By Glenn Naughton
Heading in to the 2016 NFL season, the New York Jets have a huge hole in their offense at the tight end position, and at 6′ 7” 253 pounds, Gang Green is hoping that their patience with the oversized, yet oft-injured, Zach Sudfeld will pay off in helping fill that hole.
Much has been made of the versatility the Jets hope to have on offense this season with the addition of running backs Matt Forte and Khiry Robinson, who will join Bilal Powell in New York’s backfield, giving offensive coordinator Chan Gailey three backs who pose a threat in both the running and passing game.
Wide receiver/H-back Quincy Enunwa and H-back/tight end Jace Amaro stand to present match-up problems for opposing defenses as well, but still missing from the Jets offense is a true in-line tight end who won’t have to come off the field for fear of being a liability in any one aspect of the game.
That’s where Sudfeld comes in. As patient as the Jets have been in waiting for Sudfeld’s injury to mend, he has had to wait on his body to recover from significant injuries several times.
The former New England Patriot who was let go by Bill Belichick as he battled one injury after another in what was an otherwise impressive rookie camp, Sudfeld was viewed by some as one of the best blocking tight ends in the country in his final college season. However, it’s been a long road for the University of Nevada product whom the Jets also released last season only to later re-sign him and place him on injured reserve after suffering a torn ACL when he was hit by safety Calvin Pryor in a non-contact drill. It was a bit of deja vu for Sudfeld who suffered season-ending injuries three different times at Nevada.
Now, having had time to recover from his latest injury and a year of watching from the sidelines, as Chan Gailey’s offense finished 11th in scoring in the NFL, one can’t help but wonder what a player of Sudfeld’s physical stature can offer in the middle of the field.
Last season’s offense, while productive, became too predictable as the Jets relied far too much on receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric
Decker who accounted for 52% of the team’s receptions (189 of 362). Thinking back to the their Week 17 loss to the Buffalo Bills and Ryan Fitzpatrick’s back-breaking red zone interception on a pass to Decker, would the outcome have been different with a player like the 6′ 7” Sudfeld running up the seam? We’ll never know.
However, should he manage to earn significant playing time, Sudfeld would be suiting up on offense with any combination of Marshall, Decker, Forte, Enunwa, Amaro and Powell, with Kenbrell Thomkins and speedsters Charone Peake and Robby Anderson fighting to make the 53-man roster. Having the versatility to line up tight to the formation as a blocker who can catch the ball, while also being able to move to the slot or the outside, adds to Gailey’s options on offense.
If ever there was a time for Sudfeld’s patience to pay off, it would be right off the bat in training camp. With no clear-cut starter at the position and few options on the roster who possess his overall size and skill set, the job may be his for the taking as the current regime seems undecided on Jace Amaro whom they considered an H-back as opposed to a traditional tight end during camp last season.
The Jets have waited on Sudfeld as he’s waited on his many wounds to heal over the years. Now it’s time to find out if the best things do indeed come to those who wait.