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2019 Los Angeles Rams roster preview: Can Tyler Higbee hang on as TE1?

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The position battle at tight end is one to monitor in LA.

Los Angeles Rams TE Tyler Higbee gets away from New Orleans Saints S Vonn Bell during overtime in the NFC Championship, Jan. 20, 2019. Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

By now you’ve probably heard that Los Angeles Rams Head Coach Sean McVay likes operating his offense out of 11 personnel — where the team fields three wide receivers, a running back, and a single tight end. They lined up in 11 on over 90% of plays in 2018, by far the most of any team in the NFL.

And prior to WR Cooper Kupp’s season-ending ACL injury in Week 10, it was the usual suspects heading out there with QB Jared Goff and the offensive line. Todd Gurley lined up at RB and WR Brandin Cooks, WR Robert Woods, and Kupp were Goff’s three primary targets.

At tight end, it was Tyler Higbee who took the field for the majority of the offensive plays. Will that be the case in 2018 as Higbee plays out the final year of his rookie contract?

Expectations

I expect, and this could clearly change over the coming weeks, more of the same from the Rams and Higbee...at least to start the year. He’s got a great relationship with Goff and has shown consistent improvement both as a blocker and pass-catcher. Essentially, it’s his job to lose.

But there is definitely a position battle for the TE1 spot, and McVay’s very first draft pick as coach - the 44th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft used on TE Gerald Everett (2017) - will look to cut into Higbee’s share of snaps.

Roster Battle

Maybe it’s recency bias that had me thinking Everett had taken a larger share of snaps in 2018. This, however, could have been solely a result of Kupp’s injury and the need to have another set of reliable hands on the field. Then again, it’s possible that Everett was earning more playing time in the eyes of his coach. I’d lean more towards the former than the latter though.

Here’s a quick glance at how the offensive snaps have shaken out at TE over the last two seasons:

2017

  • Higbee: 733 (70.5%)
  • Everett: 299 (28.8%)

2018

  • Higbee: 788 (71.6%)
  • Everett: 380 (34.5%)

As you can see, Higbee is on the field approximately 70% of offensive plays, and his snap count percentage actually increased despite Everett being in his second year.

Leading up to and including the game against the Seattle Seahawks in which Kupp got injured, Everett had taken 167 snaps (17 per game) on the year. Higbee, on the other hand, had taken 562 snaps (56 per game) by that time.

Sure, we saw more Everett at the end of the 2018 season, but just because we saw more Everett, didn’t necessarily mean it translated to less Higbee who still out-snapped Everett during the final weeks of the regular season.

In summation, I’m still expecting for Everett to have his snap count increase in 2019. But if the Rams’ receiving corps is able to stay healthy, then I’m of the mindset that increased playing time will come down to Everett’s ability to get Higbee off the field. If McVay’s history tells us anything, Cooks-Woods-Kupp aren’t (or would very rarely be) coming off the field for a second tight end.

Chances of making the final roster (9.9/10)

He’s the starting tight end. And even if that were to change prior to kickoff in Week 1, there’s still almost zero chance he’s playing elsewhere.