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Tight end usage against Broncos shows Rams need more 12 personnel in 2023

NFL: Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams had their best offensive performance of the season against the Denver Broncos. Much of the success in the passing game had to do with the usage of tight ends Tyler Higbee and Brycen Hopkins.

After spending the last four weeks entirely in 11 personnel and running just one snap in 12 personnel against the New Orleans Saints, McVay switched things up against the Broncos. On Sunday, the Rams ran 48 percent of their offense in 12 personnel with an EPA per play of 0.21.

While the Rams still ran a majority of their offense in 11 personnel, the variation seemed to have a positive effect on the offense, especially the tight ends. Higbee had his best game of the season with nine receptions for 93 yards and two touchdowns. Additionally, Hopkins matched his season total in catches with three and nearly doubled his season yardage total with 57 yards.

A lot of that change in personnel had to do with the fact that the Rams were without Ben Skowronek. Skowronek has been a hybrid wide receiver for the Rams who has also served as a blocker. McVay has gone as far as lining Skowronek up as a fullback.

However, it makes you wonder why the Rams haven’t been running more 12 personnel throughout the season. Sunday marked just the second time this season that the Rams have run 12 personnel on over 10 percent of their offensive plays in a game.

It also doesn’t seem like a coincidence that on a day that the Rams ran 12 personnel the most, they had the most success this season running the football. Akers rushed 23 times for 118 yards and three touchdowns, all of which were season highs.

While Pro Football Focus gave Higbee and Hopkins both average grades as run-blockers, having that extra blocker seemed to be beneficial. All three of Akers’ touchdowns came with two tight ends on the field. Both of Akers’ biggest runs of the afternoon came in 12 personnel.

Early on in the season, it made some sense that the Rams weren’t using a lot of 12 personnel. Higbee and Hopkins were the only two tight ends on the team’s initial 53-man roster. With limited options at tight end and receivers such as Cooper Kupp and Ben Skowronek who are positive blockers in the run game, it made more sense to keep them on the field.

However, with the offense struggling and becoming stagnant to start the year, it’s curious that the Rams didn’t try to mix things up from a personnel standpoint.

With Skowronek out the rest of the season, it will be interesting to see if the Rams continue to utilize 12 personnel as well as Higbee and Hopkins in the passing game. Higbee hasn’t had a strong 2022 as he is tied for the NFL lead in drops among tight ends with six. However, it’s clear that he can still be utilized as a receiving weapon. Hopkins has also made the most of his very limited opportunities.

If one thing is for certain, it’s that the Rams absolutely cannot go into the 2023 season with just two tight ends on their roster. Whether it’s drafting a tight end in the middle-rounds or signing a tight end in free agency, the Rams need more depth at the position to give them personnel versatility.