This year's NFL draft has been all about players with upside; those who do not have a long track record but have great athleticism to make up for it.
While Zach Sudfeld has had a lack of playing time due to injuries rather than taking up the sport recently, he showed enough ability his senior season to become a legitimate draft prospect.
Did he show enough both at Nevada and his pro day to be a draftable prospect? Find out below.
At 6'7", Sudfeld has great size, and is one of the tallest tight ends in the draft, and perhaps the tallest that will end up drafted. In high school, he was a letterman in tennis, track and field and basketball, meaning that he has a lot of athletic upside.
Despite not being invited to the combine, Sudfeld had an impressive pro day, showcasing his athleticism and ability to be a red-zone threat at the next level.
At the time of the draft, Sudfeld will be 24. A birthdate of April 18, 1989 makes him one of the oldest draftable prospects, which will hurt his stock. (ESPN has his birth year as 1986, which doesn't fit with his collegiate career, but if he were to be that old then that would hurt his stock even more.)
Due to a myriad of injuries, this past season was his only real full season to show his potential. He spent six years at Nevada, and had six surgeries due to injury. Medically, he is very high-risk, and teams will also wonder why he was not invited to the combine.
Sudfeld's size at 6'7" and 255 pounds will inherently be an advantage in the NFL, as he is a big target for any quarterback to throw to. At his pro day, he had a 4.71-second 40-yard dash time, and had a three-cone drill time of seven seconds flat. Both those times beat out most who attended the combine.
As great as most of his numbers were, he only had 11 receptions on the bench press, which is too low for a tight end, especially one of his stature. He will need to bulk up to keep pace with defenders.
Through watching interviews, Sudfeld comes off as personable. He had a blog, which is inactive but does give good insight as to what kind of person he is. He has a resilient attitude, perhaps thanks to his many injuries, and is not going to let a setback bother him.
Nevada uses the pistol offense, a shotgun-single back hybrid that is designed to be more uptempo. It's the same system Colin Kaepernick rose to stardom with.
In such an offense, the tight end has to be athletic and a good blocker, while being open to quick receptions in the red zone. Sudfeld has been able to do all of these, especially in the red zone.
Sudfeld has a decent first step when asked to block on a play, and is able to modify himself mid-play and become a receiver if needed. His first step is not as fast when receiving to make sure that there isn't a blitz coming.
When it comes to route running, he can run plenty of different routes, both up the middle and in the slot. It's not often a TE can run downfield, but he is able to do so. Even when blocking, he can move from one end of the line of scrimmage to the other and make a stop.
Sudfeld has sure hands, and it is considered one of his strong suits. His arms and hands rival those of top prospects Tyler Eifert and Zach Ertz in size, and he is able to catch passes in transition, using his body to hold onto them rather than relying solely on his hands.
On the blocking end, Sudfeld is able to keep his hand placement high and grab hold of pass-rushers to keep them at bay.
Sudfeld keeps a good grip on the ball when running downfield, and has the strength to pull opponents as he runs to gain an extra few yards. When it comes to moves, however, he does not have anything extra in the tank like a spin move or a juke to get out of a tight situation.
Run After Catch
One of Sudfeld's strong points is his ability to extend the play downfield after the catch despite not having the breakaway speed of a wide receiver.
If he is tackled in the open field, he is occasionally able to break out of it and gain an extra few yards. His ability to shrug off that first defensive back that tackles makes him a threat in the end zone.
When you're a tight end at Nevada, you have to know how to block, both at the line and downfield. He has a good enough rush that he can flatten a player that's slow to come off the edge, and he is able to serve as a blocker easily enough.
I would like to see him add some more strength, because, while blocking MWC players is simple enough, NFL rushers will be that much bigger, and I'm not convinced that he will easily be able to stop them without some extra training. In watching film, there have been times where he struggled with foot placing as defenders charged in, and that's something NFL defenses will exploit.
The fact that Sudfeld is able to contribute both as a blocking and receiving tight end helps him greatly, as day-three projects are generally more one-dimensional. He is also athletic enough to be able to contribute on special teams while he transitions to the NFL.
Sudfeld is currently projected as a very late draft pick, either going in the seventh round or ending up as an undrafted free agent. Personally, I see him as a solid fifth-round pick, as he has more than enough upside to be worth drafting.