Two years ago, the Chargers signed an undrafted tight end out of Missouri named Sean Culkin. He didn’t catch a ton of passes in college and was mostly known for his prowess in the run-blocking department. Fast-forward to now and Culkin is still with the team as a reserve tight end, doing what he does best.
At this very moment, the Chargers get a healthy Hunter Henry back on top of Virgil Green and, potentially, another year of Antonio Gates heading into the 2019 season. This will likely make the tight end group one of the hardest position rooms to break in to.
Earlier this week, our very own Brad Kelly did the write-up for Daniel Helm, the other tight end that was signed as a UDFA. Both Sokol and Helm were seldom used while in college and don’t have a ton of experience with the ball in their hands. In fact, both failed to surpass the 500-yard receiving mark for their careers.
Below are Sokol’s numbers while at Michigan State from 2016-2018 (He had no statistics in 2015):
2016: 2 receptions - 26 yards
2017: 21 receptions - 222 yards - 1 touchdown
2018: 8 receptions - 100 yards - 1 touchdown
Sokol’s athletic profile is quite underwhelming which obviously doesn’t pair well with his lack of productivity. His 4.87 forty leaves much to be desired and the rest of his agility numbers don’t paint the picture of a guy who is “quicker than fast”, at least on paper.
When I slapped on the film, I was vehemently surprised by Sokol’s initial acceleration off the snap. He was able to get into the body of second level defender’s quickly and could even threaten them vertically if they failed to treat him with enough respect.
However, that surprising “football speed” means close to nothing when you can’t create any separation. Sokol made his money off finding soft spots in zone coverage but struggled mightily to create space at the top of routes if his defenders decided to challenge him physically.
Of course, there is always a spot on teams for tight ends who can help create space in other areas of the offense, a.k.a the run game.
Sokol thrives in the open space as a lead blocker on end-arounds and wide zone concepts. He knows his aiming points and constantly displaces defenders horizontally to give the running back plenty of space to turn up into.
#Chargers UDFA Matt Sokol (#81) offers excellent size at 6-6 260lbs.— Michael Peterson (@ZoneTracks) May 13, 2019
He caught just 31 balls and 2 TDs while at MSU but still earned an invite to the @Shrine_Game.
As of now, I believe his only shot of making the roster is as a 4th TE who helps bolster the running attack. pic.twitter.com/cJQnXdHqKh
Running back Melvin Gordon did most of his work outside of the tackles over the last two seasons and the Chargers will likely try continue that success, allowing their big-bodied receivers to help out, as well.
Sokol (connected, left) was impressive in their game against Michigan back in '17. He found success as an open-field blocker which is a good sign for a guy with an average athletic profile (4.86 RAS via @MathBomb)— Michael Peterson (@ZoneTracks) May 13, 2019
I liken him to John Phillips who was in SD '13-'15 pic.twitter.com/yq3oppUqIv
I liken Sokol to an old tight end who played in San Diego by the name of John Phillips. Phillips was essentially the team’s third tight end during that time and has continued to find work in this league for the past 10+ years based solely off his ability to contribute to the run game.
In the end, Sokol will have to beat out Culkin for the final tight end spot if the team decides to keep four tight ends out the gate. If anything, I believe he deserves a spot on the practice squad, as well as Helm, because I don’t think this offense can have too many tight ends to play around with.