I’d like to take full and exclusive credit for being the first to jump aboard the Zach Sudfeld sleeper train, but then I’d be a filthy liar. Usually I’d be just fine with that, but in truth, I was just one of many who began to populate that fast-moving Sudfeld vessel back in June.
That’s when the Aaron Hernandez situation began to unravel, and when Rob Gronkowski continued to be the human form of the Operation board game guy, having surgeries just for fun. It was obvious that someone — anyone at all, really — needed to step up to receive passes at tight end from Tom Brady in Week 1 if Gronk starts on the PUP list (which is still very likely). And since it’s also become increasingly obvious that someone isn’t Jake Ballard because his knee is still assembled with cardboard and gum, an opportunity has presented itself for an undrafted nobody.
That nobody’s name is Zach Sudfeld, and he’s now running with the Patriots’ first-team offense in camp. Exclusively.
Sudfeld fell out of the draft after not starting until his final season at Nevada due to various injuries. This is where the caution comes in, along with the standard disclaimer/reminder that we’re still dealing with an undrafted rookie here, and no matter how much he impresses in August there’s inherently potential for a faceplant.
That said, since Gronkowski could be out for nearly half the season and the Patriots’ offense is well established as one that leans heavily on tights ends (remember, Gronkowski was targeted 80 times despite missing five games last year, and Hernandez received 83 targets even while missing six games), a high-ceiling stash like Sudfeld is a promising play with a late-round flier.
I’m not at all even remotely advocating relying on Sudfeld as your starting tight end, because that’s only something you would do if you enjoy crying. However, here’s a very possible scenario where Sudfeld could become useful. You miss out on Jimmy Graham, and then the draft doesn’t quite fall your way, and you also miss out on the rest of the top five at the position (generally, Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez, Vernon Davis, and Gronk).
By then, there’s little separation among the rest. So waiting and then waiting some more is a sound strategy, until you finally grab, say, Jermichael Finley in the 10th round. I know, owning Finley isn’t fun, but he’s still the primary tight end in an Aaron Rodgers-led offense. Then on that final pick, Sudfeld is a lottery ticket, and some high-upside insurance.
Or even better, reach for Gronk early, knowing that even just 10 games of him is better than 16 games from almost any other tight end. For the other six games, it’s very much sounding like the 6’7″, 260-pound Sudfeld will provide far more than mere replacement-level play.
We’ll get our first good look at Sudfeld Friday night during the Patriots’ preseason debut against the Eagles. So far, it’s been guesstimated that he’s dropped only two balls throughout camp. Buy low, friends.