Player Spotlights

Will Jeff Cumberland’s Gamble Pay Off?


When veteran free agents remain unsigned in the month of April, they have a difficult decision to make. Some feel pressured to sign a contract prior to the NFL Draft, when 253 rookies suddenly flood the work force. Others prefer to wait until after the draft, when rosters are essentially set and team needs are more easily identifiable.

Jeff Cumberland opted for the former tactic when he signed a one-year deal with the Chargers on April 4. It was a roll of the dice, one that appeared to come up snake-eyes when the Chargers selected the top tight end in the draft, Arkansas’ Hunter Henry, with the No. 35 overall pick.

Nonetheless, Cumberland’s decision may prove to be a wise one yet.

The Chargers run a lot of two tight end sets, usually in lieu of a traditional fullback. That is not expected to change much this season, even after the team spent a sixth-round pick on Wisconsin FB Derek Watt. Last season’s de facto fullback, David Johnson, played just 18.9 percent of the team’s offensive snaps.

The Chargers had three tight ends play more than 495 total snaps last season: Antonio Gates (496), Ladarius Green (733) and John Phillips (550). The only caveat is that Phillips played more snaps on special teams (317) than on offense (233). If Cumberland hopes to carve out a significant role in San Diego, he may have to follow a similar path.

Cumberland is plenty comfortable contributing in the game’s third phase. In 2015, he played 269 snaps on special teams.

If Cumberland can secure his roster spot with strong play on special teams, he will have a chance to carve out a niche on offense, as well.

The Chargers would like to reduce Gates’ usage as the soon-to-be 36-year-old enters his 14th season. Also, Henry is unlikely to play more than 56 percent of San Diego’s offensive snaps, as Green did a season ago, especially as Henry acclimates to life in the NFL.

One area where Cumberland could get a lot of run is in obvious passing situations. Last year, he earned a pass-blocking grade of 64.5 from Pro Football Focus. By comparison, Gates earned a 40.3 and Green earned a 42.1 in that category.

Also, if Cumberland is not occupied by a blitzing defender, he can leak out and make plays as an outlet receiver. He averaged more than 25 receptions per season from 2012-2014, scoring at least three touchdowns in each of those campaigns.

In summary, Cumberland’s choice to sign with the Chargers just weeks before they drafted Henry appeared to be a gamble gone south. However, with a strong offseason and a commitment to his capacity on the team, Cumberland has a chance to play a meaningful role and give the Chargers their best group of tight ends since 2012 (Gates, Green, Randy McMichael and Dante Rosario).

About Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo has covered the San Diego Chargers since 2003. He spent 12 years covering the team for and has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports, Football Insiders and MySpace Sports.

Recommended for you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *