In what is considered to be a strong overall class, do the the Los Angeles Rams really need to dip into the tight end pool? Well, yes and no. While it is true that L.A. currently has three tight ends under contract, incumbent Tyler Higbee, little-used Brycen Hopkins, and newly-acquired Hunter Long, a deeper look shows this is a position of future need.
Higbee has been a solid return on the Rams Round 4 investment back in 2016, but he’s 30 years old and his contract concludes after the 2023 season. Hopkins is also in his final contract year, and while he’s played fairly well in small doses, has only grabbed eight passes and logged 234 snaps over his first three years. Long is a Miami Dolphins 2021 Round 3 pick with a similar career arc to Hopkins and his former coaches were unsure about his commitment to football.
The bad news is that L.A. has eight of 11 draft picks in Rounds 5, 6, and 7. The good news is that there will be good tight end prospects that fall into the later rounds and can be of good value. Over the last 11 years, 155 tight ends have been chosen, 14 per year. and it has been consistently right around that number from year to year (Never over 19 and never under 10). I have 15 tight ends and one wildcard on my draft board. I have included the grades and big board ranking from Lance Zierlein of NFL.com in parentheses.
Round 1 and 2
Michael Mayer, Notre Dame 6’ 4 1/2” / 249 lbs. / 9 1/2” hands / 31 5/8” arms @ NFL Combine (6.44, #18)
21 year-old, true junior with 28 starts and garnered All-America honors in all three college seasons. Mayer is a balanced package of size, athleticism, and physicality, not the best in any one facet, but when looked on as a body of work, he consistently does everything that position demands. Appears to run good routes and create his own separation. doesn’t require stack sets or motion to find space. Nice hands and willing to play over the middle. Has a wide frame and knows how to leverage it and screen off defenders. As a blocker, you’d like to see him play a little lower for better leverage, work on keeping his punch on the defenders chest plate, and work on getting his arms extended and locking up.
Michael Mayer tossing a safety around. pic.twitter.com/Kt2rydHtxB— Greg Brandt (@devywarehouse) November 28, 2021
Luke Musgrave, Oregon State - 6’ 6” / 253 lbs. / 10 3/8” hands / 32 5/8” arms @ NFL Combine (6.49, #13)
With his wingspan, big, soft hands speed, he’s a true weapon down the seam and can easily get behind the secondary. Has stellar burst off the line and his long strides close distance to defender fast. He doesn’t fear stretching out over the middle, naturally catches away from his body, and is agile enough to react to offline throws. Was the Beavers “receiving tight end” and shared play time with a predominantly blocking teammate. He’s willing enough, just needs to learn to use his length and gain some play strength. The team that drafts him will do so on his tremendous athletic upside, because his college production was 15 starts, 47 catches and two touchdowns.
Luke Musgrave is going to be a problem in the NFL.— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) February 2, 2023
The @BeaverFootball TE putting in a show at the Senior Bowl pic.twitter.com/HUNEAQ5LPh
Dalton Kincaid, Utah - 6’ 4” / 246 lbs. / 10 1/4” hands/ 32 5/8” arms @ NFL Combine (6.48, #14)
Only one season of high school football, basketball was his interest and you can see that background in his ball skills. Spent two seasons at FCS San Diego, before settling in at Utah. Gifted receiver, who fits best as a move tight end in a pass-centric spread offense. Not that he’s a bad blocker. He’s willing to mix it up and screens off well, but his game is as a downfield weapon, not an inline bruiser. Stellar ball skills. Catches away from his body with hands, reacts very well to off line passes, and has the body control to to reach passes that are behind, low, or high. Shows very strong in contested catches.
Dalton Kincaid is really good at Football #RuleTheJungle pic.twitter.com/Nv0kCjOL2w— Just Eric (@JUSTERIC__) March 21, 2023
Darnell Washington, Georgia - 6’ 7” / 264 lbs. / 11” hands / 34 3/8’ arms @ NFL Combine (6.38, #34)
I don’t think he’s quite the dominant blocker that many pundits do, looks more like a leaner and pusher. He is a smart blocker though, and uses his length to screen off well, just like to see a little more tenacity. As a blocker and receiver, his size and length certainly creates mismatches. Has good hand/eye coordination, transitions from catch to run well for such a large guy, and can be a monster running after the catch. He has enough speed to run away or the size, power, and contact balance to run over defenders. He is a little Frankenstein-ish when getting started and in tighter areas, but when he gets those strides going, smaller secondary players will have to seriously consider how to approach making a tackle.. And every linebacker, safety, and corner will be smaller. His athletic upside will likely get him drafted much earlier than I grade him.
Alien pic.twitter.com/VcpHtt1ZRD— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) March 5, 2023
Should the Rams consider any of these prospects?
Mayer has the all-round game that I prefer. But the way tight ends are projected these days, receiving and playmaking skills get the run, Musgrave and Kincaid fit into this area. Washington, although to a lesser extent than Mayer, combines both receiving and blocking potential. I have late Round 1 grades on Mayer, Musgrave, and Kincaid with Washington grading in late Round 2.
L.A. does expect their tight ends to block, both inline and out in space. That would seem to lean towards Mayer or Washington. The Rams experiments with athletic tight ends like Gerald Everett and Jacob Harris have had mixed results, but it should be noted that neither were at the top of their draft class.
At #36, Mayer would appear to be a safe, high floor selection with plug and play capabilities. There is a higher risk that comes with the others, but it’s very possible that all four get snapped up before the Rams get a pick. Yes, the Rams should consider a tight end, and if Mayer were to fall, he should be considered. But in this class, there should be plenty of value to be found in the middle rounds.