What’s really in a name?
Imagine for a moment that all-pro tight end Travis Kelce had a Freaky Friday situation with Johnny Mundt, except instead of switching souls or bodies, they only switched names. Would headlines for Kansas City’s ridiculously talented tight end feel just as natural if they said “Mundt” instead of “Kelce”?
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Back in the universe that we do live in, Mundt is not going head to head against George Kittle or Darren Waller for title of best tight end in the NFL. Instead, he’s going into his fifth season with the LA Rams, meaning that head coach Sean McVay has never known a training camp without Mundt, and Mundt has never known an NFL team that wasn’t coached by McVay.
With former Rams tight end Gerald Everett now playing with the Seattle Seahawks, and current Rams tight end Brycen Hopkins looking even less likely than Everett to catch passes in Los Angeles this season, that makes the relationship and trust between McVay and Mundt even more important when it comes to handing out snaps behind Tyler Higbee in the coming months. And while certainly skepticism from fans is warranted based on how little Mundt has done as a receiver over the past four seasons — nine catches on 12 targets for 84 yards — part of me does wonder if we’d be a little less skeptical if “Mundt” didn’t sound so much like “Munson.”
Could Mundt, now firmly entrenched as the team’s tight end two behind Tyler Higbee and “ready to take on a bigger role” according to McVay, be lining up for a year in which he at least doubles his career receiving statistics?
As an undrafted free agent rookie in 2017, Mundt was active for only two games and he only played in four offensive snaps, but 39 on special teams. In 2018, Mundt appeared in 40 offensive snaps, plus 127 on special teams over 10 games.
It wasn’t until 2019 that Mundt firmly established himself as an expected member of the 53-man roster, but even then, he was a healthy scratch for three of the first four games that year. When injuries at the tight end position happened midseason, Mundt got starts in both Week 11 and Week 14, but rarely do you see a true blocking tight end like that in action:
Mundt received 37 snaps in Week 11, a 17-7 win over the Bears, but had zero targets.
Mundt received 49 snaps in Week 14, a 28-12 win over the Seahawks, but had zero targets.
It was almost as if, the more he played, the less likely he was to be a receiver. Because in a Week 15 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Mundt caught two of three targets for 15 yards, despite only playing in 11 offensive snaps.
That late 2019 stretch, the one without Everett, is also when Higbee had the best month of his life: over the final five games, Higbee caught 43 of 56 targets for 522 yards and two touchdowns.
Could pairing Higbee with Mundt in 2021 be yet another sign that McVay’s other veteran tight end is in line for a career-season?
Last season, Mundt went back to being virtually non-existent on offense, save a Week 7 win over the Chicago Bears in which he started and got 46 snaps. But Mundt wasn’t invisible that day, as he caught three of three targets for 48 yards. However, over the course of the rest of the season, Mundt would have more tackles (3) than targets (0).
The Rams might be entering the 2021 season with more open-ended questions on offense than any other season for McVay since his initial campaign in LA. The shroud to that mystery is obvious — Matthew Stafford’s 12 years with the Detroit Lions gives us a glimpse of what he can do in the NFL, but we can’t quite put a rose tint to those glasses until we see him make decisions and throws under the Oculus with the supporting coaches and players that the Rams offer — and it includes questions like:
- Will McVay be less reliant on a dangerous ground attack?
- Will Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp become deep threats and production beasts like never before?
- Will DeSean Jackson return to form like his previous days with McVay in Washington?
- Will Higbee soak up the targets that were left behind by Everett?
- Will Tutu Atwell and Van Jefferson be involved in the passing game, week-to-week?
- Will the offensive line find it easier or harder to block for Stafford, as compared to Jared Goff?
- Will Darrell Henderson be ready for true RB1 duties?
The question of “Will Johnny Mundt be targeted?” is quite far down the list of priorities, but nonetheless carries notable consequences. Everett played in 56.9% of the snaps in 2020, and if not for injury, could have played in roughly half of the snaps in 2019. There is no other tight end candidate on the roster who looks ready to take those snaps, as McVay has reiterated time after time that fourth round pick Jacob Harris will need a lot more time before he’s ready to play any snaps in that position.
That leaves Mundt, Hopkins, and Kendall Blanton, and given everything we’ve seen in training camp and preseason, what that really leaves is just Mundt. In mafia movies, they often talk about “Made Men” who are protected by the boss from being touched. If you touch a “Made Man” then you’re as good as gone yourself.
Through the course of the two preseason games, McVay has made everyone keenly aware of who his “Made” guys are because they’re the veterans who are healthy but not playing. It’s not just Stafford, Woods, Kupp, Henderson, and Andrew Whitworth though. It also includes guys like Mundt, who after five years and 12 targets, has now become one of McVay’s protected “Made Men” on the offense.
Maybe that only winds up in 300 offensive snaps and nearly as many on special teams. Perhaps Mundt won’t replace any tight end targets, and instead Stafford will push more opportunities towards Higbee, the backs, and the receivers. But what’s clear is that Johnny Mundt is a “Made Man.”
Definition: To defy low expectations through resilience, blocking, and special teams
Example: “Man, I don’t know, maybe shock ‘em with a pass to one of the Mundts out there; someone who deserves a chance in the red zone”
Example 2: “MUNDT?!”