The Patriots must seek another pass-catcher after a certain Tight End Who Shan’t Be Named got released due to alleged “troubles.”
Troubles. Suddenly we’re speaking about Foxboro the same way we described Belfast in 1982.
In any case, our look at the ten players best suited to pick up the suddenly significant slack at tight end/H-back.
Tim The Enchanter: Remember when the Pats signing Tim Tebow was the biggest sports news of the summer? I miss those days.
Tebow’s a press magnet who also knows how to play football. He sees himself as a quarterback, but many view him as a prototypical hybrid. (A hybrid of what, exactly, still remains less clear.)
Why not: Will the Heisman-trophy winning QB who inspired one NFL team and then discombobulated another agree to make the switch to H-back? Can he catch the football in traffic? Can he get on the same page as Tom Brady? Does he even want to?
Why, yes: Tebow’s a physical specimen (6-3, 245) who displayed surprising foot speed at his pro day 3-cone drill (an ironically devilish 6.66 seconds). Projected as a “move” tight end, his versatility could drive opposing defensive coordinators cuckoo.
We know he calls upon the heavens to cool him off during workouts; we know he offers body sculpting tips to bronze statues; we know he considers the earth, sun, and wind his brethren. We do NOT know whether the next chapter in the Tebow legend begins at a new position.
Doubting Thomas: Former New England end and current free agent David Thomas has a chance to return to the team that drafted him and make an impact.
Why not: While New England drafted Thomas, the prototypical replacement for Whosy-whatsit may not wish to come back to the team that cut him. Also, after catching more passes in his first year in New Orleans (35 in 2009) than he had in his entire three-year stint in Foxboro (21 total), Thomas only has 16 receptions over the past two seasons.
Why, yes: Good size (6-3, 248), good hands, and a solid NFL contributor in the past who – unlike most of these other candidates – has experience catching passes from Brady during an actual NFL contest.
Bill Belichick and crew may see some more viable candidates in the group we’re sifting through; still, they could do a hell of a lot worse than bringing in Thomas for another look.
It’s Not An, Eh, Zach Science: Rookie free agent tight end Zach Sudfeld has stepped up when called upon this off-season, taking the missed reps of Rob Gronkowski and Whosamacallit. (Note: for a review of Sudfeld and other Patriots undrafted free agents, see this comprehensive breakdown from April.)
Why not: Sudfeld’s a big guy (6-7, 260) who lacks the quickness and downfield speed (4.84-second 40-yard dash) that smaller, shiftier tight ends possess. Also comes into Foxboro with the same “will he or won’t he pick up the O?” concerns that all rookie pass-catchers do.
Why, yes: With his size and relative quickness (7.00 in the 3-cone, similar to rookie linebacker Steve Beauharnais’s 6.99), Sudfeld in the slot could give opponents match-up problems. Showed solid hands and a basic understanding of responsibilities during spring camp.
Mark, My Word: Rookie Mark Harrison undrafted blah blah blah Rutgers blah blah.
Why not: Harrison played outside receiver at Foxboro South University and seemed to lack the short-area quickness necessary to elude defenders near the line of scrimmage. While large for a receiver (6-3, 230), may not be able to hold up against NFL linebackers. Also, like Sudfeld, we just don’t know if he’ll figure out the offense (henceforth known as the New England Rookie Receiver Disclaimer, or NERRD).
Why, yes: His size could present yet another match-up problem for the defense because he’s too big for most defensive backs and too fast for most linebackers (4.37 seconds in the 40). Plus, his 38.5-inch vertical leap gives him solid target potential in the red zone.
And, you know: Rutgers.
Aiken For A Spot: Receiver Kamar Aiken hopes to rise up the ranks after shuttling between the Patriots’ practice squad and roster in 2012. Will recent personnel openings give him a shot at the big slot?
Why not: In terms of the H-back position, Aiken (6-1, 213) falls short, literally. Judging by his Ray Ventrone Memorial status (gets put on and off the team more than practice jerseys), it appears Aiken had some issues getting the coaches to stick with him. Seems that his quickness could use some work.
