Long before he joined the Rams as a rookie this spring, Brycen Hopkins knew plenty about fellow tight end Tyler Higbee.
Hopkins played at Purdue under coach Jeff Brohm, who had utilized Higbee’s skills in a high-scoring offense at Western Kentucky. Purdue tight ends spent long hours studying Higbee’s route running and versatility in college.
“We would watch Higbee and the tight ends there and how they ran the plays, and tried to mirror that,” Hopkins said after the Rams selected him in the fourth round of the NFL draft.
Hopkins is now part of a Rams position group that includes Higbee, Gerald Everett and Johnny Mundt. Coach Sean McVay, new offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell and tight ends coach Wes Phillips are preparing for the start of training camp in late July, when they will have the four tight ends on the field for the first time.
Higbee, a fourth-round pick in 2016, had never eclipsed 100 yards receiving in an NFL game before he signed a four-year, $29-million extension on the eve of the 2019 season opener. Late in the season, Higbee made the investment appear sound when he put together a streak of four consecutive 100-yard receiving performances. Higbee carries a salary cap number of $9.1 million this season, according to overthecap.com.
Everett was a second-round pick in the 2017 draft. He has enjoyed some spectacular moments — his two-touchdown performance against the Kansas City Chiefs on “Monday Night Football” in 2018 among them — but he is in the final year of his rookie contract. He carries a salary number of $1.9 million this season.
Mundt, an undrafted free agent in 2017, has been a dependable blocker at the line of scrimmage and, at times, out of the backfield. He will earn $750,000 this season.
O’Connell is eager to incorporate all of the tight ends into an offense attempting to once again be considered among the NFL’s best.
“When you have the multiple skill sets — you’ve got guys that can both run routes and block in the run game — the options are limitless,” O’Connell said.
Hopkins, 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, has an NFL pedigree. His father, Brad, was the 13th player chosen in the 1993 draft, and he went on to play tackle for 13 seasons for the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans.
“He's going to tell me how I need to get to the places I want to go and how hard it's going to be to get there, how hard I have to work and committed and dedicated I'll have to be,” Brycen said of his father. “But thanks to him, I'm ready to do that."
Hopkins played at Ensworth High in Nashville before enrolling at Purdue. He redshirted his first season, started four games as a junior and then cemented his status as a pro prospect last season. Hopkins caught 10 passes for 140 yards against Maryland and finished the season with 61 catches for 830 yards and seven touchdowns.
But Hopkins also dropped seven passes, which became a point of predraft scrutiny.
“I want to become a more consistent catcher,” he said. “I don’t have bad hands. I just think that I can concentrate more on that ball and look it in and then my drop rate would go way down.
“I would just be able to become that more consistent catcher that everyone wants to see out of me.”
The Rams scouted Hopkins before, during and after his final college season. On the final day of the draft, the Rams traded down in the fourth round to acquire two seventh-round picks. The Rams did not have a pressing need at tight end, but general manager Les Snead intimated that the opportunity to select Hopkins spurred the Rams to alter their plans.
“We had him highly rated and felt like he could come in and carve out a role early, but also later,” Snead said. “We didn’t have to make that pick, but sometimes when you make those types of picks, there’s an element of drafting in a microscope, but also with a telescope and you feel like, ‘Hey, the guy can make plays.’”
Quarterback Jared Goff said Hopkins and rookie running back Cam Akers were among the first-year players that participated in informal on-field workouts during the offseason program.
From the day that he was drafted, Hopkins sounded eager to contribute to a team trying to get back to the playoffs.
“It’s just a crazy opportunity that I’m ready to take advantage of,” he said.