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Does Sean McVay need to draft a tight end this year?

Would Brock Bowers or a lower-ranked TE change the future of the Rams offense for the better?

Syndication: USA TODAY Jake Crandall / USA TODAY NETWORK

When you consider the Los Angeles Rams tight end usage in the Sean McVay era, workman-like may be best descriptor and play-making would likely be well down the list. Although McVay came to L.A. with a reputation for making tight ends a centerpiece, it hasn’t worked out that way.

It may very well have been his original intent. McVay inherited Tyler Higbee and his first draft choice in L.A. was tight end Gerald Everett (#44 in 2017), but it never worked out. The Higbee/Everett combo lasted four years and neither player really thrived. Although Brycen Hopkins came around in Round 4 of 2020, he was never able to carve out much play time. It’s been Higbee’s show and he’s been supported by a cast of undrafted free agents.

Next year is more of the same, but Higbee will be out rehabbing major knee surgery and his return, even late in the season, is up in the air. Currently available and under contract the Rams have Davis Allen, Hunter Long, Miller Forristall, and Nikola Kalinic.

Obviously, the room could stand an upgrade. Should the Rams dip into the thin 2024 pool of tight ends? Here’s a round-by-round look at the candidates.

Round 1

Brock Bowers - Georgia 6’ 4” 240 @ Georgia Bulldogs official site

Recognized as top tight end in the nation two years running. Too many All-American awards to list. Is he a wide receiver or tight end? No matter, he’s a matchup nightmare either way.

Not going to go on and on with superlatives. Here at TST, Ferragamo15 has provided a thourough review of his play. The only thing I will add is “tight end as big-time playmaker” is not a phrase often heard.

It was a high school Nike Sparq camp (and they originally rejected him) that started his meteoric rise. In his first timed 40, he used a lineman’s stance and clocked 4.5, today he’s a consensus generational talent and Top 10 NFL draft pick. If it weren’t for quarterbacks being drafted because of their high value, talent alone would put Bowers in the Top 5.

Round 2

Ja’ Tavion Sanders - Texas 6’ 3 3/4” 252lb., 32 5/8” arms, 9 7/8” hands, and 77 1/2” span @ Shrine Bowl

Five-star recruit under the “athlete” label, which basically means he can play his ass off, but his size doesn’t really fit into a traditional position box. Will be 21 as rookie, which is a plus and hints that he’s just scratching the surface.

Lines up out wide, in slot, inline. and on wing. Sinks hips on route breaks better than you would expect, uses big hands to catch, and can rack up yards after catch. Needs better ball security when running downfield. Willing to block, physical on down and whams. Needs to work on punching first inside against bigger defenders and striking/sustaining on the outside.

Texas had a lot of playmakers to spread the ball around to, but he was still a solid producer. It’s a lean class for tight ends, but I think that Sanders playmaker skills would be a prospect in a loaded year, he measured well and is expected to test well. A fine receiver-first addition.

Round 3

Ben Sinnott - Kansas State 6’ 4” 254 lb., 32”, 9 3/8” hands, and 78 1/8” span @ Senior Bowl

Receiving-first prospect that lined up at fullback, in the slot, outside, on the wing, and inline. Sinnott was a targeted part of the Kansa State offense and ran a lot mid-depth routes, not limited to short and underneath work

Great hands, catches away from his body and has the flexibility and hand/eye coordination to corral throws that are off target. Has a feel for finding soft/open areas in opposing coverage. Quickly transitions from catch to run. Adequate play speed, gets his RAC with north-south style and effort. He’s just serviceable as a blocker. Willing to be physical, particularly on run plays, but needs play strength and a lot of technique work pass blocking.

Former walk-on that rates as a high floor, low ceiling player. He wins because he has a deep understanding how to play tight end and gives maximum effort. Round 3 may be a little rich, but he had a solid Senior Bowl week and this year’s draft class is a bit thin.

Round 4

Theo Johnson - Penn State 6’ 6” 257 lb., 32 1/2” arms, 10” hands, and 81 1/4” span at Senior Bowl

One of my favorites this draft cycle, not flashy, but with a solid all-around game. Offensive production was good, not great. Penn State is known for its run-centric offense, running a lot of 12 and even 13 formations. But he’s loaded with receiving potential and already has a blocking mentality.

