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Rams Roster Profile: Will TE Brycen Hopkins finally emerge in the offense?

Can Brycen Hopkins finally emerge as a threat in the passing game in the Rams offense?

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NFL: Los Angeles Rams Minicamp Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The tight end position remains one of the most difficult position to transition to from college to the NFL. This is something that the Los Angeles Rams have experienced first-hand with tight end Brycen Hopkins.

Hopkins was one of the best receiving tight ends in college football and Purdue, but after three years, has yet to fully adjust to the NFL. Entering a contract year and with uncertainty surrounding Tyler Higbee’s future, this will be a big season for Hopkins. Will he finally reach his potential in the Rams offense?

Between now and the Rams’ first preseason game, I’m going to preview approximately 45 players on the roster. The goal here will be to highlight players looking to take that next step in 2023 as well as players who will serve as key depth on the roster. I may expand into the occasional star or roster-bubble player, but for the most part we’ll be looking at the players who will truly make or break the Rams season.

Today, we’re looking at Brycen Hopkins.

2022 Season in Review

There was a lot of optimism for Hopkins entering the 2022 season. While Higbee was injured during the Super Bowl, Hopkins finished with four catches for 47 yards. It was Hopkins who lured Von Bell down on Matthew Stafford’s infamous no-look pass. He also had the critical block on fourth down to allow Cooper Kupp to extend the game-winning drive.

However, it was another middling season for Hopkins. He finished with just seven receptions for 109 yards. Most of that production came in one game in which he had three receptions for 57 yards against the Denver Broncos. With Hopkins, the talent is clearly there. When he’s had opportunities, he’s produced. The question is, why isn’t he getting those opportunities more often?

The Good/Best Case Scenario

The Rams need to be able to run more 12 personnel in 2023 and that means a tight end like Hopkins is going to need to step up. The most efficient personnel grouping to pass out of last season was 12 personnel and the Rams ran it just four percent of the time. It’s imperative that a second tight end emerges as a threat in the offense.

There’s no reason why the second tight end behind Higbee can’t be Hopkins. It’s a small sample size, but among tight ends with at least 10 targets, Hopkins’ 15.6 yards per reception in 2022 ranked second in the NFL. His 10.6 yards in average depth of target also ranked seventh. He clearly has potential to be a downfield receiving threat as a tight end and be a player who can move the chains. In 12 career receptions in the regular season, nine have gone for a first down.

The best case scenario for Hopkins is for him to emerge as a second receiving tight end in the Rams offense. The McVay offense had this in 2017 and 2018 with Higbee and Gerald Everett. Heading into year four, it’s time for Hopkins to show what he can do.

The Bad/Worst Case Scenario

Is Hopkins a bust or is he a player that the Rams simply got wrong in their development? The answer to that question is probably somewhere in between. When Hopkins arrived in Los Angeles as a fourth-round pick in 2020, the Rams tried to make him a blocking tight end to replace Johnny Mundt. That was never Hopkins’ game. A tight end needs to be able to block, especially in the McVay system, but the Rams were trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

The Rams drafted Davis Allen in round five and also acquired Hunter Long from the Miami Dolphins in the Jalen Ramsey trade. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Rams keep four tight ends on the roster. Still, they very easily could keep three.

A bad scenario for Hopkins is that he gets surpassed by Hunter Long despite him just arriving this offseason. The absolute worst case for Hopkins is that he falls down the depth chart in training camp and the Rams cut him.

Biggest Question: Will Brycen Hopkins finally emerge in the offense?

The 2023 season will be a big one for Hopkins. He’s entering a contract year and has eight career receptions in the regular season. As the tight end with the second-most experience in the offense behind Higbee, it’s time for him to emerge a true receiving threat.

Early on in his career, Hopkins may not have seen the field due to his ineffectiveness as a blocker. He finished with just a 46.7 run-blocking grade in 2021 according to Pro Football Focus. It’s worth noting that number increased significantly last season as he was the best run-blocking tight end on the Rams with a grade of 62.7. That number also ranked 20th among 57 qualifying tight ends in the NFL.

As mentioned earlier, the Rams went out and acquired Long in a trade and then drafted Allen in the fifth-round. It’s true that tight end depth was a need heading into the offseason. With that being said, the Rams didn’t just add one tight end. McVay clearly wants to see more from his tight ends outside of Higbee. Higbee and Hopkins are on expiring contracts, but these additions still speak volumes.

We’ve seen flashes of what Hopkins can do as a receiver. Still, those flashes are few and far between.

Roster Battle

There are some that will believe that Hopkins is competing for a roster spot and that the Rams will keep just three tight ends. That may be the case and it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see Hopkins get cut. Still, if the Rams are looking to run heavier personnel, keeping four tight ends on the roster makes a lot of sense.

The real competition at tight end comes at the number two spot behind Higbee. Hopkins may be the favorite as he has more experience in the offense. However, Long was a third-round pick in 2021 and Allen should add some value as a blocker early in his career. With what Hopkins has done to this point in his career, this looks to be a wide open competition.

Hopkins will be working to stay ahead of Long on the depth chart, but that won’t be an easy task. This is going to be one of the more intriguing roster battles this summer.

2023 Outlook and What to Expect

This is a “prove it year” for Hopkins as he enters the season on an expiring contract. He needs to be able to show that he can be a solid TE2 in an offense. The Rams have missed this since Gerald Everett left and Hopkins and struggled to fill that void. There will be a lot of competition at the tight end position and at the end of the day, that could make players like Hopkins better. However, that also means that nothing will be guaranteed.

I do think Hopkins has made strides, especially as a blocker. Will that be enough to earn him more playing time? Everett finished with 33 receptions for 320 yards in 2018. Following a season with 109 yards in 2022, it should be expected for Hopkins to take that type of jump.

Chances of Making Final Roster

Hopkins’ spot on the roster isn’t guaranteed, but it would take a lot for him to get cut. Long, Allen, and an undrafted free agent such as Christian Sims would all need to have a really impressive training camp. Outside of Higbee, Hopkins has the most experience in the Rams offense.

Final Roster Confidence: 8.5/10