We already declared former Illinois tight end Matt LaCosse as the most impressive of the undrafted free agents during the New York Giants recent rookie mini-camp, and the UDFA with the best shot at cracking the 53-man roster. I went out on the 'LaCosse makes the roster' limb in my 53-man roster projection. 'Invictus' has done the same.
The fact that his former pupil arrived with a splash is no surprise to Illinois tight end/special teams coach Alex Golesh.
"He is as raw potential-wise as you can get because he was a high school quarterback," Golesh said."I knew if he could just get into a camp I always knew he would make it. Just because he's the kind of kid that there's going to be very few coaches that are going to want to cut that kid."
The 22-year-old had an undistinguished career at Illinois. He played little his first two seasons. In fact, Golesh said LaCosse played no more than 80 snaps as a freshman and probably should have been red-shirted as he made the conversion from high school quarterback to collegiate tight end.
He started in a two-tight end set for Illinois a junior and senior, catching 34 passes (six for touchdowns) those two seasons. Thirty-eight career receptions in four years with the Fighting Illini was not enough production for him to hear his name called during the draft, even though Golesh said roughly 25 NFL teams had asked about him.
"I know the reason Matt didn't get drafted, I've talked to a lot of different people, is just his production. We throw the ball, we're a 50-50 pro-style offense, but we had a freshman All-American receiver, we have another big-time receiver," Golesh said. "We spread the ball around. Our running back led the nation in receiving yard for a back the last two years. Nobody really has just a bunch of catches."
Golesh said that LaCosse had seven offers from teams after the draft. He chose the Giants.
"I thought this place was the best chance for me to compete in camp," LaCosse told reporters during mini-camp. "They didn't draft anybody. I just thought it would be the best situation for me."
LaCosse did not get an invitation to the NFL combine, but impressed at the Illinois Pro Day.
"Just really, really good testing-wise, which we knew would happen. The Giants gave him an opportunity and he seems to be super positive," Golesh said. "He just has so much in front of him. His best years are ahead of him. Physically he's got all the tools. Mentally he's a sharp, sharp kid. Good leader. Vocal when he needs to be. Highly intelligent. You'd let your daughter marry that kid."
During the rookie mini-camp, LaCosse showed good hands and an ability to get down the field, referring to himself as a "seam-bender."
"He can run. We threw a lot of deep routes to him. We threw a lot of end zone balls to him. He can stretch the field vertically," Golesh said. "He's a mid-4.6 guy. For his size and weight that's kind of freakish."
Golesh also said that LaCosse is a "willing" blocker, if not a technically sound one.
"Really, really a tough kid. Tough-minded. Footwork-wise, he's good. Technique-wise, he can use a lot of work," Golesh said. "For him really it's technique, technique, technique, technique. He's more than willing, and that's the biggest thing."
The Giants use their tight ends in a variety of ways, inline as a blocker, moving as an H-Back, split out wide or in the slot and sometimes as a lead blocker from the fullback position. LaCosse has done all of those things, although the presence of Davis -- in camp on an undrafted free agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys -- limited his H-Back exposure. He even played some fullback during his sophomore season.
"I think I can line up inline with the tackles and block the defensive end. But I also think I can split out and play with the wide receivers," LaCosse said. "I think I'm a multiple tight end."
The Giants have four holdover tight ends on their roster -- Larry Donnell, Daniel Fells, Adrien Robinson and Jerome Cunningham, a practice squad player who was added to the 53-man roster for the final two games last season. They also added former Stony Brook tight end Will Tye to the roster following the rookie mini-camp.
"I'm just hoping to compete with them and give myself the best opportunity," LaCosse said.
As it always does with reserve players, special teams plays a role in making or missing the roster. LaCosse played on all of the Illinois special teams throughout his career.
"He's a kid that values special teams, understands it's important and understands what his role is and how he fits," Golesh said.
Whether or not LaCosse can crack the 53-man roster, or even show enough to stick around on the practice squad, remains to be seen. He certainly, however, has made himself a player to watch when training camp rolls around.