LOS ANGELES -- No offense received more yards from the tight end position last season than the one Sean McVay ran for the Washington Redskins, which prompted Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead to make the following pronouncement:
"Expect big things from Tyler."
"Tyler" is Tyler Higbee, the 6-foot-4 tight end selected in the fourth round of last year's draft. Snead made that comment at the end of a response to a question about Higbee's production from the NFL scouting combine on March 2. Seven days later, the Rams released their starting tight end, Lance Kendricks, leaving Higbee as McVay's primary target from that position.
The Rams will eventually add more depth -- probably through a draft expected to be particularly rich at tight end -- but Higbee should expect a major spike in targets next season.
"We are going to be an offense that is going to involve the tight end in a variety of different ways," said McVay, hired as the Rams' head coach after three years as the Redskins' offensive coordinator.
Higbee was only targeted 29 times and caught 11 passes as a rookie last season, but McVay liked him coming out of Western Kentucky. He considers Higbee someone with "a nice catch radius. He can stretch the seam; he's got a good feel and savvy in the pass game. How we use him will yet to be determined, but he's a guy we're looking forward to getting on the grass with."
In the two years that McVay served as playcaller, the Redskins ran three-tight end sets on 184 offensive snaps, ranked seventh in the NFL during that time. (The Rams, by comparison, ran three-tight end sets on 51 snaps, ranked 25th). Washington's tight ends were fifth in targets (289), fifth in receiving yards (2,397) and tied for third in touchdowns (20) during that time. A bulk of that production was absorbed by Jordan Reed, who compiled 153 catches for 1,638 yards and 17 touchdowns from 2015-16. But the Redskins' tight end group took another step forward with the presence of veteran Vernon Davis, who added 44 catches for 583 yards in 2016.
McVay identified tight end as "a position that we’ll look very closely at moving forward.”
But he'll also rely in-house on Higbee, who, like Reed, profiles as a big, physical tight end who can also line up as a receiver and make an impact on the outside. The Rams used Higbee in that role frequently during the preseason last year, but Snead said a nagging knee injury suffered during training camp, among other ailments, set him back early in the regular season. Higbee was targeted only seven times through the first seven games, then received 22 targets over the next eight.
"Tyler started off real hot," Snead said. "In training camp, he was a big weapon for us. But then he ran into a few injuries that set him back. And when that occurs, your offense moves on. They're moving on to try and win games, and that's what happened to him. He got behind because of injuries and wasn't really able to recover from that until midway through the season, and then we started seeing him in the lineup and saying, 'That's really Higbee.' But with Sean, he uses tight ends; his offense has multiple tight ends -- a lot of times two, sometimes three. So, we expect big things from Tyler."