With training camp about to get rolling this week, it’s important to remember that players who stand out during the lead-up phases before the regular season don’t always turn into stars or even contributors.
Players we get enamored with who look like superstars during the practice sessions, and might even flash during preseason games, haven’t always panned out.
For every success story, such as cornerback Malcolm Butler, whose competitiveness and ball skills stood out during his rookie camp as an undrafted free agent, to Tom Brady, a sixth-round pick who turned heads despite being at the bottom of the quarterback depth chart at the outset of his first camp as a Patriot, there are camp stars who never amount to much.
Let’s start with Chad Jackson. Who didn’t fall for the former University of Florida receiver during the summer of 2006? The Pats second-round pick had all the tools, and showcased them during the early camps. Watching him blow by defenders in practice with his blazing speed and make all kinds of eye-popping plays even in a non-game setting added to the hype. There wasn’t any ball he couldn’t run down.
Talk about a camp crush, Jackson made it easy to fall head over heels with his talent right from minicamp. Even with the small camp samples, there was little doubt he was going to be a star. But he wound up catching just 13 balls for the Patriots. Between injuries and simply not living up to his billing, Jackson was cut loose just prior to the 2008 season.
The failure of the pick ultimately forced the Pats to load up on more established receivers in 2007, and get Brady some much-needed weapons (Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth).
Jackson is the poster boy for a high Patriots draft pick who was expected to do so much more, looked like he’d fit the part, only it never materialized. There have also been a few undrafted free agents who grabbed headlines early but ultimately disappeared.
Tight end Zach Sudfeld sits at the top of that list. He had reporters buzzing during his first training camp with the Patriots. The undrafted free agent was one of the team’s best offensive players throughout the offseason. He played with the top unit and was pulling down everything thrown in his direction. Soon, he earned a few catchy nicknames, whether it was “Studfeld” or “Baby Gronk.”
With his long locks, he was a favorite with the fans. And, with his ability, catching a touchdown pass and two-point conversion during the preseason games, it seemed certain he’d have an impact in 2013.
Only Studfeld turned into Dudfeld. His play in camp did not carry over into a regular season game setting. Talk about a disappointment, the 6-foot-6 tight end was eventually released in October, a few months after making such a big splash during camp.
More recently, Jacob Hollister, another tight end, also fits the profile. He’s the latest training camp wonder who didn’t pan out.
Like Sudfeld, he was an undrafted free agent who flashed during the early camps and preseason. He was especially impressive in his first camp in 2017, showing off a good set of hands. He made the 53-man roster but only saw limited action during the year. Last season, he once again looked like he was going to be a breakout player, making the final roster after being a standout during training camp. Then he kept getting injured.
With Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen both gone, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Hollister to finally shine this season. The Patriots, however, traded him to Seattle for a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft. In other words, they were no longer willing to wait for him to put it all together and make it happen when it counted.
No doubt, there will be more names added to the list on both sides of the ledger in the coming weeks. We’re going to pump up several players who continuously catch our eye, especially with joint sessions with the Lions and Titans on tap the first two weeks of August.
Some, like Butler, will make the grade. Others, like Jackson, will ultimately disappoint. That’s life in the NFL.
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