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If Rams want to draft a tight end, these late-round options could be great fits

Prospects with NFL traits abound in later rounds

Clemson v Florida State
Davis Allen stiff arms an opponent and breaks away
Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

As long-time Los Angeles Rams fans have seen, the role of tight ends in the offense has changed. Gone are the days of plodders who were used mostly as sixth offensive linemen, they have been replaced in great numbers by oversized wide receivers. Just as NFL offenses have morphed, so have the duties of the tight end.

The average NFL tight end measures in at 6’ 4” 1/2” 249 lbs. and the average secondary player comes in at 6’ 199 lbs. making for a substantial size mismatch. Linebackers come in 6’ 2” 241 lbs., so the move towards fast, agile tight ends offers offensive schemes another mismatch. As a general rule, humans with taller, leaner bodies have longer arms and wingspans, another advantage.

The necessary traits of tight ends are many, but three standout. Hands, instincts, and grit. Working underneath defensive shells, reliable hands give the quarterback a comfort blanket to check down or move the chains without worrying about ricochets settling into coverage hands. Creating separation is always important for receivers, but having the instincts and feel for zone coverages and where to to settle in may be more important for tight ends. And finally, grit. No matter how much finesse a player has, it’s a tough, physical position and if you cannot fight off defenders, you’ll be bullied.

Oddly enough, there is some research that shows that tight ends drafted in Rounds 1 through 6 sustain more value than other positions. This research also opines that if you do not draft elite talent, the average success of Rounds 2 through 6 are all fairly similar.

Taking that to heart, here’s an introduction to the tight ends with later round grades on my board. Only Hunter Luepke has a Round 7 grade, mainly because projecting that round is so subjective and there are four or five others that could easily fit. Again, I have included the grades and rankings from Lance Zierlein of NFL. com.

For more context:

Should the Rams draft a tight end at #36?

Rams can find tight end value in rounds 3 and 4

Round 5, 6, and 7

Davis Allen, Clemson - 6’ 6” / 245 lbs. / 10” hands / 32 1/4” arms @ NFL Combine (6.19, #100)

22 year-old who split time in his first three seasons before taking over in 2022, logged 25 starts at Clemson. How much will NFL teams hold his lack of speed against him? The other parts of his game appear solid. His ball skills are stellar. Stellar hand/eye coordination, soft hands, body control, and leaping ability. Has a lot of highlight reel contested catches, a lot of it is skill, but he doesn’t create great separation. Not a powerful blocker or mauler, he uses his inside punch and arm extension to lock out and screen off foes. With his effort and a little lower body play strength, he could be a good blocker

Payne Durham, Purdue - 6’ 6”/ 253 lbs. / 9 3/4” hands / 33 3/8” arms @ NFL Combine (5.83, #242)

Similar to Davis Allen, a good football player who lacks top end athleticism. I think the two are much closer in overall talent level than draft expert Lance Zierlein. Won’t stretch the defense down the seam but moves smoothly and is fearless across the middle. Good blocking technique, extends his arms and locks out in pass pro. Called on to run block on reach, chip/climb, and wham out of motion. Very good hands and aggressive run after catch style, using straight arms, power, and effort. 23 years old and All Big10 in academics. Stood out at Senior Bowl workouts.

Josh Whyle, Cincinnati - 6’ 6 1/2” / 248 lbs. / 9 1/2” hands / 31 1/2” arms @ NFL Combine (6.14, #126)

Another wide out playing tight end. Good pass receiver, but just doesn’t offer much in the way of blocking. Tall and lean build, will turn 24 at the start of the NFL season. Looks longer on film than he measured and is a sneaky good athlete. Very good hands and body control, makes good adjustments to poor passes and contested catches. Long strider can close space to defender quickly. Right now he is one-dimensional, a fairly polished receiver. He seems willing and has the tools to become a blocker, just needs more strength and feistiness. One draft site gave his pro comparison as, wait for it— Tyler Higbee.

Zack Kuntz, Old Dominion - 6’ 7” / 255 lbs. / 10 1/4” hands / 34” arms @ NFL Combine (5.90, #209)

Originally recruited to and played three seasons at Penn State. High school state champ in 110 high hurdles. Suffered a dislocated knee last season and it was the Rams team surgeon who did the repair job. He’s another player you're going to draft on projection. He showed out at the NFL Combine and earned a 10.00 RAS score, but only had 15 starts and 88 catches over five college seasons. Very good receiver skills, much better receiver than blocker right now. The decision is do you develop him as split out, move tight end or work hard on his play strength and mass for some reps inline.

Will Mallory, Miami - 6’ 4 1/2” / 239 lbs. / 9 3/8” hands / 32 1/4” arms @ NFL Combine (5.80, #265)

Experienced receiver played in 58 college games with 37 starts, turns 24 in June. Had a good showing at the NFL combine, recorded fastest forty time (4.54) of tight ends. Has the speed to threaten the seam and stop and go agility for underneath routes. Good hands and body control to corral errant throws. Shows a tendency to body catch too often. Good runner after the catch. Will need work as a blocker, not a real good inline , but is better striking in space. Definitely needs lower body strength to improve. Hard to put a jacket on a player who had three different head coaches and four different offensive coordinators.

Hunter Luepke, North Dakota State - 6’ 1” / 230 lbs. / 9 5/8” hands / 31 1/2” arms @ NFL Combine (5.94, #187)

The wildcard. Most pundits list him as a running back, but I project him as fullback/tight end hybrid. Although he’s not built like either position’s prototype, he has their positive traits. He is a power runner, has very soft hands and is willing and successful blocker. He’s a player who offers some value as a 3rd down back. Imagine a cross between Malcom Brown and Gerald Everett. A player who can catch and block out of the backfield or off the wing and appears to have the speed to run jet and counter sweeps. Yes, he’s at his best as a downhill runner, but has the vision and burst to be a one cut zone runner.

Late rounds are not about star power

Go for those playmakers in Rounds 1 and 2, find some value in Rounds 3 and 4, and flesh out your roster in Rounds 5, 6, and 7. Unearth rotational players, special teams demons, and maybe grab a guy with a freakish, athletic upside.

Zach Kuntz is that athletic freak you want to develop. Will Mallory is too, but to a lesser extent. His coaching has been a circus, he is fast, knows how run downfield, and was a top high school recruit. For a quick throw, spread team, Josh Whyle is a great fit. Luepke is a Swiss Army knife, that could help an innovative coach in many ways. Durham and Davis, my two favorites, could provide a quarterback a comfort blanket with their stellar hands and football IQ.

Yeah sure, it would be great if the Rams found an All-Pro at this juncture, but keeping it real, we’re looking for TE#2 or #3 here, anything more is gravy.