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Back in the NFL, Wes Saxton has an opportunity to finally stick around

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Orlando Apollos v Birmingham Iron Photo by Logan Riely/AAF/Getty Images

On August 3, just prior to the Seahawks’ mock game, they swapped out a pair of tight ends, releasing Tyrone Swoopes and Justin Johnson in order to add Jackson Harris and Wes Saxton. For Saxton, it was a return to the NFL after a turbulent spring spent in the doomed Alliance of American Football. It may have also been the start of his best shot yet at sticking in the NFL.

After going undrafted during the 2015 NFL Draft, Saxton, a South Alabama product, signed with Jets as a UDFA. He would spend the majority of his rookie season on their practice squad, while appearing in one regular season game—still his only regular season appearance up to this point. What followed the 2015 season was the beginning of a journeyman career, with stops in Washington, Buffalo, Detroit and San Francisco.

After four anonymous preseasons in the NFL, where Saxton caught eight passes for 65 yards total, he signed with the Birmingham Iron of the AAF. By all accounts, he performed well with the Iron. Saxton caught 17 of 21 targets for 243 yards, and was the league’s fifth highest graded tight end, per Pro Football Focus. Following the league’s dysfunctional demise, Saxton didn’t immediately get a call from the NFL, instead being forced to wait until Seattle added the fifth year tight end at the beginning of August.

In a way, Saxton was the perfect replacement for the injured Johnson; both are move tight ends with good explosiveness, similar to the types of player the Seahawks have flirted with before, without finding a permanent fit (Jameson Konz and Jimmy Graham come to mind). Saxton’s numbers at the 2015 Scouting Combine are intriguing: 82nd percentile vertical jump, 76th percentile broad jump, 88th percentile 10-yard split and 79th percentile 40-yard dash.

Saxton made the most of his opportunity to play for Seattle in their first preseason game, with Ed Dickson, Will Dissly and Jacob Hollister all missing against the Broncos. The fluidity Saxton’s combine numbers suggest was on display on a 26-yard catch and run in the third quarter:

With Dickson and Dissly’s status for the remainder of preseason in question, Saxton should continue to see a fair amount of snaps. Hollister, praised throughout the spring, has never proven to be able to stay healthy. If he is able to put together a stretch of good health ahead of roster cuts, one would imagine he’ll be the move tight end the Seahawks keep. But should Hollister continue to struggle with injuries, Saxton’s opportunity, and chances of sticking on the 53-man roster, will grow.

However, Saxton’s opportunity also serves to acknowledge why he has yet to stick on a roster in the NFL. He’s a luxury piece at tight end; a move TE who has often been criticized for his inability to block. But there are early signs of encouragement there, too. Despite seeing just one target in Seattle’s opener, Saxton earned the second highest grade on the team. He also laid the best block of the night, a devastating crackback block that helped to spring Bo Scarbrough for an eight yard gain on 3rd and 4:

Dickson’s injury is likely to extend into the early parts of the regular season, and with his release unlikely, it’ll surely force the Seahawks’ hand to keep four tight ends to begin the year. Dickson and Dissly will take up two of those spots, and Nick Vannett’s roster spot appears safe for another year. Saxton’s NFL hopes will likely come down to health at the position, and specifically, the health of Hollister. The odds remain long for the journeyman, but if he continues to offer intriguing upside as a pass catcher, and show some growth as a blocker, roster cut-down day could finally go in his favor.