Why, yes: Aiken has good straight-line speed (4.45-second 40) and some power (10-foot-8 broad jump) that could serve him well in certain situations. Most importantly for him, he has spent time in the system and, due to other receivers’ injuries, got valuable practice looks this past spring.
Though not our top choice, Aiken’s a young pass-catcher who could find his way onto the roster (on a long-term basis this time) as a possession receiver out of the slot.
How You Ben? Rookie fullback Ben Bartholomew proved willing to switch positions and help out Tennessee last season. His versatility and team-first attitude might prove valuable in 2013.
Why not: NERRD. In addition, though he has the bulk (6-2, 245) and strength (30 bench reps) to play in the league, Bartholomew runs like an old-school fullback, akin to a truck backing into an alley. (In other words, everyone gets out of the way, and it takes a while.)
Why, yes: While Bartholomew made his bones as a blocker for the Vols, he did step in as a tight end when needed, nabbing 11 passes for 102 yards. Would work well out of the slot as a perimeter blocker.
A Slow Ballard Without A Swift End: Both Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells maintain their classifications as big tight ends, Ballard at 6-6, 275 pounds and Fells at a slightly-less-monolithic 6-4, 265. With Gronkowski’s myriad maladies putting his playing status on possible hold, could these tights take over in the big slot?
Why not: Ballard looks like an oak, and seems to move like one. He’ll get plenty of reps as an on-line blocker and short-area receiving option, but he’s no Gronk. Fells caught four passes last year in 13 games. Just for comparison, that’s only four more passes than I caught in zero games.
And, seriously, I have the foot speed of an arthritic tortoise. In a tar pit.
Why, yes: If you were a 195-pound safety, would you want to try to cover one of these guys? Fells has the increasingly exclusive experience of catching Brady passes that almost all of his teammates lack; meanwhile, Ballard got some positive reviews on offense during spring camp.
Probably won’t happen, but might be fun to see the size differential these guys offer. Kind of like watching Robert Wadlow playing leapfrog.
Boyce Of Summer: New England fourth-round pick Josh Boyce might get a chance to show his wares from the slot position.
Why not: NERRD. Missing time with a foot injury hasn’t helped. Boyce has spoken of his ability to pick up offenses quickly, but to state the obvious, TCU (Texas Christian University) is not exactly TBU (Tom Brady University). Also, at 5-11, 206, Boyce’s measurements won’t blow anyone away.
Why, yes: Did we say measurements? Boyce’s combine numbers make us take notice, including a 4.34-second 40, a 10-11 broad jump, and a BB-in-an-empty-paint-can-shaker-quick 6.68-second 3-cone drill. As an inside receiver, Boyce could prove tricky to keep tabs on for a defense.
Coaches must account for his rookie-ness, but Boyce’s athleticism may make up for his smaller (in terms of what we’re looking for, anyway) stature.
Develin Side: Practice squad denizen James Develin made the conversion from defensive end at Brown to NFL fullback hopeful.
Why not: Develin posted a 5.03-second 40 at his pro day in 2010. Considering it has taken a while to secure a position at fullback, we can only assume it would take longer to get him comfortable at slot receiver/H-back.
Why, yes: The dude’s a leviathan, measuring 6-3, 259 and tallying 39 bench reps at his pro day. Sure, he won’t outrun or out-quick anyone, but the boulder at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark didn’t seem concerned about its elusiveness.
You can see some of Develin’s athleticism in this college highlight reel.
Throw me the whip!
Seems A Ford Able: Clemson tight end Brandon Ford looks the part as a versatile tight end from a well-respected program. The rookie free agent wrapped up his career with 12 touchdowns, tying a school record for tight ends.
Why not: On paper, Ford’s dreamy. A 6-3, 245-pounder with 40 catches last season? Yes, please. But for a guy who excelled at high school hoops, Ford seems to lack the ideal quickness for the big slot position (4.74-second 40, 4.67-second 20-yard shuttle, 7.13-second 3-cone). And, oh yeah: NERRD.
Why, yes: Made the All-ACC First Team (both coaches and media); averaged 20 yards a catch on his way to eight TDs. Has the physicality for the position and could surprise this summer.
Anyone you think can chip in for the Pats in 2013? Let us know in the comments section below.
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