The Philadelphia Eagles signed a total of 16 players in undrafted free agency. The odds are stacked against them but some of those rookies will have a real chance to make the final roster. I thought it would be useful to acquire an insider's insight on one of the players: UTEP tight end Eric Tomlinson. In order to learn more about him, I reached out to UTEP SB Nation blog Miner Rush. Alex Nicolas was kind enough to answer my questions.
1) What are his strengths?
Eric's strengths are definitely in his overall run blocking ability, and pristine run blocking technique. When he fully engages a defender on the line of scrimmage or in the second level, mark that as a pancake or a gaping gap because Tomlinson finishes every block strong, with NFL lineman-esque power, and grit. His footwork and acceleration off the ball from a 3-point in run blocking schemes are athletically impressive for a 6'7,275 pound bearded monster who can be described as a road grader off the edge.
In the passing game, his cerebral ability to find soft spots against zone coverage makes him a perfect security blanket for a quarterback on third downs. His size as a third down target that can be problematic matchup wise problems for linebackers and safeties.
His soft hands attributed to very minimal drops over his UTEP career and reliability on third downs. Although he may not be a burner, he can scoot after the catch and throw a mean shoulder for a highlight first down or big gain. It takes a few hits to bring him down too.
Versatility is another strength. I'd imagine Chip Kelly has to be drooling over the possibility of having a sixth blocker as effective as Tomlinson can be in certain run packages during the pre-season.
2) What are his weaknesses?
I'd say his biggest weakness is he struggles breaking off the line into a full speed sprint within the first four to five yards of his route. I'm no NFL analyst, but I would think that would be a problem early on in his career against smart, seasoned, and physical linebackers/safeties who are looking chip the big guy on the beginning of his route.
Once he's thrown off his route, he struggles to recover. That aspect was exposed during his NFLPA Collegiate Bowl practices and is probably something he was worked on mightily during his pre-draft process.
3) Were you surprised to see him go undrafted?
Hmm, not really, but he had very, very strong showings in his pre-draft showings outside the NFL Combine. Scouts we talked to during the season projected him as a mid-seventh rounder to an UDFA, but we knew he'd be a high priority free agent target if the draft didn't come calling.
He battled injuries in the first half of this past season, which now explains why his draft stock "dropped", also parlaying into less of the pass catching production he had in 2014 as a junior.
4) Tomlinson has an awesome combo of long hair and a big beard. Any idea of what his personality is like?
Yeah, it is pretty sweet, huh?
From sort of being around and interviewing him over the past two years, he seems like the quiet jokester type of person, but is very well mannered and politely poised with the media from what I've observed. He is also a true lead by example leader on the football field with A+++++ character, and is a hard worker who is going to bring it every rep.
That being said, he was a great student at UTEP and speaks like a scholar, but don't expect any firework quotes out of ET, he'll tell you he's just there to bring his lunch pail and get to work.
5) How do you see his NFL career playing out?
I think for Tomlinson it's all about the right fit, the biggest question in my opinion is whether a team sees him as a tight end or a possible project tackle in the future.
In the middle of last season I read some scout notes on the possibility of teams who really loved him wanting to move him to the offensive line, but he has proven he can be a reliable target in the pass game when fully healthy.
His potential alone should keep him on or around NFL rosters for the next couple seasons, the right fit, and craft improvement with his workman like approach to the game could keep him in there longer.