FOXBORO – I still love Zach Sudfeld.
You need to understand, what he did last summer was real.
He did own practice-after-practice at Foxboro. He was uncoverable when the Patriots worked out in Philly. Diving, one-handed catches? Happened. Sideline toe-taps on lasers thrown by Tom Brady? Real. Post-ups, fades, elusiveness after the catch and a decent level of physicality? Authentic.
I wasn’t getting unnecessarily enthused about an undrafted tight end from Nevada with long hair who was stepping into the void left by a jailed Hernandez and an injured Gronk. The kid could play.
So what if he leveled off. And got hurt, got cut and then signed with the Jets. I wasn’t wrong. Sudfeld will be in this league for a while.
Anyway, I mention Sudfeld now so you don’t roll your eyes when I tell you about Justin Jones. Because I know when I start talking about Jones you will start thinking Sudfeld 2.0.
And I want to make it clear, I wasn’t wrong about Sudfeld. It happened.
Now, Jones. Undrafted from East Carolina, 6-foot-8, 274 pounds. He’s got a 37.5 vertical and benches 400 pounds. And he plays tight end.
You see Jones walk across the practice field looking like Gronk’s big brother and think, “This kid must be an absolute cement-head to miss his senior season and not get drafted.”
There is evidence of that. Jones was ruled ineligible by East Carolina last August after he failed summer school. But a minute or two of talking to Jones erases that perception. He’s a long way from stupid.
Which is good. But the on-field results and Jones’ potential will be what earn him a spot.
Through two padded practices, we’d give Jones an incomplete. Not Sudfeldian. Yet
“I need to get better at being more consistent,” he admitted. “I run a good route here and there and then when we go on the film, we see there are things that went wrong that we need to correct. That’s something Coach Belichick emphasizes, taking it from the classroom to the field. Be consistent and don’t mess up the same thing twice.”
So far, Jones has just been…there. No shame in that. The opportunities have been few. But over the next two weeks, he’ll have occasion to distinguish himself, especially when the team starts practicing next week against the Redskins.
The opportunity is there. The Patriots still don’t have a legitimate pass-catching threat coming off the bench at tight end. Jones, it would seem, could be Gronk insurance.
“Gronk’s an animal,” said Jones. “He’s someone that’s really hard to replicate. Luckily for me, my stature is somewhat like Gronk’s. But he does a really good job of using his body when he’s coming through defenders. They try to get a jam on him and that doesn’t faze him too often. He’s done a really good job with his forearm of still using the near-arm to shake off defenders and getting open at the top of his route. It still comes down to using our bodies and using a little bit of a box-out or post-up. And in the red zone you see him being split out and that’s something that really impacted my decision to come here.”
The Patriots, I’m told, were only enamored with one tight end in the draft: Jace Amaro from Texas Tech drafted by the Jets. But their need at the position was significant. Scooping up Jones was a boon. Getting something out of him will be like hitting a gusher.
Jones doesn’t seem to be sweating it yet.
“I played a little basketball, ran a little track,” he explained when discussing his mobility. “A lot of it just comes down to being in the right position and using your body. In this league, it only takes a yard to be open. We put out our hands and we’re open. They put it perfectly.”
“They” being the quarterbacks.
“As a receiver, we’re lucky to have Tom, Jimmy (Garoppolo) and Ryan (Mallett) on our side. They put the ball in perfect almost every time and it’s real easy to come down with it if you’re in the right position. Coach Belichick says a receiver has two jobs: get open and catch the ball.”
Jones is open when he’s upright. Chronicling how well he catches it – and whether he catches on where Zach Sudfeld couldn’t – will keep me busy for the next few weeks.
FOXBORO – I still love Zach Sudfeld.