Tyler Higbee: Breakout or Trap? | Draft Sharks

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Tyler Higbee: Breakout or Trap?

By Jared Smola 10:06am EDT 6/11/20

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What You Need to Know:

  • Higbee led all TEs in PPR and non-PPR points over the final 5 games of 2019.
  • That followed 3 mostly quiet seasons to open his career — and getting out-targeted by Gerald Everett over his first 10 games of last year.
  • Higbee is the clear favorite for lead TE duties heading into 2020, but exactly how big a role he’ll play in the passing game is uncertain.

A huge finish to 2019

We simply don’t see what Higbee did over the final 5 games of last season very often. He ripped off 4 straight 100-yard games from Week 13 to 16 — and then went for 84 yards in the season finale. In total, Higbee tallied 43 catches, 522 yards and 2 TDs over those last 5 games. That was 9 more catches and 83 more yards than any other TE had during that stretch. Higbee scored 23.2 more PPR points and 1.2 more non-PPR points than anyone else at his position. He was a true league-winner.

Quiet for his first 3.5 seasons

That massive production came out of nowhere. Higbee posted an 11-85-1 line as a rookie back in 2016, 25-295-2 in 2017 and 24-292-2 in 2018. He reached 50 yards in 2 of 48 games over those 3 seasons.

Even last year, Higbee was mostly quiet over his first 10 games, totaling just 26 catches, 212 yards and 1 TD. He didn’t hit 50 yards in any of those games. In fact, Higbee wasn’t even the Rams’ lead TE during that stretch. He was out-targeted 59 to 33 by Gerald Everett.

What happened?

So what caused the Higbee explosion over those final 5 games? First, Everett missed the first 3 of them with a knee injury, played 4 snaps in the 4th and was active but didn’t play in the 5th. So Higbee dominated the TE action.

Second, the Rams shifted to a more TE-friendly offense. They had 2+ TEs on the field on just 11% of their plays over the 1st half of the season. That spiked to 30% over the 2nd half. Higbee played 85+% of the offensive snaps in each of those final 5 games after he and Everett combined to reach an 85% snap share just once over the first 11 games (Everett in Week 3). The Rams also targeted their TEs more in the 2nd half (28.2% target share) than the 1st (21.7%).

So it was really a perfect storm for Higbee. That doesn’t mean his performance wasn’t super impressive, though. He hauled in 77% of his targets and averaged 12.1 yards per catch over that stretch. His 9.3 yards per target would have ranked 5th among 38 qualifying TEs on the season. Higbee ranked 3rd among 43 qualifiers in yards per route run over those final 5 weeks.

2020 outlook

It’s also worth noting that the Rams gave Higbee a 4-year, $29 million extension last September. Everett, meanwhile, is set to hit free agency next offseason. So the smart money is on Higbee remaining the Rams’ lead TE in 2020. But don’t expect Everett to disappear.

“Really, really excited about what Gerald Everett’s going to do,” HC Sean McVay said in April “I think Tyler Higbee did a phenomenal job, but I think Gerald Everett’s a guy that I’ve got to do a better job of utilizing his skill set because he’s a difference-maker. But he’s got to get the opportunities and I think that starts with some of the things I know I can do a better job of.”

So we’ll be looking for clues this summer about how targets will be divvied between Higbee and Everett and whether the Rams will stick with the more TE-centric offense they deployed over the 2nd half of last season.

Draft Sharks Bottom Line:

Higbee has a wide range of outcomes this season. We saw the ceiling over the final 5 weeks of 2019, when he led all TEs in PPR and non-PPR points. But he was also quiet over his first 3 NFL seasons and was even out-snapped and out-targeted by TE Gerald Everett over the first 11 games of last year.

We’re expecting Higbee to be the Rams’ lead TE in 2020. But exactly how big a role he’ll play in the passing game remains uncertain. It leaves Higbee as a risk/reward TE1 pick in fantasy drafts.

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