Stephen Anderson took a step back in his NFL career last season. After two years as an offensive contributor for the Houston Texans, Anderson spent the majority of the 2018 season on the New England Patriots’ practice squad.
Despite failing to appear in a single game, Anderson said it was perhaps his most improved season. He was added to the 53-man roster for the postseason, but he was a healthy scratch in all three Patriots playoff wins.
Even before the Patriots’ Super Bowl LIII win over the Los Angeles Rams, Anderson already was looking forward to training camp. He spent 2018 imitating other players, and while studying tight ends like Travis Kelce and Eric Ebron, Anderson was able to add new elements to his game as a pass-catcher and blocker. He was excited to show off his new skills to coaches while competing for a spot on the 2019 Patriots roster.
If Anderson earns a roster spot, then he could showcase his skills in a few different ways. His primary position is flex tight end — think that tight end no one really likes to talk about in New England. But Patriots head coach Bill Belichick also didn’t dismiss the notion that Anderson could play wide receiver, as well. As an undersized tight end — Anderson is listed at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds — he likely would line up frequently in the slot.
Anderson showcased impressive athletic ability in his pre-draft testing three years ago. He ran a 6.95-second 3-cone drill and 4.13-second short shuttle to go along with a 4.64-second 40-yard dash and 1.59-second 10-yard split. He also leaped 38 inches vertically and 9-feet-, 11-inches in the broad jump.
The Patriots currently have Anderson, Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister and Ryan Izzo at tight end. Uncertainty abounds, however. Gronkowski could retire, Allen could be a salary cap casualty, Hollister was hurt for most of last season, and Izzo spent all of 2018 on injured reserve. The Patriots almost certainly will add tight end depth this offseason, but given all of those question marks, Anderson has a chance to earn a spot this summer.
That Anderson finished the 2018 season on the active roster was a good sign. Now he must prove he really did improve last season and can showcase the elements he took from other tight ends while fighting for a role in 2019.