In preparation of the draft, Pats Pulpit will be providing profiles on players with a particular look at their fit in New England. To kick this off, there was a look at the two Iowa tight ends that have long been talked about as options for the Patriots in the first round. This time, let’s establish Texas A&M tight end Jace Sternberger as a top option on day 2 (rounds 2 and 3) of the draft if they miss out/pass on the Iowa duo set to go in the top 32.
At 6’4”, 251 pounds, Jace Sternberger would not look out of place in an Iowa Hawkeye uniform next to Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson. Similarly, Sternberger would not look out of place in any offense that misses out on one of the two Iowa tight ends in the first round. Sternberger is a good receiver and solid blocker who has shown the ability to improve in both areas. He is on the older side (23 years old) as a prospect after spending two years at Kansas (only playing 2 games and recording one catch in his time there) before sitting out 2017 to transfer to Texas A&M where he had 48 receptions for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns in 13 games in his only real college season.
Sternberger flashes peak play that rivals the best tight ends in the class. An excellent deep ball receiver who has the ability to win on a basic TE route tree (seam crosser curl flat), Sternberger should be able to make an impact as a 4th-ish option in an offense from day 1 and progress as he goes. Sternberger’s peak athleticism (we’ll get to his non-peak athleticism in a minute) allows him the ability to run away from defenders as well as around or over them.
As a blocker, Sternberger showed strength in the run game as well as getting to the second level in his blocks, though neither of these traits are elite (again, get to that in a minute). He shows a willingness to block though and has a foundation that’s easy to improve upon. When everything is working right for Sternberger he looks like a top-end prospect at the position.
Sternberger shows—for lack of a better word—inconsistent athleticism. On one play he’s getting around cornerbacks and running away from safeties, and on the next he’ll trip over his own feet turning upfield after pulling in the reception. He didn’t test out with particularly good athleticism to begin with (22nd SPARQ percentile among tight ends), but the tape doesn’t bear that out when everything comes together for him. One area that it does show up, however, is in Sternberger’s route running. While he is able to run the standard tight end route tree, sharp-breaking routes (ins, outs, some curls, etc) are clunky and he has a hard time gaining separation out of his breaks.
He could also stand to use his size more aggressively, both as a receiver and especially as a blocker. He knows the nuance of downfield blocking, when to engage or not engage, but this leads him to be too passive at times against smaller defenders who he could easily dominate with his size.
Most of these issues aren’t consistent on tape, and given his relative lack of college experience it’s an easy projection to see improvement at the next level.
I’m a big big dummy and didn’t save the plays I grabbed for this section, so peruse this link to twitter for some clips courtesy of various draft twitter accounts.
Sternberger profiles as the type of well-rounded player the Patriots would have interest in, though his athletic testing profile may turn them off. He has a great foundation to build from and would be taking over the Rob Gronkowski role (no, he will never be Gronk, just that role) in the offense should he land in New England.
He is the exact type of day two (likely at 56 or 64) pick that could look like a steal if they are able to mold him as they have done with so many players at various positions over the years.
Sternberger grades out as a late second round pick, with an early second round peak to the right team. Like T.J. Hockenson, his well-rounded skillset leaves him a wide net of teams that would fit well (this is exactly the same list as Hockenson’s. In my opinion, Sternberger should be backup plan numero uno for any team that wants but misses out on Hockenson).
Sternberger is a lump of clay that I can’t wait to see molded, but don’t let that make you think he’s raw or not good as is by any means. If he does not improve at all as an NFL player, the team that drafts him will still have a Tyler Kroft-level player, which is serviceable enough at tight end and good enough for a three-year deal worth more than $6 million per year on the open market.
If that clay does get molded, however, I think Sternberger has a ceiling that rivals Hockenson’s among the top of this class. If I had to make my bets, I’d guess he gets closer to his ceiling than he is to his floor. A future as a top 10 tight end in the league wouldn’t come close to shocking me, and while that isn’t Rob Gronkowski, that’s a damn fine way to follow in his shoes.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter at @Ryan_Keiran, and you can also follow his bi-weekly twitch streams where he hosts a football Q&A while playing games at twitch.tv/over_peek, and you can subscribe and see past streams on YouTube at over_peek.