The New England Patriots enter the 2019 NFL Draft with the unenviable task of trying to replace the greatest tight end of all time. While it’s impossible to completely replace him, the Patriots will likely add at least one tight end with their 12 selections. With T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant likely out of New England’s range, the Patriots could turn to Texas A&M’s Jace Sternberger.
New England Patriots 2019 NFL Draft Targets: Jace Sternberger
Jace Sternberger spent the first two years of his collegiate career with Kansas State but hardly saw the field. The Oklahoma native appeared in just two games with Kansas, recording one reception for five yards. Deciding to take his talents to Texas A&M, Sternberger emerged as one of the best tight ends in the college football landscape. Appearing in 13 games, Sternberger recorded 48 receptions for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Sternberger is probably the second- or third-best receiving tight end in this draft class. While he doesn’t have Noah Fant’s speed, his fantastic footwork and advanced knowledge of route running allow him to consistently get open all along the formation. Sternberger is more than just an in-line tight end, as he has the ability to line up in the slot and serve as a pseudo wide receiver.
While Sternberger only has one year of tape, the tight end showed the ability to be a great red zone threat. Despite his relatively undersized frame, Sternberger finished his 2018 season with 10 touchdowns on just 48 receptions. New England’s red zone offense was uncharacteristically mediocre last season, and Sternberger can go a long way in helping improve that efficiency.
Jace Sternberger is a good pass catcher, but he’s not a complete tight end. The Texas A&M product is a willing run blocker, but he simply cannot hold up at the point of attack. Sternberger constantly lost in the trenches and routinely got pushed back by edge defenders in the run game.
Unfortunately for Sternberger, he’s not likely to improve this part of his game. Sternberger is undersized for a tight end, and his lack of physical build showed at the NFL Combine. Among tight ends, Sternberger tested in the 38th percentile for weight, 39th percentile for height, and just the 21st percentile for the bench press. New England was one of the most run-heavy offenses in football last season, and Sternberger’s subpar blocking is a major issue for a team trying to move the ball on the ground.
Sternberger’s lack of physical ability shows up on occasion in the passing game. While his route running allows him to gain separation, he struggles to win at the point of attack and haul in contested catches. He’s capable of boxing out smaller safeties, but he cannot beat linebackers on tight passes. In many ways, he’s either open by two steps or not at all.
Jace Sternberger would be an immediate contributor on a New England Patriots offense desperately looking for a tight end. Nobody would call him the best tight end in the class, but Sternberger has the tools to immediately contribute in the passing game. His advanced route running allows him to gain separation against just about anyone and he flashed the ability to be a red zone threat at the next level.
That said, Sternberger doesn’t come without his fair share of weaknesses. He’s undersized for a tight end and lacks the ideal strength for the position. Because of this, Sternberger doesn’t project to be a contributor in the run game. This obviously impacts his overall value to the team, as New England is one of the most run-heavy teams in the league.
If selected, Jace Sternberger would be pegged as a Rob Gronkowski replacement. However, Sternberger’s game mirrors Aaron Hernandez much more than the recently retired tight end. While he has a few clear weaknesses in his game, he can also bring a consistent presence to New England’s passing game.
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