively use the talents at WR and TE. Jared Goff should hope they do.