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3 reasons why the Rams can afford to be thin at tight end

Though cutting Kendall Blanton was a surprise move, L.A. can get away with it this year

NFL: Houston Texans at Los Angeles Rams Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams made a surprise move after their second preseason game when they cut tight end Kendall Blanton. Blanton had been with the team since 2019 and stepped up last season when Tyler Higbee went down with an injury.

Blanton started two games at the end of the year and played 43 percent of the team’s snaps in the Super Bowl. During the playoffs he caught all seven passes that he was targeted for 75 yards and had a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

With how thin the Rams are at tight end, it was assumed that Higbee, Blanton, and Brycen Hopkins would be the top-three tight ends heading into the season. However, Blanton didn’t make it to final roster cuts and was immediately picked up by the Washington Commanders.

While cutting Blanton was certainly a surprise, the Rams offense is built for this style of roster construction. Here are three major reasons why the L.A. Rams will survive cutting Blanton and why it made sense.

1. The Emergence of Brycen Hopkins

Through the majority of the first two years of his career, Hopkins was invisible. The former fourth round pick was inactive for 11 games during his rookie year and played just two offensive snaps. This past season, he was inactive in nine of the first 10 games of the season.

It wasn’t until Week 12 against the Jacksonville Jaguars that Hopkins finally saw the field on offense. He had his first career catch late in the season for nine yards against the Seattle Seahawks.

However, it was the Super Bowl where Hopkins finally shined. He played a career-high 57 percent of the snaps on offense. Out of seemingly nowhere, he caught four balls for 47 yards. It’s worth noting that Hopkins did this after being inactive for the NFC Championship game.

Against the Cincinnati Bengals, Hopkins played a major role, blocking Sam Hubbard on fourth down to open up a hole for Cooper Kupp on a jet sweep. A few moments later, it was Hopkins that drew Von Bell down on Matthew Stafford’s infamous no-look pass across the middle.

Sometimes, all a player needs is confidence. That game seems to have done that for Hopkins.

This preseason against the Houston Texans, Hopkins had a team-high six catches for 41 yards. He also recorded a catch against the Chargers. It’s clear that the Rams trust Hopkins to do more and play a larger role in the offense.

It’s also worth mentioning Roger Carter here. Carter was a fullback/tight end hybrid player at Georgia State. He’s played a role and had an impact on special teams this preseason. If he doesn’t make the final roster, he’ll most certainly make the practice squad.

2. The Rams use their Wide Receivers as Blockers

Immediately following the Blanton news, Jacob Harris’ position designation switched from wide receiver to tight end. This is after Sean McVay specifically said last season that Harris would be moved to wide receiver.

Harris isn’t all of a sudden going to start lining up as in-line tight end. According to PFF, he has zero in-line snaps this preseason. However, the Rams are able to give a wide receiver the blocking responsibilities of a tight end because they expect their wide receivers to be able to block.

The way that the Rams have their wide receivers seal off edge players and linebackers is very much the same as a normal tight end. We saw this from Harris just last week against the Texans.

This is an example of a great block by Harris as he comes around to completely take the defensive end out of the play. Harris has the size to do it, but he may just not be a conventional “tight end”.

This is also an area in which Ben Skowronek excels. In his draft profile of Skowronek,’s Lance Zierlein actually noted:

“While Skowronek can make a roster as a backup receiver due to his matchup potential and overall skill level, a switch to move tight end would diminish his weaknesses and enhance his strengths. He’s a quick opener to eat up quick throws underneath, has the speed and athleticism to work the second level and occasionally get deep if teams aren’t careful about how they match up with him. He needs more weight but is already a plus run blocker who can handle blocking duties from the slot. Skowronek could be the next Robert Tonyan if given a chance at that spot.”

Skowronek was a good blocker at Notre Dame and that has translated to the NFL.

Skowronek comes across the formation and takes out the safety, Jaquiski Tartt. This block comes in the NFC Championship game and helps pop open a big run from Cam Akers.

Lastly, everyone knows the blocking ability of Cooper Kupp. Kupp was one of seven wide receivers last season with over 350 run-blocking snaps according to PFF. Kupp’s 73.5 grade in those snaps ranked No. 1.

While Kupp won the triple crown, leading the league in receptions, yards, and touchdowns, he also wasn’t afraid to do the dirty work.

On this specific play against the Jaguars, Kupp seals off the edge rusher and passes him off to Rob Havenstein. The Rams receiver then moves to the second level to take out the linebacker. These two blocks help open up a decent run from Sony Michel.

During that Jaguars game, the Rams also inserted a heavy package in which Joe Noteboom lined up as a sixth offensive lineman. Michel averaged 9.8 yards per carry on those plays. While the Rams may be thin at tight end, they have wrinkles in their offense to make up for it.

3. 11 Personnel

It’s no secret that the Rams love using 11 personnel on offense. Last season, Los Angeles ran 11 personnel on 86-percent of its offensive snaps via Sharpe Football Analytics. That number led the NFL with the next closest being the Bengals at 77 percent. Doing the math here, this means that the Rams ran 11 personnel almost 10 percent more than any other team.

Sean McVay also had success with this personnel grouping. Out of 11 personnel, the Rams ran a successful play on 56 percent of their snaps which tied with the Buccaneers for the best in the NFL.

Contrarily, the Rams ran just 12 percent of their plays out of 12 personnel. Only the San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills, and Baltimore Ravens ran that personnel grouping less. The Rams success rate in 12 personnel also ranked at the bottom of the league, being the only team under a 40 percent success rate.

If three or more wide receivers are on the field 88 percent of the time, it doesn’t make sense to hold four tight ends just for the sake of doing so. This is especially the case when the team uses as many wide receivers as it does.

Last season five receivers played more than 100 snaps on passing plays. Additionally, those five receivers played over 15 percent of the season’s total offensive snaps. Many of the receivers on the roster do different things and McVay does a great job of putting these players in positions to maximize their skillset.

This is a big reason why it makes sense for the Rams to keep seven receivers on the roster - eight if you include Harris. With the emergence of Lance McCutcheon, the Rams needed to make an adjustment elsewhere on the roster.

It’s unknown whether or not McCutcheon will make the initial 53-man roster. However, with how he’s performed in the preseason, it would be a bit of a shock. With injuries to Robert Woods and Odell Beckham Jr. last season, the Rams ended a little thin at the wide receiver position. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them keep too many receivers rather than too few.

As mentioned earlier, Harris gives also adds versatility to play wide receiver and tight end.

While the Rams may be thin at tight end, it shouldn’t be anything to fret over. Their offense is built for it. Hopkins stepped up in a way that wasn’t expected heading into this season and the front office certainly didn’t expect an undrafted free agent wide receiver from Montana State to emerge in the way that McCutcheon did.

When McVay’s offense is centered around 11 personnel as much as it is and the Rams wide receivers block as much as they do in the way that they do, they can afford to be more thin at tight end than other teams.