The Los Angeles Rams have had one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL under head coach Sean McVay. Since McVay took over, no team has scored more points than the Rams, Jared Goff went from draft “bust” to “franchise quarterback”, Robert Woods has led one of the most prolific wide receiver groups in the NFL, and Todd Gurley became a staple in MVP conversations.
The Rams have made significant strides at the quarterback, running back, and wide receiver positions. However, one position is still lacking and it’s one McVay should be familiar with, tight end.
From 2011-2013, McVay was the tight ends coach for the Washington Redskins. Under his coaching, a tight end ranked second on the team in receiving yards in two of his three years. In 2011 Fred Davis tallied a career-high 799 yards with Rex Grossman throwing the football. Then in 2013 Jordan Reed broke onto the scene with 499 yards and a career-best 11.1 yards per reception. Subsequently, McVay was eventually promoted to offensive coordinator.
The Rams haven’t gotten much production from the tight end spot over the past two seasons, despite drafting Gerald Everett in the second round in McVay’s first draft. Everett has yet to break 350 yards in a season and has only once eclipsed more than 50 receiving yards in a game. Unequivocally, that includes last year, when Cooper Kupp was out for the season with a torn ACL, and Everett had the opportunity to be the Rams’ prime receiving target over the middle.
Of course, let’s not also forget about Tyler Higbee, the Rams’ fourth-round pick in 2016. Higbee hasn’t recorded more than 25 receptions and 300 total yards in a single season.
When the Rams went to 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) in the Super Bowl, the Patriots never treated Everett as a legitimate threat. Typically, the Rams have used 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) more than any team in the league. Entering Week 16 the Rams had used non-11 personnel groupings on only six offensive plays with Jared Goff under center. No team utilized 11 personnel more than the Rams (89%) last season, and only the New England Patriots (5%) and Oakland Raiders (10%) used 12 personnel less (13%).
That all changed drastically after Week 15. The Rams went from using 11 personnel 95% of the time to just 69%. From Week 16 to the Super Bowl, the Rams used 12 personnel an astounding 27% of the time, a 25% increase. Only the Baltimore Ravens (28%), Kansas City Chiefs (31%), and Philadelphia Eagles (38%) used dual tight end sets more.
Unfortunately, with Everett and Higbee, the Rams have not been able to fully maximize the 12 personnel group. This has come as a surprise given McVay’s background. The Rams have been able to get away with primarily one personnel grouping due to McVay’s offensive design. The abilities of Gurley and that receiving corps perfectly fits what the Rams want to do while in 11 personnel, but there is reason to believe the Los Angeles backfield would improve with a heavier dosage of two tight ends.
When Everett was selected, many made both stylistic and schematic comparisons to Jordan Reed. So far, he has underperformed in Los Angeles.
The Rams need a tight end who can play on and off the line of scrimmage that can also impact the passing game, particularly in the middle of the field. The NFL has seen tight ends such as Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce, and Rob Gronkowski change offenses because of their skillset. If the Rams solve this need, their already explosive offense will become even more dangerous.
Enter Kyle Rudolph
Unless the Vikings shockingly cut Kyle Rudolph, the Rams would have to trade for the 29-year old tight end. Given that Rudolph is on the last year of his deal, one with a $7.625M cap hit, that trade would also most likely need to come with a new deal – something he turned down from the Vikings earlier this offseason.
General manager Les Snead has not been shy about making blockbuster moves. In 2016, Snead traded a plethora of draft picks to move up to the first overall pick to select Goff. Then, in McVay’s first year, he traded for wide receiver Sammy Watkins. While that didn’t work out, turning out to be the equivalent of a one-year rental, the Rams moved on, though Snead traded for cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, as well as wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
Snead isn’t afraid to make moves. Moreover, it has become clear that the Rams’ window to win is now, while Goff is still on his cheap rookie contract.
While Rudolph’s cap hit is significant, the trade price may not be. Any leverage the Vikings had in Rudolph trade negotiations diminished when they selected tight end Irv Smith Jr. out of Alabama in the second round, making him the apparent replacement of Rudolph.
At 29, Rudolph isn’t “old” by any means and can still contribute at an effective clip. He caught a career-high 78 percent of passes thrown his way last season, finishing with 64 receptions for 634 yards and four touchdowns, all top-10 totals in the league. With a potential upgrade at quarterback, Rudolph may see even more efficient numbers.
In the franchise’s history, the Rams have never had a tight end eclipse 60 receptions in a season; something Rudolph has done twice in his career. His 634 yards last season would have tied Jared Cook for the fourth most in Rams history, too.
The Rams simply haven’t had a tight end of Rudolph’s caliber. His 535 receiving yards from the slot last season trailed just Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce, and Jimmy Graham. His 29 receptions and four touchdowns from the slot also ranked top-5 among tight ends according to Pro Football Focus.
Let’s take it even further in another area where the Rams have struggled, the red zone. While the Rams have excelled in most other areas, they ranked only 19th in red zone efficiency last season. That was down from 17th in 2017.
Rudolph is only one of 12 players to record 15 or more red zone touchdowns since 2016. His 16 are tied for the third most among tight ends in the last three years.
The Los Angeles Rams have not been rumored to be interested in Rudolph, and a trade is relatively unlikely. However, the need for a big-play tight end is there, as the Rams need Everett to break out in 2019. If the Rams can get production out of another facet of their offense, it will make a great offense even better, and help a Super Bowl contender get that much closer to the ultimate goal.