Unless and until the Los Angeles Chargers decide to bring back Antonio Gates, there is a roster spot open for the taking at the tight end position.
After Hunter Henry went down with a season-ending injury last year, the Chargers went through training camp and preseason games looking for someone to step up and help fill that role. When several players failed to do that, the team brought Gates back.
That may have been the plan all along, as it allowed the veteran tight end to skip camp. Is that the plan again this year? It very well could be, but as long as he’s not on the roster, the opportunity is there.
Henry and Virgil Green are going to make the team, so the Chargers are likely looking for one more tight end.
Matt Sokol, an undrafted free agent out of Michigan State, is part of a list of five other tight ends on the roster, including Vince Mayle, Daniel Helm, Andrew Vollert and Sean Culkin.
Sokol did not post massive stats for the Spartans, catching 31 passes for 348 yards and two touchdowns during his career there. His best year, statistically, came during his junior season when he made 21 catches for 222 yards and a score.
Looking at him on film, you will see that Sokol gets a quick release and at 6-foot-6, he can be the definition of a security blanket for a quarterback as he often finds the soft spot in the zone and can just sit down and be that big target in the passing game. He can also be an effective blocker.
On the negative side of things, he is far from a refined receiving tight end. Though he does get a quick release, he often gets lost in the shuffle if he is contested by a defender who is not willing to give up that free release.
For Sokol to make the team, he will likely need to show something that he didn’t in college. He will need to be able to make tough, contested catches and show that he can hold up as a blocker at the professional level.
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With Green entrenched as the team’s blocking tight end, the Chargers will likely be looking for a guy who can complement Henry as a receiver. Sokol will have his work cut out for him there, as Helm may be a better overall prospect and Culkin, who has been part of the team the last two seasons after coming into the league as an undrafted free agent out of Missouri.
Chance to make final roster (1-10 scale): 4.5
Sokol has a solid chance of making this team, he will just have to outperform Helm and Culkin this summer. I would rank him ahead of Mayle and Vollert in the pecking order, for now.
Of course, if the team has plans to bring Gates back into the fold, which is entirely likely, he may just be hoping to stick around as a member of the practice squad.
Time will tell.