The 6’7″ 260 pound Sudfeld was undrafted out of Nevada and did not catch a pass yet this season. However, he showed some flashes in preseason, where he made eight catches for 101 yards and a touchdown with New England. He was released earlier this week, but it’s believed the Patriots intended to place him on their practice squad if he cleared waivers.
After the jump, I’ll be looking back over his performances in preseason and the first month of the regular season to assess some of his strengths and weaknesses.
Who is Zach Sudfeld?
Entering his senior year at Nevada, Sudfeld was on nobody’s radar as he had just two catches. However, he caught 45 passes for 598 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior and some people projected him as a late round pick. He wasn’t invited to the scouting combine, but did workout at Nevada’s pro day, where he showcased a 37-inch vertical leap and ran a 4.78 forty. He disappointed in the bench press with just 11 reps, though.
New England signed him as a priority free agent after he went undrafted and when they lost Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, he found himself as a projected starter following a solid preseason campaign. Unfortunately, he suffered some injury issues early in the season and was unable to make a solid impact. With Gronkowski supposedly set to return soon, the Patriots were likely hopeful that they could stash Sudfeld on their practice squad to preserve a roster spot. However, the Jets – with Kellen Winslow dealing with knee issues and Konrad Reuland not really part of the offense so far, decided to pick him up.
Let’s look in more detail at each of the games he’s played in so far with the Patriots:
Week One: at Philadelphia
Sudfeld played 33 snaps in this one and caught one pass on two targets. His one catch saw him line up on the left and leak out to the opposite flat, where he made the catch and then slipped a tackle to turn the corner down the sideline. He then cut back downfield and made a spin move for an athletic 22-yard gain.
As a blocker, he did make some positive contributions – look out for #44 on this crazy run, initially making a kickout block on the left side and then getting out in front of the runner to make a downfield block near the goal line. On another play, he used his man’s momentum to drive him upfield and create space for an eight yard run on a draw play and he blocked down on a linebacker to set up a 14-yard gain on a cutback run. However, there were signs of rawness too as he had four missed blocks that led to runs being stuffed. One saw him fail to sustain the block and let his man get off it to the inside, one was just a late reaction to a safety blitz, again on his inside, one saw him failed to make contact with his man on the outside and finally he allowed his man to get penetration leading to a run being stuffed for a loss.
Week Two: v Tampa Bay
He played 33 snaps again this week, catching two passes for 32 yards and a touchdown on four targets. He also caught a two-point conversion. You can see the two point conversion here at 0:44, as he goes up to to catch it at the back of the end zone over two players (although the official makes arguably an even better catch when Sudfeld tosses the ball to him). The touchdown can be seen here – a juggling catch down the middle, showing outstanding concentration. His other catch came on 3rd and five as he ran a simple out pattern on 3rd and five, made the catch just beyond the marker with a defensive back on his back and dragged him for a 10-yard pick up. On the two he failed to catch, he might feel he could have brought them in, but it would be harsh to call either one a drop. One saw him open down the middle, but the pass was too far out in front of him and he could only get one hand to it on a diving attempt. The other was thrown down the middle with a defensive player draped all over him and two safeties lurking. He got two hands to the ball, but it fell incomplete in a crowd.
In terms of blocking, he stayed in to pass protect four times, but Da’Quan Bowers bullrushed and he was driven back into the quarterback on one. He also missed a screen block badly as his man anticipated the play and got outside him to blow it up.
Week Three: at Detroit
Again he played 33 snaps here and caught all three passes thrown his way for 36 yards. However, he fumbled one of them away as he was wide open down the seam but then the open field hit jarred the ball loose. One of his other catches went for 11 on third and 10, as he came back to the ball on the outside and made the catch short of the marker, but then turned upfield and stretched the ball out to make the first down.
In terms of blocking, he again had his ups and downs. Perhaps his best block saw him get outside leverage on his man and set the edge perfectly. Unfortunately, Nate Solder got beaten badly on his inside shoulder and ended up getting hit with a hold that negated the 13-yard run. He allowed his man to stuff a run on three occasions, the worst of which saw him react a split second late at the snap on 4th and one, which prevented him from stopping the defensive player shooting the gap to his inside to blow the play up. In pass protection, he again allowed his man to drive him back, this time beating him on the inside to hit the quarterback, although that might have been because of an illegal use of hands to the face.
Week Four: v NY Giants
In the final preseason game, Sudfeld was limited to 18 snaps, catching two short passes. One did go for a first down, as he held on despite a big hit at the marker. As a blocker, there was one play where he missed a second level block and his man made the stop. However, they ran the exact same play immediately afterwards and he did make the correction.
2013 Regular Season
Week One: at Buffalo
Sudfeld played 20 snaps in week one, but the only pass thrown his way was off his hands and intercepted. On second and five, Sudfeld ran just beyond the marker, then turned and looked back for the ball. Brady’s pass was slightly off the mark and Sudfeld had to reach for it, but probably still should have brought it in. It went off his fingertips and was picked off. Compounding matters, he would later suffer a hamstring injury which kept him out of the lineup for the week two clash with the Jets.
