NFL teams are required to trim their rosters to 80 players by Tuesday, and the Los Angeles Rams released five players this weekend after their Friday night exhibition game against the Houston Texans. Among those cuts was a relative surprise - LA released veteran tight end Kendall Blanton, an offensive hero of last year’s NFC championship game.
Blanton’s release and subsequent waiver claim by the Washington Commanders leaves just Tyler Higbee, Brycen Hopkins, Roger Carter, and Jared Pinkney in the tight end room.
The Commanders claimed former Rams TE Kendall Blanton off of waivers.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) August 21, 2022
While Higbee has never reached a “star” level of production over his six years in Los Angeles, he’s a mainstay on the field when healthy - starting 15 regular season games each of the last five years. In his first season with quarterback Matthew Stafford, Higbee recorded the second-best year of his career: catching 62 passes for 560 yards and 5 touchdowns. It’s reasonable to expect the same level of production from the veteran in 2022.
Less certain are the contributions the team will get from younger players at the position.
Hopkins hauled in all 6 of his targets against Houston for 41 yards, and this follows his performance in Super Bowl LVI where he caught 4 passes for 47 yards. It’s possible, if not likely, that the Rams believe Hopkins has taken a step forward in his third year, perhaps pushing Blanton out of Los Angeles.
Brycen Hopkins made a case in his fight for the #2 TE spot. 6 catches for 41 yards, including a nice 4th down conversion when Wolford was under pressure.— Mitch Blatt NFL and IDP News (@MitchBlattNFL) August 20, 2022
Undrafted free agent Roger Carter is an intriguing young player, though he’s a bit short for a tight end at 6-2, 250 lbs. While it’s entirely possible that the rookie has impressed the Rams on the practice field, we haven’t seen him be productive during the preseason. Through the two exhibition games, Carter has been targeted only once - which he converted into a 14-yard reception.
Carter also has some position flexibility and can line up in the backfield as a fullback, which could be what keeps him in LA over someone like Blanton. As teams continue to adopt the Vic Fangio and Brandon Staley defensive schemes that feature two-high shells, fullbacks are making a bit of a comeback around the league. Light boxes, where teams swap out a front-seven defender for a coverage player, invite opposing offenses to run the football - and Sean McVay and the Rams could send in their RSVP with Carter as the lead blocker.
It’s also possible that the Rams release Carter ahead of the cutdown to the initial 53-man roster, opting to go into the season with just Higbee and Hopkins on the team. If this ends up being the case, Los Angeles could look to add a veteran at the position - and this could be a savvy approach because it’s a difficult position that takes young players time to acclimate.
The Kendall Blanton cut is a big one and says multiple things:— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) August 20, 2022
- Rams want to keep extra WRs, maybe as many as 8 (as previously noted)
- May need to keep 3QBs/4RBs.
- Brycen Hopkins, Lance McCutcheon, Jacob Harris all made strong cases in camp and preseason. https://t.co/359rVka2UC
In a way Kendall Blanton’s improbable playoff production proved that the Rams could make due in the short-term without the reliable Tyler Higbee. The third-year development of Brycen Hopkins leap-frogged him into the second notch on the depth chart, though time will tell if he’s truly taken a step forward. The position flexibility of Roger Carter could give the Rams more options as roster spots become more and more scarce.
All of these things combined explain the surprising release of Blanton, whose time with the Rams will forever be marked by his performance in the NFC championship game.