Tight end Rob Gronkowski could be placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list any day now, which would sideline him for the first six weeks of the 2013 NFL season. Should the New England Patriots be concerned with Gronkowski potentially out for six games?
In an offense predicated on the use of tight ends in the passing game, who will catch passes from Tom Brady? The Patriots’ best option may lie in the hands of an undrafted rookie by the name of Zach Sudfeld. Who?
Sudfeld, the former star tight end at the University of Nevada, was signed by the Patriots in May in a move that fell completely under the radar. After all, why would the signing of an undrafted rookie tight end get attention on a team that featured Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez at the same position? Well, Gronkowski is fighting a seemingly impossible battle to get back on the field and Hernandez is stuck in solitary confinement.
A player needed to step up with Gronkowski injured and Hernandez off the team, and many thought Jake Ballard would be that guy. Ballard, once viewed as the security blanket tight end for the Patriots, is now on the team’s roster bubble after struggling mightily throughout training camp and the preseason.
With a lack of explosion at the tight end position, Sudfeld has been up the task to fill the void in the Patriots’ offense. Sudfeld emerged as the team’s starting tight end after displaying impressive pass-catching skills and improved blocking techniques in training camp. He built on his outstanding camp in last night’s preseason win versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Sudfeld caught a pass in the back of the end zone from Brady to convert a two-point conversion in the opening drive. The 6-foot-7, 260-pound tight end also hauled in a 22-yard touchdown reception from Ryan Mallett in the second quarter. He displayed excellent concentration on this TD grab as the pass was initially knocked out of his hands by a Bucs defender before Sudfeld secured it as he fell to the turf.
The tight end position is now less of a concern for the Patriots given the play of Sudfeld. If Sudfeld can continue to play this well, he will be given a major role in the team’s offensive schemes. Sudfeld could also be featured opposite Gronkowski upon his return, potentially giving the Patriots the two tight-end scheme they yearn to implement in their offense.