Eldridge was the Colts 2010 fifth round draft pick. It is doubtful any offensive player taken in the fifth round by the Colts has ever carried the kind of expectations Eldridge absorbed, though. Not only was Eldridge the second-half of an extremely potent tight end combination in college, he also was a pure blocking tight end that had experience as an offensive lineman.
That alone was not what sparked expectations for him, though. It was the understanding that some of the most dominant offensive seasons during the Peyton Manning-era came out of a strong two tight end formation with competent blocking tight ends. While no one was going to usurp Dallas Clark, Eldridge took over the starting spot formerly held by the perennially “just good enough and healthy enough to stay on the roster” Gijon Robinson.
Needless to say, expectations for Eldridge were pretty high to start off the year. With the return of Anthony Gonzalez to the field, visions of an unstoppable offense able to react and adapt to any defensive scheme imaginable ran wild. While there isn’t a major cry that he was “bad” or a “bust,” there really isn’t any affirmation for him out there either, and that’s where I step in.
*Snap count for blocks are ONLY snaps where the player remained on the line as a blocker, whereas the snap count for receptions is the total number of snaps a player was on the field for.
One of the reasons Eldridge doesn’t have high stock is the relative lack of the two-tight end set used by the Colts. Of the 1,191 offensive plays last year, the 2-TE set was used only 118 times, or 9.9% of the time. Throw in the fact that after the injury to Dallas Clark and Austin Collie, Jacob Tamme began moving into the slot when Eldridge came into the game and it became rather easy to overlook Eldridge. The other reason that Eldridge does not get a serious amount of recognition is because blockers on the offensive line are by far the most unnoticed players on the field when they do their job right. Eldridge routinely took on defensive ends that were causing Ryan Diem and Charlie Johnson problems and would stop them dead in their tracks.
While the “Superior” blocks are a more subjective stat, Eldridge had highest rate of those “Wow he really dominated” blocks for anyone on the offensive line. That said, he was the only tight end to allow a sack, which he surrendered early on in the season. Add to this unusually high rate of dominating blocks the relative lack of negative blocks, and Eldridge should be lauded as a great pickup by the Colts, filling exactly the role he was expected to fill. The Colts needed a pure blocking tight end who would help upgrade the line, and that is exactly what they got.
Now, as for the secondary aspect of Eldridge’s play, his receiving skills. Honestly, this area is neither good, nor bad, and likewise it is neither surprising nor concerning. Eldridge was drafted essentially as a TE-turned-lineman from Oklahoma and barely registered a handful of catches in four years at Oklahoma, even with a relatively highly regarded QB on the team. With the Colts, expectations were relatively low on how Eldridge would come along in the passing game. There was some speculation he may be used as a kind of receiving TE who could be useful on the goal line by dragging defenders with him into the end zone. In the end, that was not how Eldridge was used. With it becoming apparent that Eldridge was going to be a regular fixture as a blocker (229 of 286 snaps) Eldridge became utilized mostly as a forgotten option by defenses.
While Wayne and Garcon were drawing double teams deep, and Collie and Clark were drawing LBs closer to the line of scrimmage, Eldridge was used as a trudging mid-range threat where Manning would just pop the ball over the LBs to hit Eldridge in the gap formed behind the LBs and ahead of the secondary. This was generally effective, although, truth be told, Eldridge was slow enough that by the time to ball got to him, he would regularly already be under the gun by the much faster defenders. Eldridge got very little in the way of yards after the catch but was generally sold at not being so horrible as to completely dissuade Manning. For the very little amount of experience he had as a receiver, he was able to limit his drops to only two on nine attempts. His other two incompletions were overthrows by Manning earlier in the year when Manning would overestimate Eldridge’s quickness and lead him just a little too much. One of these throws resulted in an interception but generally speaking, Eldridge was not horrible as a receiver.
Overall, as a receiver, he wasn’t great, but he wasn’t worthless, and given his pedigree his performance was neither shocking nor was it a let down. He is a pure blocking TE with the capacity to be used as an unexpected option from time to time. As a blocker, Eldridge was exceptional and made the generally highly regarded Dallas Clark look rather quaint blocking. Even if Clark was having an off year blocking, as he and Tamme are essentially tied, the difference in blocking was staggering between Eldridge and Clark. Considering the general desire to utilize a 2-TE formation more and redoubled attempt to bolster the running game it almost a guarantee that Eldridge will have a rather safe roster spot with the Colts. That is unless Eldridge succumbs to the wiles of the unyielding injury bug that continues to run rampant through seemingly every hopeful prospect under the age of 30.