The 2023 NFL Draft is shaping up to be one of the most important for the Los Angeles Rams in the Sean McVay era. The team is in between a Super Bowl winning roster and tearing it down to the studs, and their selections in this week’s draft could help pry open a new contention window over the next couple of seasons.
While the 2023 draft class has some shortcomings in terms of top offensive tackles and a lack of size at the receiver and corner positions, it doesn’t seem to get enough credit for the pending influx of talent at quarterback and tight end. Coming off a year where Kenny Pickett was the only signal caller taken in the first 32 picks, most are expecting four—maybe five—quarterbacks to go in round one. This is also a historic class at tight end where there are probably five or six players who would have ranked atop last year’s position group—and that sets up well for the Rams as Tyler Higbee enters the last year of his contract.
This is no slight against Higbee, who is probably the most productive tight end in Rams franchise history—it’s a fair conclusion based on the team moving away from costly veterans and looking to go cheaper and maintain a more long-term perspective. It’s difficult to picture Higbee returning to Los Angeles after his contract expires this season, and if they Rams come away from the draft with a top TE it might benefit them to move on sooner rather than later.
Why moving on now makes sense:
After acquiring Hunter Long from the Miami Dolphins as part of the Jalen Ramsey trade, LA could quickly face a log jam in terms of playing time at the position. Selecting a tight end in the first three rounds would leave Los Angeles with four players on the depth chart. The Rams predominantly play in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR’s), so without a considerable shift to more 12 personnel packages (1 RB, 2 TE’s, 2 WR’s) it’d be difficult for the rookie to get much meaningful playing time. With a year on his contract and a productive career, Higbee could quickly become the odd man out in this group.
This team was so special because every player seized their opportunity. TE Brycen Hopkins is yet another great example, on the grandest stage. 47 yards on 4 receptions and critical block on 4th down for Cooper Kupp. Great performance & way to seize the moment @Itsbhop89! pic.twitter.com/8WYQLXAoY0— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) February 15, 2022
With the McVay coaching tree sprouting branches across the NFL, perhaps there is a former assistant that has worked with Higbee and could use his reliable presence on his new team. Think Zac Taylor with the Cincinnati Bengals—they just lost Hayden Hurst to free agency this spring and are slated to start the oft-injured Irv Smith. Matt LaFleur and the Green Bay Packers are looking to build around a young quarterback in Jordan Love and could use all the veteran help they can get.
Moving on from Higbee would leave the Rams with Brycen Hopkins, who the Rams selected in the fourth round back in 2020, Long, and potentially a top rookie from this draft class. Los Angeles reportedly had Long graded as a third round prospect when he was drafted back in 2021. This group would certainly be unproven but would not lack talent and the ability to grow with the rest of a younger roster. Trading away Higbee before the start of 2023 would embrace the youth movement and allow the next nucleus to start developing.
Which top tight ends make sense for Rams in the Draft?
Blaine Grisak’s Snead’s Snacks: Tight ends who could replace Higbee
Who will go in the first round?
LA isn’t slated to make their first pick until the second round and 36 overall, though knowing general manager Les Snead and the fact the Rams have an almost-100 pick gap in rounds four and five there’s a strong potential they could move back.
Dalton Kincaid and Michael Mayer are considered the top two prospects in this year’s tight end class, and most mock drafts have included these two players. Kincaid might be the best overall pass catcher in the entire draft class due to the lack of size at the receiver position. Mayer is a well-rounded blocker and receiver, though he won’t wow you with his athleticism or ability to stretch the field.
Utah TE Dalton Kincaid had himself a day against USC.— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) April 22, 2023
Here are all 16 catches (on 16 targets) by Kincaid. pic.twitter.com/P5t5TG4bdv
Georgia’s Darnell Washington is another player that could be taken in the first 31 picks, as his 6-7, 264 lbs. frame and relatively athletic profile makes him a unique prospect. His ceiling projects as a sixth offensive lineman and someone who can create mismatches in the intermediate and red zone passing game.
Who’s left for Los Angeles at 36?
Top size/speed combo at @seniorbowl? It was Oregon State TE Luke Musgrave, who had 16th fastest max speed (20.05 mph) of any player…AT 255 lbs! Next heaviest who ran faster was Cincy LB Ivan Pace Jr (20.58 at 231 lbs). Trusted sources think Musgrave could run 4.4 at Combine. pic.twitter.com/qa3xtXm3WA— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) February 11, 2023
Luke Musgrave from Oregon State is the nephew of NFL offensive assistant coach Bill Musgrave. On paper Musgrave is a rare blend of size and athleticism, but his college career was marred with injuries—he played only two games during his last season.
South Dakota State’s Tucker Kraft isn’t as dynamic of a pass catcher as the names in front of him, but he’d still be ranked ahead of any of the names drafted in 2022 if he were a member of that draft class: Trey McBride, Cade Otton, and Greg Dulcich. Kraft had six-figure NIL offers from some of the top college programs but decided to remain in South Dakota where he thrived in both the run and pass game.
At 6-5 & 254 lbs, South Dakota State TE Tucker Kraft is No. 51 overall on @dpbrugler’s big board. He received an offer from Alabama to transfer in 2021, but stayed close to home. Kraft comes from a small town of 509 people & didn’t get much exposure in the 2019 recruiting class. pic.twitter.com/VIkBh2x17E— Kyle Lindemann (@LuckIsMadeFF) April 19, 2023
We know the Rams like Wisconsin offensive linemen, and perhaps there’s no safer bet than tight ends from Iowa. Dallas Clark, George Kittle, TJ Hockenson, and Noah Fant are some of the top former Hawkeyes, and Sam LaPorta could be the next household name from that group. Most rankings have LaPorta as the sixth member of this year’s crop, but this doesn’t do his skillset justice. He accumulated over 100 catches and 1,200 yards over his last two college seasons despite quarterback and overall offensive struggles. LaPorta might not have the star potential of Musgrave or Kraft, but he could step in as a capable starter almost immediately.
Sam LaPorta got a Beast Mode gear. Daaaaaaamn. pic.twitter.com/Xzn4aGmO3r— Adam Best (@Arrowhead_Adam) April 22, 2023
Names to watch in round three and later:
Michigan’s Luke Schoonmaker is one of the top blockers at the position. At 6-5, 251 lbs. and with a 4.63 40-yard dash, it seems he has the athletic profile to become a mismatch in the passing game—though that’s mostly a projection at this point.
Josh Whyle of Cincinnati is a relatively undersized pass catcher that could make an impact from the jump as a role player and situational contributor. At 6-6, 248 lbs., Whyle excels in the short and intermediate areas of the field and runs aggressively after the catch. It’s unlikely that he will become an every down contributor in an offense that asks him to block regularly, and he’ll already be 24 by the time the 2023 season rolls around.
TE Josh Whyle from @GoBearcatsFB is 6’6 and 260 pounds. He scored 15 TDs the last three seasons pic.twitter.com/w4aQqaV2jp— Barroom Network (@BarroomNetwork) February 2, 2023