In his freshman year at the University of Oregon, TE Johnny Mundt caught the ball 16 times for 281 yards and three touchdowns. Not enough to turns heads around the country, but enough as a freshman to suggest there was significant potential in the young end out of Modesto, California. That freshman season represented 34.7% of his career receptions, 41.1% of his career yards and 37.5% of his career receiving touchdowns.
Johnny Mundt’s college career never quite took off.
Part of the reason why, as is often the case, was injuries. Mundt injured his knee early last season after two years spent navigating the lower end of the position depth chart behind Pharaoh Brown (now with the Oakland Raiders) and Evan Baylis (now a Houston Texan). Part of the reason why was the surrounding cast and general program malaise. The 2017 NFL Draft was the first in 22 years in which no Oregon Ducks were selected. Not unrelatedly, Oregon finished with its worst record since 1991.
Mundt was set to head home to Norcal and become a farmer like so many men in his family before him. But something happened. Football happened.
In the final six-game stretch of the season and of Mundt’s career, he finally became that tight end that everyone had been waiting for for two-and-a-half years. In those six games, Mundt put up 19 receptions for 265 yards and four touchdowns. That’s more than three catches for nearly 45 yards and a TD per game, the kind of production that gets you drafted if it’s consistent throughout your career from a big program.
So with new Los Angeles Rams Head Coach Sean McVay known for his work at the position, could a reborn emphasis on production out of the tight end position open a door for Mundt to make good on an NFL career?
It’s a new era at the position for the Rams; 2017 will be the first year without TE Lance Kendricks somewhere on the depth chart since he was selected in the 2011 NFL Draft.
The top of the depth chart is easy enough to peg in 2017 NFL Draft second-round pick Gerald Everett and 2016 NFL Draft fourth-round selection Tyler Higbee. How McVay uses those two and to what degree will be the primary storyline for the position throughout camp and the preseason (and a major one for the offense overall), but beyond those two, there’s a ton of uncertainty.
Temarrick Hemingway was taken two rounds after Higbee last year, but barely saw much field time. Cory Harkey isn’t a conventional NFL tight end and could potentially miss out on the 53-man roster after five years with the Rams. And Travis Wilson is hardly assured of any space either.
Last year’s 53-man roster held four in the tight end/fullback group in Kendricks, Higbee, Harkey and Hemingway. Suffice to say, there’s a legitimate battle coming in August.
Low, but given his early promise and late push at a name program like Oregon, I expect some to build. Playing Pac-12 defenses is different than facing off against the Sun Belt opposition Everett dealt with. That, and some West Coast awareness, is going to drive things here a bit more than the other guys we’ve looked at this week in the preview series.
Still...let’s not kid ourselves. UDFA tight end in Year 1. It is what it is.
Chances of Making Final Roster (4/10)
There’s a legitimate path here. I think you’ve got two major issues determining things.
For one, it’s about group size. With Everett and Higbee at the top, I could see the 53-man this year only going three-wide to allow some inflation somewhere else. If the Rams wanted to keep one more wide receiver or member of the defensive front seven than they did last year, this would be an easy position to cut tight to do so.
Lastly, the aforementioned Harkey cut. Ol’ Molasses has been a mainstay for years to help in power packages and find some ball time as a surprise target. Last year, though, Harkey was largely an afterthought in the offense. In fact, 2016 was the only season in his five-year career in which he failed to log a single reception.
Given those two aspects (one hurting Mundt’s chances, the other helping), there’s at least a shot for Mundt, but it is a bit of an inside straight draw.
Crazier things have happened.