It's October first. That means September is mercifully over for Patriots tight end Zach Sudfeld.
After building up a lot of hype with his performance in the preseason and training camp, the rookie started his career with a month to forget. Sudfeld began his professional career with a whimper, as his deflection of a Tom Brady pass wound up in the hands of Buffalo's Justin Rogers. The turnover quickly resulted in a Buffalo touchdown just before halftime. To add injury to insult, the Nevada product also pulled a hamstring late in that game, an injury that would keep him out of Week 2's mudfight with the Jets.
By the time Sudfeld had returned in Week 3, his playing time had already been significantly scaled back, likely due to his struggles blocking. He saw another pass intended for him result in an interception, this time in the end zone, although it's worth noting that Brady deserved most of the fault for the turnover. Sunday night saw Sudfeld see only 8 offensive snaps, by far his lowest total of the season. He did draw a defensive holding call so there's that, I guess.
However, lack of offensive snaps became the least of Sudfeld's problems late in the game, as he was pressed into duty on the "hands" team when the Falcons lined up for an onside kick. The kick bounced right to Sudfeld, who got both hands on the ball but somehow failed to pull it in. The Falcons recovered and promptly marched right down the field before the Patriots red zone defense tightened up and held them to a field goal, making it a one possession game. The Patriots would survive Sudfeld's blunder to win the game, but it was another negative play in a nightmarish start to the season. With Rob Gronkowski likely set to return soon, Sudfeld needs to improve quickly if he wants to avoid becoming a healthy scratch on game days.
While Sudfeld's performance has been disappointing to say the least, lets pump the brakes on calling him a complete bust just yet. His talent and potential as a receiving threat is enticing, but it's important to remember that Sudfeld is still very much a developmental project. He only made a big impact during his final college season, as injuries cost him several seasons during his six years at Nevada. He really hasn't played all that much football, and has never seen a playbook nearly as thick and complex as New England's.
Furthermore, Sudfeld looks like he could really use a year in the weight room with the team's strength program. At 6'7", Sudfeld is somewhat of a beanpole, despite being listed at 260 pounds. His lack of strength shows up in his mediocre blocking, which is one of the quickest ways to get in Bill Belichick's doghouse. After a year getting stronger and learning the playbook, Sudfeld could be much improved in year 2, which is eye opening because he still has the size, athleticism and catch radius to be an excellent receiving tight end and a potential nightmare to match up with when paired with Gronk in the red zone. Lets not close the book on his career after three games, no matter how bad those three games have been.