Tom Brady is an equal-opportunity quarterback. Any wide receiver or tight end who can get open on a consistent basis is going to catch a lot of pinpoint passes. That's why Zach Sudfeld is rightfully starting to receive a lot of fantasy hype.
The 24-year-old tight end out of Nevada has stood out from the crowd in what's currently a very deep, but certainly not star-studded, New England Patriots receiving group. An undrafted free-agent signing, he sports ideal size at 6'7'' while also flashing good athleticism and soft hands.
After catching one pass for 22 yards in the preseason opener, Sudfeld continued to show signs of progress on Friday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He caught a two-point conversion from Brady in the first quarter and a touchdown from Ryan Mallett shortly before halftime.
Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston commented during the game that the unheralded tight end's success is not a shock. A national audience is simply seeing what those who have been covering the team's training camp are witnessing on a regular basis.
National TV audience gets to see what has been regular theme @ Patriots practices: Throw the ball in Zach Sudfeld's direction, he catches it— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) August 17, 2013
A few conclusions can be drawn from the Patriots' second preseason outing.
Danny Amendola is going to serve as Brady's top target for as long as he can stay healthy. Shane Vereen will be a factor in the passing game coming out of the backfield. And most importantly for Sudfeld, there are plenty of targets available, at least until Rob Gronkowski returns.
The Gronkowski situation is an interesting one.
New England has provided very few updates or details about his recovery from back surgery. The longer he remains out, the more promising Sudfeld becomes as a fantasy option.
Ben Volin of The Boston Globe reported earlier in the month that the "mostly likely" outcome is Gronkowski missing the first six games. At that point, he still considered it "possible" he would return for Week 1, though:
Tight end Rob Gronkowski has almost become a forgotten member of the Patriots as he rehabs from back surgery and sits out training camp. He has attended practices most days in street clothes, but the Patriots won’t make him available to the media until he comes off the physically unable to perform list, which could be any time in training camp (highly doubtful), before Week 1 (possible), or after missing six regular-season games, by rule (more likely).
Sudfeld would still possess value as a late-round flier if Gronkowski was deemed ready for the opener. It obviously wouldn't be nearly as much as if he was the go-to tight end early on, however.
How highly do you rate Sudfeld?
The other factor in play is the uncertainty of the tight end position in fantasy. Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints and Gronkowski are a step above the rest. The Patriots' star obviously takes a significant hit if it's announced he will miss regular-season games.
Beyond those two, there are plenty of question marks, which makes having a potential breakout performer like Sudfeld valuable for owners.
As of right now, the rookie's average draft position isn't even inside the top 170, according to ESPN. That's sure to rise in the coming weeks and could skyrocket based on further Gronkowski information.
Currently, the best option for fantasy owners is taking Sudfeld as an early bench selection.
While Gronkowski is out, he will possess enough value to start on a weekly basis. When Gronkowski becomes available, the best course of action will be leaving Sudfeld on the bench for a week just to see what his role will be moving forward.
In all likelihood, he will still get enough looks to start when there's a favorable matchup for New England's passing game.
He's definitely a name to keep in mind on fantasy draft day.
Complete 2013 Projection for Zach Sudfeld
55 catches for 715 yards and six touchdowns