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2021 Fantasy Football Sleepers: Rams Tight End Tyler Higbee Aiming for Post-Hype TE1 Breakout

SI Fantasy contributor Kyle Wood saved you a spot on the Tyler Higbee bandwagon
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Los Angeles Rams tight end Tyler Higbee is currently being drafted at his floor. He disappointed in 2020, and it’s coloring his average draft position (ADP).

Higbee is going as the TE16 after finishing the previous season, just one spot below. He's being drafted as if the Rams are running it back in 2021 with the same roster and gameplan they had a season ago. A significant change to Los Angeles's offense in the offseason stands to benefit Higbee. He could approach the ceiling that he flashed near the end of the 2019 season, and if not, his floor is still realistically above his current draft spot. There's great value in spending a late-round pick on Higbee if you don't use a premium pick on a top-three tight end.

Higbee's Unexplored Value 

Tyler Higbee, Fantasy Football, Los Angeles Rams

Value in fantasy largely stems from volume. Higbee's targets and catches both dipped in last season despite an increase in his yards per catch and him setting a career-high in touchdown receptions (5). He commanded 89 targets in 2019, the third-most on the Rams, the NFL's third-most pass-happy team that season. But his targets fell to 60 this past year. In passing attempts, Los Angeles was slightly above league average, and Higbee dropped to fifth on the team in targets behind receivers Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Josh Reynolds, and fellow tight end Gerald Everett.

Reynolds left for Tennessee in the offseason, and Everett signed with Seattle. That frees up 143 targets from a season ago, nearly a quarter of the team’s targets. Higbee doesn’t have to split targets 50-50 at his position anymore, and his brief sample size of games without Everett should encourage fantasy players to reach for his ceiling rather than worry about his floor.

From Week 12 to Week 17 in 2019, Everett was inactive for three games and played just four total offensive snaps in the other two games. Higbee averaged 8.6 catches on 11.2 targets per game in that stretch. He also was over 100 receiving yards per game and grabbed two touchdowns while playing at least 85% of snaps in each game. Fantasy managers should be chasing that kind of Travis Kelce-level production late in drafts.

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Addition of Matthew Stafford

Even if Jared Goff were returning to run Sean McVay’s offense, there would be a reason to believe in Higbee this season with Everett and Reynolds’ departures. But with Goff shipped off to Detroit and Matthew Stafford taking his place in LA, the Rams' offense should pass and score more often. Higbee will benefit from that, as well as his new quarterback's affinity for his tight ends.

Stafford supported a TE1 in T.J. Hockenson his final season with the Lions. Hockenson’s 101 targets were second on the team and fifth in the NFL among tight ends. Stafford leaned heavily on Brandon Pettigrew early in his career, then it was Eric Ebron, and finally Hockenson. Now, it's Higbee who stands to gain.

The recent injury to Los Angeles running back Cam Akers could also push McVay to lean heavier on Stafford and the passing attack. In 2019, when the Rams were one of the most pass-heavy teams in the league, they ran the ball below the league-average. That coincided with poor rushing efficiency — the team's three leading rushers averaged below 4.0 yards per carry. LA tipped the scale closer to a 50-50 pass-run split in 2020 with three rushers above 4.0 yards per carry. Only one of those running backs will play for the team this season. Cam Akers tore his Achilles last week and is out for the season. Malcolm Brown signed with the Dolphins in the offseason. That leaves the rushing workload to Darrell Henderson Jr., a third-year player who's missed four games in two seasons. Instead of force-feeding Henderson touches, the Rams may opt to pass more with a quarterback whom they trust to air the ball out more than their previous starter.

What are you waiting for?

Higbee is currently being drafted after both New England tight ends, Irv Smith Jr. and Evan Engram. He has less competition than those tight ends, a better quarterback, and there are multiple reasons to believe the Rams will throw the ball more often in 2021. Greater pass volume in the Rams offense means more targets, receptions, and touchdowns for Higbee. Higbee has true TE1 upside at the tail end of drafts.

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