Week Three: v Tampa Bay
In this game, Sudfeld played 17 snaps and was targeted twice, according to NFL.com, and did not register a catch. The first one saw him leak across the field and them turn upfield to the corner, but he kind of got caught up in traffic and was late getting his head turned around and locating the ball. He did get a step on his man and Brady had led him with the pass. On the second, it appeared Brady threw into double coverage with Sudfeld bracketed down by the goal line and was picked of by Mark Barron. However, a review of the coaches film appears to show that this pass was actually supposed to go over Barron’s head to the receiver running across the back of the end zone and Barron just read his eyes and timed his jump perfectly.
As a blocker, there was one play where he allowed his man to stretch a run to the outside for a short gain, but no major errors.
Week Four: at Atlanta
The fact Sudfeld just played against the Jets’ next opponent could be one of the reasons behind this move. He might be able to identify some weaknesses in their defense that the Jets’ staff could exploit. He did only play eight snaps though, although he made one important contribution on offense, drawing a defensive hold on third and five. His one big error, though, and perhaps the main thing that led to his release, saw him misfield an onside kick, which gave the Falcons the ball back down 10 with four minutes to go.
While we don’t have too much to go on, let’s look at some conclusions we can draw based on the footage watched, divided into categories.
Sudfeld was put in motion quite a lot and played in the slot almost as much (65 snaps) as he played as a conventional tight end (96 snaps). He only lined up in the backfield once and stayed in to pass protect just 10 times in the seven games. During the regular season, the Patriots passed the ball just under two-thirds of the time when he was in.
As noted, he showed some flashes in preseason. Running after the catch on one play, getting downfield on another and having some success on possession type routes. While the potential is there, it is telling that he did not catch any passes once the regular season was underway.
Sudfeld does show an ability to get open, whether that be by finding a spot to sit down in a zone, or by running out to the flat or some kind of quick hitch or out pattern underneath. For a player of his type, you’re looking for for him to be the kind of player to get a defender on his back and box them out and while there were some signs of that, he perhaps could do a better job of being physical and using his size. His low rep count in the bench press perhaps suggests that his strength is something that could really improve with a year in an NFL weights program.
Sudfeld did make some clean catches – the two point conversion in particular was a nice snag – but there were too many examples of him not catching the ball cleanly. On the play where he lost a fumble and also on his touchdown catch, a hit jarred the ball loose, even though he stayed with it and still caught the ball for his touchdown. There were also a handful of plays that were not outright drops, but plays where he got his hands to the ball but couldn’t hold it. Maybe working with Kellen Winslow will help him there, because those were plays I’d expect Winslow to make.
Yards after the catch
The play detailed above where he caught a short pass and broke a couple of tackles for 22-yards was nice, but there were also a couple of others where he turned upfield and got a couple of extra yards, turning two plays that would have netted 14 yards into 21 yards. Those kinds of things are unspectacular but can be very valuable in terms of extending drives. It’s something that Chris Baker used to do well.
Sudfeld actually seemed quite laid back a lot of the time. Maybe that’s just his long hair giving him a laid back surfer look, but it seemed like he never got overly excited by a big play or upset when he made a mistake. On the play where he didn’t look back at the ball in time, it seemed like he was more amused by it than anything else. In his defense, he might have got a bit more excited about the touchdown catch, but he seemed to get dinged up a bit on the play.
One tweet suggested that the Jets are getting an extremely hard worker in Sudfeld. On the other hand, that was from his agent.
Sudfeld has good size, but he has plenty of rawness as a blocker. However, there were some signs of positive contributions as a blocker, which hopefully he can build on as he develops. I do like his overall potential as a run blocker. Some of the negative plays he had saw him a little uncertain at the snap, so maybe once he’s more comfortable with the schemes at the NFL level and used to the speed of the game that will make a big difference for him.
There wasn’t much of a sample size, but Sudfeld got schooled a couple of times in pass protection. He didn’t do a very good job of anchoring himself and once you’re back on your heels, NFL players will always take advantage. Again, maybe he improves here as his comfort level grows, because he has good size.
We’ve seen this type of move made before and the team involved just bleeds that player for information on their own team and the common opponents they’ve faced, before letting them loose. However, I do feel like Sudfeld is a guy who teams around the league will feel has upside. Having said that, the Jets were the only team to put in a waiver claim for him.
If he is a hard worker, as advertised, then that’s a good start and the fact he was disciplined enough to remain penalty free throughout his seven appearances with New England is positive too.
Sudfeld looks like a developmental project due to his rawness, but at the same time has enough ability that he could hopefully fill in when required and do a decent job. With Kellen Winslow’s status this weekend uncertain (he is questionable), I can understand why the Jets retained Konrad Reuland on the roster for this week, but if Sudfeld settles down well over the next week or two, then Reuland’s place on the team is certainly under threat and that could free up another roster spot.
Exclusive stats from Pro Football Focus were used in this article.