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Why Brycen Hopkins can’t be overlooked

The Rams seem comfortable getting Hopkins ready to be TE2

NFL: DEC 20 Jets at Rams Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In his final college season at Purdue, tight end Brycen Hopkins was 10th in the Big 10 in receiving yards, finishing with 61 receptions for 830 yards and seven touchdowns. The year before, Hopkins ranked 17th in the conference with 583 yards, while teammate Rondale Moore led everybody with 1,258 yards. Despite a lack of future pro talent around them, Purdue still produced at least those two NFL pass-catchers.

Hopkins was a fourth round selection of the LA Rams in 2020, while Moore ran an unofficial 4.29 at his pro day and could even flirt with day one this year. Will Hopkins see game action next season and hold off his former teammate from lapping him in yards at the pro level?

I think we have to hold out hope that Hopkins’ rookie season absence was simply another redshirt, development year.

Kyle Pitts is not only the top tight end in the upcoming draft, he might also be the most dangerous pass-catching weapon at any position, including receivers Ja’Marr Chase and 2020 Heisman winner Devonta Smith. However, Pitts might also not be a tight end at all, as mentioned by YouTuber Alex Rollins in this breakdown of the Florida products’ strengths and weaknesses. What stood out to me in watching the video had nothing to do with Pitts — he’ll be selected about 50 spots out of LA’s range — but the reminder that the tight end position is one that may take the longest to develop at the next level.

Pitts could become the NFL’s best tight end in a few years. Or, if he doesn’t learn how to block adequately, he’ll be an oversized wide receiver who still likely lasts a decade in the league.

Hopkins could be in a similar position, albeit with a lower ceiling.

During his rookie campaign, Hopkins played in two offensive snaps and was not once mentioned as a potential solution — no matter how minor it would be — to the Rams’ offensive woes in the second half of the year. Harrison Bryant, another fourth round tight end in 2020, caught 24 of 38 targets for 238 yards with the Browns last season. Some fourth rounders at other positions, like receiver Gabe Davis, guard Solomon Kindley, safety L’Jarius Snead, and center Tyler Biadasz, were notable contributors as rookies.

But Hopkins stayed off of the field. Is that worrisome?

Above all else, it’s hard to imagine where Hopkins would have even snuck himself into the rotation. The Rams had no reasons to pull Tyler Higbee or Gerald Everett out of action, and the pair combined to miss only one game last season. Johnny Mundt was only targeted four times all year, but also played in a full 16-game season, like Everett.

There was no room for Hopkins, but that won’t be the case this year.

LA opted not to re-sign Everett, who went to the Seattle Seahawks for $6 million over one year. The Rams did re-sign Mundt, but all that proves is that they liked him as the TE3 and as one of their top special teams contributors. Until we’re given reason to believe otherwise, Brycen Hopkins enters 2021 training camp as the number two tight end and he does so with all of his pre-draft positives (“smooth, fluid route runner” with “fairly advanced route tree” and “seamless vertical cuts” that complement his “great effort as an in-line blocker”) and 16 months with which to work on his negatives (“doesn’t have ideal mass” for a blocker and “drop rate is concerning”).

Like many tight ends, like Pitts, Hopkins projects excellently as a receiving threat if he’s able to stick as an in-line blocker, but fades into a blob of other receiving options if he was a liability on the line of scrimmage next to a tackle. One advantage that Hopkins has in that area is that his father Brad Hopkins was a two-time Pro Bowl left tackle who played in the NFL for 13 years, so there’s reason to suspect that he’s getting good advice, but that’s only something we can speculate on for now.

When the Rams open and close training camp this August, we’ll know exactly where Hopkins stands. As of March, he stands right behind Tyler Higbee. And it could be that Higbee feels those hairs on his neck coming to attention.


Where will Brycen Hopkins land in the pecking order for Rams’ targets in 2021?

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