The New England Patriots, who are currently in their middle of their 2019 preseason, have 90 players on their active roster at the moment. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on August 31 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the summer, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots defend their Super Bowl title.
Today, the series continues with a the latest addition to New England’s roster.
Name: Eric Saubert
Position: Tight end
Jersey number: 48
Opening day age: 25
Size: 6’5, 250 lbs.
2018 review: Despite seeing only limited action during his rookie campaign, Eric Saubert entered the 2018 offseason competing for a top role in the Atlanta Falcons’ tight end rotation. And while he failed to stand out during preseason — he was solid as a blocker but caught just 4 passes for 83 yards during his three games — the former fifth-round draft pick was still able to survive cutdown day and carve out a role as a depth option.
As such, Saubert appeared in all sixteen of the Falcons’ games in 2018 and actually showed some improvement when compared to his first year in the league: he saw increased playing time on both offense and special teams, and improved both as a blocker and as a receiver (albeit in comparatively limited action). All in all, the Drake product finished the season with 5 receptions on 9 passing targets for a combined 48 yards.
Saubert’s role with the Falcons was not that of a receiving threat, however, but rather that of a blocker. According to Pro Football Focus, he served as a run blocker or pass protector on 107 of his 178 combined offensive snaps (of 1,060; 16.8%) and was solid in both areas. Furthermore, Atlanta also employed him in the kicking game on a regular basis. In fact, only one other Falcon saw more special teams snaps in 2018 than Saubert.
Playing on all four kick coverage units and at times also on the place kick protection team, he was on the field for 66.4% of the Falcons’ snaps in the kicking game (292 of 440). Saubert registered only three tackles, but he still proved himself a reliable and versatile option in the game’s third phase. Nevertheless, he headed towards the 2019 season with his future in Atlanta very much up in the air.
2019 preview: Saubert appeared in both of the Falcons’ first two preseason games, and saw considerable playing time as the team’s top tight end in terms of snaps: he was used on 79 of a possible 164 offensive snaps (48.2%) and also played 14 more in the kicking game (of 58; 24.1%). His production, however, was again limited as he registered only a single 7-yard catch on 4 targets as well as one special teams takedown.
It was therefore not all that surprising to see Atlanta move on from the third-year man on Monday: the team shipped Saubert to New England for a conditional seventh-round draft selection — a compensation that makes the neo-Patriot little more than a roster bubble player on his new team. Instead, the 25-year-old will need to earn a role on a tight end depth chart that underwent a major transformation this offseason.
Gone are the days of Rob Gronkowski, which in turn creates plenty of opportunity for Saubert and the rest of New England’s tight ends — one of them will open the season suspended for four games (Benjamin Watson), with three others currently injured or rehabbing (Matt LaCosse, Lance Kendricks, Stephen Anderson). Despite the circumstances, however, Saubert still faces an uphill climb when it comes to making the team.
After all, he needs to get up to speed quickly and prove his value as not just a blocker but a receiver as well. If he can do that, and also carves out a role on special teams, he will at least put himself in a solid position. If not, his tenure will likely come to a quick end — which might bring the seventh-round pick exchanged in the trade back to New England, depending on the conditions of the trade.