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For 2nd time in career, Tyler Higbee forced into larger role due to Rams injuries

Higbee was cited as “most improved” tight end by SportsInfoSolutions

Los Angeles Rams v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Though moments like these never boost Tyler Higbee’s status in the NFL, for the second time in the last four years the Los Angeles Rams had to rely on him more because of injuries. In 2019, Higbee posted 69 catches and a still-career high of 734 yards, but 522 of those yards came in the final five games as Sean McVay had to tilt the offense in his direction as Brandin Cooks had all but disappeared from the plan.

Now with Matthew Stafford as the quarterback and Allen Robinson as a free agent bust, McVay again started feeding his tight end. Higbee finished with a career-high 108 targets (19 more than 2019), career-high 72 catches, 620 yards, and three touchdowns. Despite all the extra attention, the Rams couldn’t turn Higbee into a red zone threat: 16 targets inside the 20, eight catches, four first downs, three touchdowns.

Still, SportsInfoSolutions believes that by their measure, Higbee is the most improved tight end from 2021 in total “points per play”. (Which I believe is not touchdown points, but their measurement of points.)

It’s pretty strange because Higbee had 61 catches for 560 yards and five touchdowns in 2021, playing in two fewer games and getting 23 fewer targets. He score more times, had a higher catch rate, and more yards per target. He even had eight more first downs in 2021 than in 2022.

Measured as a receiver, you could definitely argue that 2022 was his Higbee’s worst season. Excluding his rookie season, Higbee posted career-lows in yards per catch (8.6) and yards per target (5.7) and his catch rate (66.7%) was the lowest it has been since his second year in the league. He was targeted 108 times but they were practically all dump offs (career low average depth of target of 3.0 yards, compared to 8.0 in 2020) and yet he dropped seven passes.

Higbee dropped three passes in each of the past two seasons, so he had more drops in 2022 than in 2020-2021 combined. Probably more than one of those drops led to an interception.

Yet who could be happier for Sean McVay’s return than Higbee? Set to make $9.125 million in 2023, Higbee is L.A.’s only option at tight end because efforts to replace or complement him have all failed. Notably, there are some great tight ends left in the NFL playoffs: Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Dawson Knox, Evan Engram, Dallas Goedert, Dalton Schultz, plus Hayden Hurst and Daniel Bellinger.

The Rams have Brycen Hopkins and Jared Pinkney as depth right now. Hopkins has eight catches for 118 yards through three seasons. Higbee has been utilized as L.A.’s only option at the position and that could be more of a problem than a solution.