Usually when a guy who plays four snaps per game gets suspended, it’s not a huge deal. But for the Los Angeles Rams, losing Brycen Hopkins for three games creates a hole on the roster.
They came into the year with just two tight ends on the active roster, a surprising move considering Hopkins has played so little in his first two years. All offseason, everyone expected the Rams to keep Tyler Higbee, Hopkins and Kendall Blanton. Now, they probably wish they’d kept Blanton.
Of course, Sean McVay and Les Snead couldn’t have predicted that Hopkins would get hit with a three-game suspension, but this was the risk they took by only keeping two tight ends. They smartly signed two tight ends to the practice squad, but Roger Carter Jr. and Jared Pinkney have never played a regular-season game.
So where do the Rams go from here with Hopkins out three games? Their best option might be to use Ben Skowronek as their No. 2 tight end. Against the Falcons on Sunday, Skowronek was kind of already playing the role of a tight end.
He lined up in the backfield as a fullback, as well as tight to the formation to help block in the running game. Though he’s technically a wide receiver, Skowronek can use his 6-foot-3 frame to block like a tight end. He’s only 1 inch shorter and 9 pounds lighter than Johnny Mundt, who was the Rams’ No. 2 tight end when healthy the last two years.
Skowronek might actually be a better blocker than he is a receiver, which makes him a perfect fit for the TE2 role Mundt held in the past. The Rams’ second tight end doesn’t have to be a dynamic receiver. They don’t need him to be Gerald Everett. Skowronek just has to know the offense and block the way he did in Week 2 against the Falcons.
It’s not as if the Rams were utilizing Hopkins much anyway. He played four snaps in each of the first two games and wasn’t targeted once. Skowronek is capable of filling in for Hopkins for three weeks, and with McVay’s creativity, he’ll find ways to mix up the personnel like he did on Sunday.
The bigger concern is the possibility of losing Higbee to injury. He’s almost always available for the Rams, but Higbee has dealt with his share of bumps and bruises in the last two years. He left the NFC title game with a knee injury, which kept him out of the Super Bowl two weeks later.
The Rams absolutely cannot afford to lose Higbee in the next three weeks while Hopkins is suspended. If that were to happen, they’d be left without a single experienced tight end – and with how often McVay likes to use 11 personnel with one tight end on the field at all times, it would be a huge challenge.
It’s possible that the Rams will promote Carter or Pinkney from the practice squad in the next three weeks, just to have another true tight end on the team in case an injury does occur. But they don’t have to panic and sign someone to replace Hopkins – who, again, has only played eight snaps.
His suspension isn’t ideal, but it’s something the Rams can overcome by using Skowronek in different ways.