Let’s just get this out of the way first: It’s a slow news day. A slow news month, really. Mock drafts are beginning to snowball as go-to content all around the web and likewise I won’t pretend to have the answer to the riddle that is the Rams’ current cap situation. With that said, we’ll continue to look at some of the fringe players of 2013 to see how they may fit into the team moving forward.
Today’s case is second-year man Cory Harkey. Harkey was initially signed by the team as an undrafted free agent out of UCLA in the spring of 2012, but would be released after training camp and eventually land on the Rams’ practice squad. He eventually made his way onto the active roster late in 2012 after defensive tackle Kellen Heard went down with an injury and Harkey was elevated into his roster spot. After a quiet finish in 2012, Harkey kept his place on the team and had some relative success. If you’re like me, every time Harkey made an appearance in a game this season, you quietly nodded in approval. His cameos were rare, but it felt like he was always in the right place at the right time. The numbers back it up as well.
In two seasons with the Rams, eight of Harkey’s 14 career receptions have been a first down conversion or a touchdown.
Not bad for a former practice squad guy. Also, It’s fair to add a little significance to that production when considering the fact that Harkey was able to deliver on the majority of his receptions despite 2013 being his first time getting any real targets since 2010. In his junior season with UCLA he finished with 14 receptions, good for fifth on the team, but would only catch a single pass in both his senior season and his first year with the Rams.
Rams fans will very likely remember Harkey’s 2013 season for one play specifically. In the first quarter against the Saints in Week 15, the Rams had to get out to a fast start if they were going to allow running back Zac Stacy to go to work and have a chance at taking down Drew Brees and co. After punting on their first drive, the Rams were able to intercept Brees on the Saints’ first play from scrimmage as defensive end Robert Quinn forced a duck pass that rookie safety T.J. McDonald was able to snag. As the offense took over and lined up from the New Orleans 31, Harkey was in the backfield lined up at fullback. At the snap, Harkey took to the right flats and was quickly found by quarterback Kellen Clemens. After receiving a block from fellow tight end Jared Cook, Harkey stumbled over one Saint, absorbed a shove from another, and sprinted 31 yards to pay dirt. The Rams would end up sending the Saints home with an unexpected 27-16 loss.
His only other career touchdown put the Rams on the board early against Houston, that time in the form of a two-yard reception from quarterback Sam Bradford.
Harkey is listed as a tight end on the Rams’ web site, but according to Pro Football Focus, 244 of his 361 snaps in 2013 started with him lined up at fullback. He finished with a positive overall grade of 2.7, largely due to a solid showing in pass blocking situations. He finished with a 0.1 in overall blocking, which isn’t necessarily a good or bad showing according to PFF’s system. It’s the running game where Harkey received just about all of his negative marks. He registered a -3.7 in run blocking when shifting out of the backfield and lining up at tight end. Obviously his 117 snaps from the position are significantly less than those of starter Jared Cook and third-year guy Lance Kendricks, but that -3.7 grade Harkey received was far and away the best of the three. Cook, known more for his contributions in the passing game, got a -7.0 on the season and Kendricks finished with a cringe-worthy -12.8
Harkey’s future with the Rams remains to be seen, but given his versatility and willingness to play fullback, he seems likely to hang around a while. With Cook and Kendricks still ahead of him at tight end, however, increased playing time at the position may not be realistic. But if he can continue to provide a sneaky option for the offense and produce when it needs to move the chains, Harkey can be a very valuable role player moving forward.
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