Johnson is a plus blocker with excellent form. Often inline and matched up against bigger defensive ends, stays low, sets a wide base, and keeps his punch inside. He clamps on with his arms extended and gets push with low leverage. Also very good blocking in space as a lead. He plays fast, has good hands, and showed more wiggle than you expect on screenplays.

Had a good week at the Senior Bowl and it was reported that there was buzz about him being the second tight end drafted. If so, that would make him a solid value in Round 4, where i have him pegged. Hey Canucks! He was the Number 1 prospect out of Canada.

Round 5

Jaheim Bell - Florida State 6’ 1 7/8” 244 lb., 32 7/8” arms, 9 7/8” hands , and 79 3/8” span @ Senior Bowl

Similar to Sinnott in as much as they are both so formation versatile and not the typical long, lanky tight end. Spent three years at South Carolina before transferring to the Seminoles for his senior season. At both stops, never was a full-time starter.

Built and plays like a running back, so it’s not surprising that had 84 carries in college. Much better blocker outside and in space, but not afraid to bang on leads bur needs better play strength. Appears agile and fluid when changing direction and moving laterally. Good, not great hands, transitions well and is a good runner with the ball.

Tough to get a lot of touches in Florida State’s group of playmakers, Bell got his on athleticism, not as a bully. Looks fast when running free, his draft position will be much better if he tests well.

Round 6

Jared Wiley- TCU 6’ 6” 253 lb., 33 3/8” arms, 93/8” hands, and 79 3/4” span @. Senior Bowl

Actually the prototype of today’s NFL tight end, long, athletic, good hands, and blocking skill is not the main trait. High school star went back and forth between QB and TE and did all the kicking. Spent three years as backup at Texas and one at TCU before breaking through in 2023.

Quite a talented receiver, stellar hands, catches away from his body, and knows how to use his length and body to box out. Good around the end zone with body control and contested catch ability. Has good enough long speed to cover ground, but not a powerful tackle breaker. Much work needed on play strength and blocking skills, TCU brings him in motion for wham blocks and he’s the one taking the brunt.

You can’t teach what this kid’s got, natural size, length, and athleticism. The blocking can be taught and a some strength/conditioning work would go a long way with Wiley.

Round 7

Trey Knox- South Carolina 6’ 3 3/8” 239 lb., 33 3/4” arms, 9 3/8” hands, and 79 7/8” span @ Hula Bowl

Graduate transfer from Arkansas, started off his career with starts in 17 of 33 games before moving to TE in 2022. Stellar length with room for more weight on a well-built frame.

As you would expect, Knox can track the football, catches away from his body and transitions to run well. Although his legs are spindly, he blocks pretty well outside. Inline and on the wing, he’s game and tries to lock out with his length, but needs a lot of play strength and awareness work.

His athletic testing will be interesting, he appears to play very fast in Arkansas film and could be a field stretcher in disguise. At South Carolina, his routes were mostly underneath. Their pass blocking was so bad they couldn’t provide enough time to run anything but simple, quick routes. A project? Yes, but with some nice starting skills.

Undrafted

Messiah Swinson - Arizona State 6’ 7” 260 lb., 33 3/8”arms, 10 1/2” hands, and 83 1/8” span @ Hula Bowl

If you’re going to draft a development project, find an athletic Frankenstein, not an under-sized try hard player, a monster. Swinson is huge, has length and moves well.

It’s not easy to find film on this guy, only Arizona State team highlights from 2023, two games from 2022 and a couple more games when he was at Missouri in 2021.

But there is a spark of something there. He’s actually a good inline blocker, squares up and puts his length to work, good footwork to mirror and a little edge to his game. Will need work as a receiver, as a designated blocker, he ran simple routes or checkdowns. Swinson appears athletic enough, he’s moves fluidly, looks to have good hands and is coordinated. Just not much experience as a receiver.

Fits for the Rams?

First the big conundrum. Who would be a bigger help on the 2024 roster? A free agent or mid-round draft pick?

Without Higbee, the tight end room is very thin and lacks experience. Injuries are the only things on Hunter Long’s resume. Davis Allen showed two things as a rookie, he’s got stellar hands but struggles as a blocker. Nikola Kalinic will be three years separated from his CFL experience and Miller Forristall has been a camp body.

If Bowers dropped to #19, it’s an east decision, so root for those quarterbacks to be drafted. Realistically, Theo Johnson in the mid-rounds would be my choice. His physicality, blocking technique, and athleticism gives him the chops to compete at the NFL level. Can he do it as a rookie?