THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP)Even though Tyler Higbee has spent his entire NFL career in one helmet, he didn’t take a direct route to become the most prolific tight end in Rams franchise history.
Higbee’s production has risen and fallen wildly over his seven seasons depending on his health, the Rams’ game plans and the bond with his various quarterbacks. He entered this season two touchdowns behind Damone Johnson for the team record for scores by a tight end – but he didn’t score at all until Week 15.
Higbee then made up for some lost time on Christmas, making nine catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns in the Rams’ 51-14 rout of Denver. Higbee also topped 3,000 career yards receiving during the game while extending his own franchise records for receptions (299) and yards receiving (3,063) by a tight end.
The 2016 fourth-round pick out of Western Kentucky now holds every major receiving mark for tight ends with a franchise that began play in 1936. Higbee cares more about wins, but he is grateful to get a little recognition for the career he has carved out largely under the radar with the Rams (5-10).
”I’ll get some time maybe after the season to think about it, but it’s special,” Higbee said. ”I’ve put in a lot of time, a lot of hard work, battled through some adversity and injuries, things like that. It’s a special franchise, and being able to hold that is pretty cool.”
Higbee is the Rams’ leader in yards receiving this season among their healthy players, but he hasn’t received consistent opportunities. His chances have risen sharply since the arrival of Baker Mayfield, who quickly identified Higbee as a good choice from his limited knowledge of the Rams’ playbook and personnel.
Higbee has responded with 15 catches on 19 targets for 132 yards and three TDs in three games with Mayfield, who succinctly described Higbee as a ”big, friendly target.”
”I know he’s been a little bit banged up throughout the year, and I think he’s feeling better now,” Mayfield added. ”Hats off to him, the franchise record holder. That’s really special. I did not know that he was that close to it. I’m happy to be here and to be a part of that.”
The Rams have fielded countless talented offensive players over the decades, but they’ve never had a tight end with Higbee’s endurance or productivity. Ernie Conwell, the main tight end for the Greatest Show on Turf in St. Louis, never had a season with numbers approaching what Higbee has done regularly.
Higbee is the last remaining member of the Rams’ first draft class after returning home to Los Angeles in 2016. He has had four consecutive 500-yard receiving seasons for Sean McVay’s offense, even while his opportunities fluctuate wildly.
”I’m just trying to do my job and make the play when the ball does find me,” Higbee said. ”It’s always awesome getting into the end zone and being able to celebrate with the guys.”
Higbee has remained consistent and mostly healthy in his career, playing in at least 15 games in all seven seasons of his career – but he didn’t get to participate in the Rams’ Super Bowl victory over Cincinnati last February. He injured his knee in the first quarter of the NFC championship game, forcing him to watch his teammates’ championship victory from the sideline.
A year later, Higbee and right tackle Rob Havenstein are the Rams’ only offensive players to start all 15 games. He’ll be back to work Sunday when the Rams play the Chargers.
”Obviously the season hasn’t gone the way we wanted it to, but it just shows the resiliency of these guys going out and competing,” Higbee said. ”Feels good to be on the right side of it.”
NOTES: Mayfield doesn’t think it’s the right time to contemplate his future: ”I’m a free agent after this (season), so I really haven’t given it much thought. Just trying to roll with it one day at a time. But yeah, we’ll see. It should be interesting, but all that doesn’t start until March anyways, so we’ll see how it goes.” … LT Ty Nsekhe (illness) missed the Rams’ walkthrough. … LB Bobby Wagner said DT Larrell Murchison was mostly quiet among his new teammates in the two weeks leading up to his two-sack performance against Denver. ”Then he goes out and gets a sack and starts dancing and starts talking, and we were like, `Yo, where’s this? Where did this come from?”’ Wagner said with a smile. ”He’s put in a lot of work to try to understand the scheme and understand the nuances of the defense, and it was really fun to just watch him just have fun out there.”
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