We continue our look at the LA Rams’ current depth charts by examining the latest news at tight end, where towards the end of last season it appeared that maybe finally one of the “trio” would emerge as a receiving threat. Will Brycen Hopkins, Kendall Blanton, and/or Jacob Harris develop into a 2022 weapon?
2022 L.A. Rams tight ends
Not here: Johnny Mundt
Tyler Higbee - 6’6, 255 lbs, born: 1/1/1993
Higbee enters his seventh NFL season and though his 2021 stats (560 yards, 5 TD) don’t look that much different than his 2020 version (521 yards, 5 TD), how he was utilized in the offense actually did change significantly in the first year of Matthew Stafford. Is that a good thing for Higbee?
Higbee had an Average Depth of Target of 8.0 yards with Jared Goff in 2020, but that number dipped to 5.3 ADOT with Stafford. There was also a problem with interceptions that wasn’t there before: Only one of Goff’s passes towards Higbee was intercepted over the last three seasons combined.
But in the first year of Stafford, three of his 85 targets to Higbee were picked off. And at 6.6 Yards per Target (his lowest since 2017), throwing to Higbee turned out to be a lot less valuable than throwing to Cooper Kupp and a little less valuable than throwing to Van Jefferson.
Of course, a tight end’s job is different than a receiver’s job and with 33 first downs, Higbee had nearly as many first downs as his career-high of 36 in 2019, when he went off in the final five games of the year. Higbee is only 29 and he’s signed for the next two seasons at $8 million and $7.6 million, respectively, so right now the value is there to be happy with the return.
Will the Rams extend him again or will one of the three names behind him emerge as a potential replacement?
Kendall Blanton - 6’6, 260 lbs, born: 11/10/1995
If the proof is in the pudding, then honestly the Rams’ other options at tight end are custardless. Blanton is by far the most experienced among them and yet he only has seven career regular season targets—and he’s already 26-years-old.
Blanton caught four passes for 37 yards with two first downs last season, but then he caught seven-of-seven targets in the playoffs, gaining 75 yards, five first downs, and a touchdown.
What was holding Blanton back from more snaps last season after Johnny Mundt went on IR? Is the blocking that detrimental? Sean McVay saw enough from his tight ends group to go through the 2022 draft without picking one, but the Rams did sign Jamal Pettigrew and Roger Carter afterwards.
For now, Blanton is the presumed TE2 entering offseason workouts. But maybe the Super Bowl told a different story.
Brycen Hopkins - 6’4, 245 lbs, born: 3/27/1997
What is reasonable to expect out of a fourth round tight end? Dating back to 1986, there have been 77 tight ends drafted in the fourth round. Of the 77, the three players to make a Pro Bowl in their career were Owen Daniels (2006, 98th overall), Julius Thomas (2011, 129th overall), and Jordan Cameron (2011, 102nd overall).
One who could join them soon is Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz, the 137th overall pick in the 2018 draft. Some of the others to step up and perform well as long-term starters include Levin Toilolo, Luke Stocker, Randy McMichael, Justin Peelle, Jacob Tamme, Roland Williams, Jackie Harris, Ron Hall, Brandon Manumaleuna, and Higbee.
Tight end is perhaps the second or third-hardest position to learn in the NFL and one of the rare positions where I believe patience is important enough to sometimes wait three or four years. In some cases, even more.
However, just because you are patient it does not mean that most players will eventually develop into the player who you hoped they would become. In fact, I would say the majority never come that close to having a net positive value in the NFL, especially when you get down to the fourth round.
But maybe Brycen Hopkins gave us a reason to hope. He was really starting to run out of time to do that.
Through two seasons, Hopkins played in 10 of 33 possible games, always as a healthy scratch when he was out. He’s been targeted exactly one time and caught a nine-yard first down. That’s a total of 61 regular season snaps over two years.
For all the “Dream Talk” all season, when Matthew Stafford entered the huddle on that final drive, it was Kupp, Jefferson, Ben Skowronek, and Brycen Hopkins out there. All 53 mattered. @gmfb— Peter Schrager (@PSchrags) February 18, 2022
In the playoffs, Hopkins didn’t see the field on offense until the Rams were short-handed in the Super Bowl against the Bengals. Hopkins then entered and caught all four of his targets, gaining 47 yards, breaking two tackles, and picking up three first downs.
Does McVay now feel like Hopkins can take that TE2 role that was left open after Gerald Everett’s 2021 departure? Will Hopkins step up to the plate and at least hit a few singles in training camp? It’s not too late, but there’s a major difference between “He’s been okay and we’re starting to see glimmers of hope” and what we’ve seen out of Hopkins. Which is “He’s been completely M.I.A. and now we’re starting to see glimmers of hope after two years of never seeing him at all.”
Jacob Harris - 6’5, 211 lbs, born: 4/16/1997
Speaking of being behind in development... Hopkins has been playing tight end for many years but only saw the field for significant snaps in the final game of last season. Harris is basically the same age but only started playing tight end one year ago.
Jacob Harris picked up football late in life after a dream of playing professional soccer. He played outside receiver at UCF, so playing in-line tight end will take a lot of time. He has the most insane athletic profile of any 6’5 player in the league maybe, but at 211 lbs is rail thin for the position. Then, unfortunately, he tore his ACL after nine games and wasn’t able to get much-needed reps for the last three months of the season/postseason.
A fascinating player for McVay to develop, it’s hard to expect much from Jacob Harris in 2022, especially as a tight end. If he does emerge and play some at the position this year, it’ll be an incredible sign that he’s picking things up very fast despite all that working against him.
It may be more likely to expect him to catch some targets out of the X or the slot.
Also: Kyle Markway, Pettigrew, Carter
How do you rate this position? Is it a strength, a weakness, and who do you think has the best chance to take over for Tyler Higbee in the future? How soon is that future?