Through one week of preseason action, Jacob Hollister is tied for second in the league in both receptions and receiving yards.
The New England Patriots’ undrafted tight end out of Wyoming caught seven for 116 in Thursday night’s exhibition opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. And if you tuned in, you may have seen him hurdle for the extra yard like LeGarrette Blount, detonate mid-air like a clay target over the middle, and have his helmet pop off down the sideline like it was “Madden NFL 2005.”
It was fun. It was also preseason. And it’s OK to accept both at face value.
“He's done a good job of adapting to the things that we've asked him to do,” head coach Bill Belichick said of Hollister during his Friday conference call, via Patriots.com. “He's learning. He's got a long way to go. There are a lot of things that he needs work on in all phases of the game – running game, passing game, kicking game. But he's a hard-working kid. He’s out there every day, and he's made improvement.”
Those improvements will be monitored closely now.
While New England’s 31-24 loss to Jacksonville didn’t count, Hollister’s individual performance did. And as another week of August gets underway, there’s reason to go over some odds and ends when it comes to the not-so-quiet April signing.
Here’s a four-point stance.
STARTING WITH SUDFELD
Hollister’s sudden ascent will conjure up memories of Zach Sudfeld’s 2013 training camp with the Patriots. But that isn’t fair to either.
Sudfeld, who signed as an undrafted rookie out of Nevada four springs ago, was hard to overlook as an after-the-catch and red-zone tight end with blocking ability. He was also hard to overlook because he was 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds of flowing hair – and a good story.
The Wolf Pack product overcame six surgeries to turn a six-year collegiate career into an NFL opportunity, catching eight passes for 101 yards and a touchdown in preseason action for the Patriots in the summer of 2013. Sudfeld did enough to earn a 53-man roster spot over Daniel Fells and backed up Rob Gronkowski and Michael Hoomanawanui, too. But he was waived in October after three regular-season games, no receptions and one mishandled onsides kick.
Sudfeld went on to spend parts of three campaigns with the New York Jets, suffering a torn ACL in 2015 and being cut before 2016 with 10 catches for 148 yards on his resume. If anything, the way his time came to an unceremonious end is a reminder of how much can change in a hurry; how preseason allure can become nothing more than a name on the transaction wire. Aside from that, Sudfeld and Hollister are far from parallels. Their builds and utilizations aren’t the same. Undrafted tight ends – that’s where the comparison between them should begin and end, regardless of how the 23-year-old Hollister fares moving forward.
PAST PRESEASON RECEIVING LEADERS
Preseason production requires volume. And the higher the volume, oftentimes the longer the longshot. Or, so it would seem. The Patriots have a wide range of players lead the team in preseason receiving yards since 2013, and each went on to make the initial 53-man roster.
Kenbrell Thompkins racked up 166 yards in the 2013 preseason on 15 catches. Brian Tyms followed with 188 yards in 2014 on 11 receptions and two scores. By 2015, it was another undrafted wideout who held the title in California’s Chris Harper, who recorded 150 yards and a TD on 15 grabs before spending the year between the practice squad and 53.
Then last summer, it was QB-turned-TE AJ Derby who led the Patriots’ ranks with 189 yards and a score on 15 receptions. The sixth-round pick from the prior draft would not catch a regular-season pass for the Patriots, however; Derby was instead traded to the Broncos before the deadline and went on to secure 16 passes for 160 yards in six contests for Denver.
Take the exhibition numbers with some Himalayan pink salt. That said, it’s a trend worth noting should Hollister manage to continue his.
Hollister was in the huddle for 54 of the Patriots’ 75 offensive snaps against the Jaguars, which stood third-most overall behind only wide receiver Austin Carr and offensive tackle Cole Croston.
The lone other tight end to enter into the game for the Patriots was fellow undrafted rookie Sam Cotton, who logged 35 snaps in the absence of Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, James O’Shaughnessy and Matt Lengel.
As for special teams – a location Hollister will likely have to hold up to outlast the ex-Kansas City Chief in O’Shaughnessy and the second-year Patriot in Lengel – he played six snaps. Cotton, on the other hand, played 11 in the kicking game.
That’ll be something to keep an eye on from the second preseason matchup through the fourth. O’Shaughnessy registered 287 snaps on special teams a season ago for Kansas City before becoming a draft-day acquistion, and Lengel registered 36 over the course of six games for New England.
From Jimmy Garoppolo to Jacoby Brissett, Hollister had the football sent his way a total of nine times versus Jacksonville.
Those throws netted incompletions on a dig, an out and a post route for the first-year tight end. But Hollister did wind up netting completions on a post-curl for 16 yards, a post for 19 yards, an out pattern for nine yards, two seam variations for 38 combined yards, and two flats for 19 combined yards. He lined up detached from the line and in a two-point stance on each.
That isn’t to say Hollister can’t put his hand on the ground and bunch the tackle from time to time, but his preexisting usage shouldn’t be overlooked in terms of how the Patriots view him. No. 48 is much more of an “F” than he is a “Y” option at 6-foot-4, 239 pounds. He’s much more of an O’Shaughnessy, a Derby or a Clay Harbor than he is a Lengel, a Sudfeld or a Michael Williams.
And should Hollister be on the roster come Sept. 7, that may bring along a trickle-down effect. It could force the Patriots to keep an extra offensive tackle for run-game purposes, or, it could leave the Patriots retaining as many as four at the tight end position. For now, there’s time to ponder the uncertainties. It’s up to Hollister to answer them.