With training camps less than a month away, let us take a look at another player from the tight end position that may or may not represent viable fantasy value heading into the 2012 season. Lance Kendricks is an interesting player to evaluate, he will be entering his second NFL season after being a preseason darling in 2011 who fell way short of expectations. A favorite of then St Louis offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Kendricks was selected in the second round (47th overall) out of Wisconsin and big things were expected right away from the 6' 3", 245 lbs. tight end. He would not disappoint during the 2011 preseason where he would haul in 11 receptions for 155 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Rams appeared to have struck gold with Kendricks, it was time to say goodbye to the Daniel Fells, Billy Bajema and Michael Hoomanawanui era as pass catching tight end options in St Louis. Sam Bradford had his new favorite toy and the two looked to be on the same page as the regular season approached. After averaging over 14 yards per reception in the preseason and notching those 3 touchdowns, Kendricks had risen up fantasy draft boards and was a very hot name in 2011 fantasy drafts as a late round sleeper, with number one tight end potential.
Fast forward to the Rams' 2011 week one game against the Arizona Cardinals, where Kendricks would drop an easy touchdown throw from Bradford and the wheels would begin to wobble on the rookie tight end's bandwagon. Things would go from bad to worse for not only Kendricks but the entire St Louis team as Bradford would severely sprain his ankle in a week six loss to the Green Bay Packers and the Rams would finish the season with a 2-14 record. Kendricks would continue to struggle with drops as the year unfolded and to make matters worse, fellow tight end Michael Hoomanawanui would suffer an injury that would see that Rams use Kendricks more as an in-line blocker, limiting his catch opportunities. The 2011 season had quickly become a nightmare one for Kendricks and the bad times were still not over as he would also suffer a foot sprain in a November game against the Cardinals and be hampered throughout the remainder of the year. After flashing such potential in the preseason, Kendricks would finish his rookie season with 28 receptions, 352 yards and no touchdowns. Oh yeah, his champion on the coaching staff, Josh McDaniels, would bolt back to the Patriots in time for the playoffs in a classic, "Women and children first…" departure from the sinking ship that was the 2011 St Louis Rams. All in all, not quite the fantasy season that folks were expecting from Lance Kendricks and he would be dropped from rosters with the same regularity that he was dropping passes.
The debacle that was the 2011 season would be the last for head coach Steve Spagnuola and his three-year record of 10-38 during his tenure in St Louis. Owner E. Stanley Kroenke set his sights on big game as the next head coach of his franchise and got just that, hiring former long-time Tennessee Titan coach, Jeff Fisher. In turn, Fisher would pick former New York Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer as the man to turn around a dismal Rams offense. After scoring a league-low 193 points last season, look for the Rams to run a much less complicated, pound the rock style of offense under Fisher and Schottenheimer in 2012. They will run the ball a lot more in an effort to control the clock and keep their defense fresh while concentrating on short to intermediate routes in the passing game, which Bradford had much more success with in his rookie season. This bodes well for Kendricks as he remains the primary pass catching option at the tight end position for St Louis and he possesses the size and strength to create mismatches over the middle. With Schottenheimer as the offensive coordinator (2006-2011) the Jets averaged 95 passes thrown to the tight end position per season, with 56 receptions and 4 touchdowns being hauled in by tight ends. However, once Dustin Keller became the primary tight end for New York in 2008, those numbers increased dramatically with Keller himself averaging 94 targets, 53 receptions and 3.75 touchdowns a season in his four years under Schottenheimer. Kendricks and Keller are nearly identical in size and while Kendricks may lack some of the overall athleticism that Keller possesses he has the tools to be utilized much in the same manner. Schottenheimer has spoken to the potential he sees in Kendricks, "We really liked Lance back in New York when we looked at him. I think he's got a chance to be a terrific player." Head coach Jeff Fisher also likes what he has seen from Kendricks, "Lance played well last year. Lance learned a lot of football last year. He can get open, he can make plays. He can do some things. We're kind of looking forward to getting him involved in this offense." The tight end position will be featured prominently in the St Louis passing attack and Kendricks is in line to be the main beneficiary of that offensive philosophy. He has been lining up in multiple positions on the field during the off-season program, including out wide, along the line of scrimmage and has seen some snaps lined up at fullback. The Rams selected Brian Quick and Chris Givens in last April's draft to bolster their wide receiving corps and both are capable of stretching the field on the outside as perimeter threats. That will leave the middle of the field to Kendricks, Danny Amendola and newly signed Steve Smith, who must prove he has recovered from the knee injury he suffered two seasons ago or he may not make the final roster.
Sam Bradford had a very forgettable 2011 season, missing six games with a high ankle sprain, limping through many of the games he did play in and struggling with the deep ball oriented offense of Josh McDaniels. Look for a bounce back season for Bradford in 2012 with an offensive scheme more tailored to his skill set and a healthy ankle. Kendricks is in prime position to become a favorite target of the accurate third year quarterback in the Schottenheimer offensive system. In his rookie season of 2010, Bradford completed the ball to the tight end position 70 times for 697 yards and 7 touchdowns. Michael Hoomanawanui, who is a more accomplished blocking tight end than Kendricks, will get his share of snaps on a Jeff Fisher coached team that will pound the ball on the ground but Kendricks is an adequate blocker and that will help him to stay on the field. He does need to tighten up his route running and cut down on the dropped passes that plagued him last season to earn Bradford's trust and build on the 2011 preseason chemistry the two had built.
When analyzing the 2012 fantasy worthiness of Lance Kendricks it is appropriate to use a classic Yogi Berra quote, "It's like deja-vu all over again." After failing to live up to the lofty expectations that were placed on him heading into his rookie season, he is once again gaining off-season momentum heading into training camp and the preseason. A new offensive system that is tight end friendly, a healthy young quarterback who has above average accuracy on short and intermediate throws and little or no competition as the primary pass catching option at his position all make Kendricks a very interesting option for 2012. With an ADP as of early July that has him going as late as the 15th round or undrafted completely, he represents excellent value with tremendous upside heading into fantasy drafts. Considering the favorable reports concerning him coming out of OTAs and min-camps it is obvious the Rams are not giving up on Kendricks and neither should fantasy owners. I am going to go all in with Kendricks in 2012, trusting that Fisher and Schottenheimer will be able to get the most out of his skill set and deem him WORTHY of being drafted in 12 team fantasy formats. Grab him very late as a solid bye-week fill in, with the upside to be a solid #2 tight end for your fantasy squad.