Who Is New England Patriots Tight End Zach Sudfeld?

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Who Is New England Patriots Tight End Zach Sudfeld?
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

A 6'7'', 255-pound tight end is making waves at New England Patriots training camp, and it's not All-Pro Rob Gronkowski.

It's Zach Sudfeld, an undrafted free agent from Nevada. 

Who?

Sudfeld's been running "exclusively with the first unit," and is "catching everything thrown his way," according to The Boston Globe.

Heck, even recent spectator Sal Paolantonio of ESPN has been impressed with Sudfeld's strong play thus far, calling him "Baby Gronk," per Rotoworld.com.

No need to tab over and google "Zach Sudfeld." You're covered. Here's a proper introduction. 

 

Background and College Production

Sudfeld is a 24-year-old mammoth of a man who played at the University of Nevada. He was on the team with Colin Kaepernick for two seasons in Reno but didn't contribute until the 2012 campaign.

Last season, he exploded with 45 catches for 598 yards and eight receiving touchdowns, a year that included a five-game touchdown streak and two touchdown receptions in the New Mexico Bowl against Arizona.

MARCO GARCIA-USA TODAY Sports

Sudfeld was a three-year starter and senior captain on his high school football team in Modesto, California, and also "lettered in tennis, track and field, and basketball," according to NevadaWolfPack.com, which explains his athletic prowess. 

At Nevada's Pro Day, Sudfeld, who wasn't invited to the combine, ran a 4.71 in the 40-yard dash and a 4.48 short shuttle. 

For perspective on those numbers, Oakland's sixth-round pick Nick Kasa ran a 4.71 in the 40, and Zach Ertz, drafted in the second round by the Philadelphia Eagles, ran a 4.47 in the short shuttle.

 

Why He Went Undrafted

Okay, 6'7'', 255-pounds, desirable speed and athleticism, fantastic senior year in college—why did Sudfeld go undrafted?

Good question. 

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

He actually spent six years at Nevada and dealt with many injuries during his career. 

After redshirting as a freshman in 2007, he got injured in 2008. After basically no production in 2009 and 2010, Sudfeld suffered a season-ending leg injury in the season opener against Oregon in 2011.

Thankfully, the NCAA granted him a medical redshirt, which allowed him to return fully healthy in 2012 and piece together a fine season.

Being 24 with a vast injury history certainly didn't help his chances to get drafted.

Also, NFL.com's Gil Brandt noted that while Sudfeld had an impressive workout at his pro day, he needed "to work on his strength."

He did only 11 reps on the bench press (Ertz did 24, Kasa did 22).

 

How the Patriots Could Use Him

With Gronkowski still on the Physically Unable To Perform list (PUP), Sudfeld has a shot to start the regular season as New England's No. 1 tight end. 

Over the past two years, we've seen that Bill Belichick isn't remotely timid about frequently using two or even three tight end sets.

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

However, having Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez—a prototypical yards-after-the-catch H-back—made those jumbo formations click. 

Although he closely resembles Gronkowski in body type, Sudfeld may be moved down to Hernandez's old flex position, especially when Gronk returns.

Then again, if Gronkowski misses time during the regular season, Sudfeld could take over his role, running seam routes and intermediate option routes all over the field in Tom Brady's offense. At this stage, though, the raw and relatively weaker Sudfeld will likely have fewer opportunities as a run-blocker than Gronkowski did. Remember, Gronk is an elite run-blocking tight end. 

Zach Sudfeld's emergence somewhat eases New England's pain of losing Hernandez on the field and very well may give the Patriots a valuable red-zone option to either stand in for or complement Rob Gronkowski this season.

 

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