Gerald Everett Is the Perfect Tight End for the NFL’s Space Age

Meet No. 81, aka the Rams' secret weapon.

Source Rob Leiter via Getty

Why you should care

Because this versatile weapon is a key to the Rams’ high-powered offense in the Super Bowl.

When Gerald Everett was a high school basketball player, he was inelegantly referred to as a “tweener.” He was a 6-foot-2.5-inch forward pursuing a college basketball scholarship, but his ambition exceeded his reach. He was too short to play near the rim, not quick enough to play on the perimeter.

Everett wanted to create an opening for himself in big-time sports, and he was smart enough to realize he could waste his immense athletic ability by being stubborn about basketball. He took the tweener hint and changed sports. In his senior year of high school, Everett became a football player, and the NFL has evolved right into his lap.

The quasi–tight end for the Los Angeles Rams, Everett has a more elegant label these days — “hybrid” — because the NFL has become a “space” game, where teams are looking for big, fast people to exploit big, slow people in open spaces. The Rams made the now 6-foot-3, 236-pound Everett, a second-round draft pick in 2017, and he is an emerging star in the NFL’s space age. Now he is in the Super Bowl, hoop dreams long gone. “Sometimes you’ve got to give up your first love,” he says.

He has a done a great job in a shorter football career than most guys. He is starting to hit his stride.

Shane Waldron, Rams tight end coach

Everett is just big enough to be positioned tight to the line and block on running downs, and fast enough to split out and run right past the linebacker or safety trying to cover him on passing downs. Smaller, swifter defensive backs can’t tackle him one-on-one. As a hybrid, Everett allows the Rams offense to suddenly shift from one tight end and three wide receivers to a four-wide receiver set — sending opposing defenses scrambling. “In this business the more you can do, the better it will be for you,” he says.

Everett’s numbers were fairly modest this season in the imaginative offense of head coach Sean McVay: 33 catches for 320 yards and three touchdowns. But Everett became especially valuable when Los Angeles receiver Cooper Kupp tore his ACL on Nov. 11 and was lost for the season. Eight days after Kupp’s injury, Everett caught three passes for 49 yards and two touchdowns in the Rams’ epic 54-51 win against the Kansas City Chiefs. In Sunday’s big game, the Rams are hoping to use Everett to keep the New England Patriots defense off balance. “Ideally what we’re looking for is a matchup with him on a linebacker,” says Shane Waldron, the Rams’ tight end coach and passing game coordinator.

 

A Super Bowl requires no additional motivation, but Sunday’s colossus at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is also a homecoming for Everett. He grew up on the south side of Atlanta, wearing No. 81 during youth football in tribute to former Rams receiver Torry Holt and former 49ers and Eagles receiver Terrell Owens. But Everett’s joy came from basketball. He played three years at Martin Luther King High School, then transferred to national powerhouse Columbia High School in nearby Decatur, which had six Division I basketball players on the roster.

Everett first caught the eye of football coaches while playing summer league basketball in 2012. “If you don’t have [a college scholarship] offer by your sophomore year in basketball, it’s probably not going to happen. He belonged in football,” says then head football coach Mario Allen. “He was raw, but you could look at his body frame and see that he was still growing. And he picked up things very fast. ”

Everett had some Division I recruiting noise around him, but major schools passed: Bigger tight ends were still the trend. So Everett bounced around, from lower-tier Division I school Bethune-Cookman in Florida to junior college powerhouse Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, where he started to attract some notice. The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), which had a forward-looking offensive scheme and was in search of a hybrid tight end, offered him a scholarship.

“He was dynamic and great with the ball after the catch,” says Bill Clark, then the UAB head coach. “He was a three-play guy. Watch him just three plays and you could tell he could play.” But after just one season with Everett, UAB abruptly shut down the program because of its poor financial shape. Everett and several teammates moved on to the University of South Alabama.

Because South Alabama is in Mobile, where the Senior Bowl showcase for top college football seniors is played each year, Everett caught the eye of the game’s executive director, Phil Savage. Everett was an early invitee to the Senior Bowl. Savage advised NFL scouts to zoom in on No. 81. In a Tuesday practice before the game, scouts’ eyes opened wide as satellite dishes when Everett started snatching passes in heavy traffic.

Savage says 2017 had one of the deepest tight end draft classes in memory, and even with all the competition from players from major schools, the Rams tapped Everett in the second round. Everett’s obscure background left many observers scratching their heads at the choice. Sports Illustrated gave the pick a D-plus in its post-draft grades.

Everett’s rise has forced a re-evaluation of those quick takes, but he’s far from a finished product. And he still might not have the same ceiling as the more classically built (read: massive) players at his position. Just take a look at his opposing number on Sunday: the Patriots’ 6-foot-6, 268-pound Rob Gronkowski, one of the greatest tight ends of all time.

Everett has “got so much room to grow,” says Waldron, the Rams coach. “He has a done a great job in a shorter football career than most guys. He is starting to hit his stride.”

Reminded again about his dizzying path to the Super Bowl — two high schools, four colleges — Everett just grins. “It was a roller coaster,” he says. “You got to think ‘What’s the greater good?’ You’ve got to make the best decisions for yourself. You have to find a way.”

Read more: Why the Patriots’ running game — not Tom Brady — is their key to victory.

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