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Eye on the ball: Montana State’s Sandland has great opportunity with Panthers

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By Brandon Niles EBS Sports Columnist

Montana State tight end Beau Sandland was selected late in the seventh round in this year’s NFL draft, with the 252nd overall pick by the Carolina Panthers.

Sandland was expected to go much higher after a good combine and he projects well as a seam-stretching playmaker. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will be hoping that he can pair with pro bowler Greg Olsen to create a dynamic set of receiving tight ends, and help the team get back to the Super Bowl.

Sandland came to the Bobcats as a transfer from Miami and after redshirting in 2014, he caught 37 passes for 632 yards and nine touchdowns last year. As the starting tight end, Sandland looked dominant at times, including in a victory over Cal Poly where he finished with five catches, 156 yards and two touchdowns.

At 6 feet 4 inches and 253 pounds, Sandland’s large frame and ability to make plays in the passing game will be a welcome addition to the Panthers offense. He should benefit from the opportunity to learn from one of the best as he sits behind Olsen.

Sandland isn’t a proven commodity by any means, but I had given him a fourth round grade due to his size and ability to run after the catch. He was an excellent value for the Panthers near the end of the draft – he plays with a nasty streak, showing physicality at the point of attack and enough explosiveness to punish defensive backs in the open field.

In the Cal Poly game, the first of Sandland’s two touchdowns came on a 63-yard bomb from quarterback Dakota Prukop, where Sandland left the defender in the dust. That kind of speed can make him a matchup nightmare for opposing linebackers and safeties at the next level.

The Panthers, and Newton in particular, have demonstrated a willingness to utilize the tight end position. They used Jeremy Shockey consistently early in Newton’s career, and Olsen has become one of the top five players at his position since arriving in a 2011 trade with the Chicago Bears.

Sandland is in a good spot to elevate his game and develop into a good pro, but will have to beat out veteran Ed Dickson for the backup job behind Olsen. Like Sandland, Dickson is an excellent athlete, but he’s yet to develop consistent hands and route-running as a pro. Sandland should try to soak up as much as he can from the two veterans in front of him in order to make the transition from the Big Sky Conference to the NFL.

Most teams keep three tight ends on the roster, so as long as Sandland shows some improvement during the off-season, he should make the final 53-player roster come September. If he does, don’t be surprised to see the talented playmaker push Dickson for playing time as he learns the game and tries to develop into a starter.

It’s not often a seventh round pick can be viewed as someone with long-term starter potential, but Sandland landed in a great spot to be just that for the Panthers.

Brandon Niles is a longtime fan of football and scotch, and has been writing about sports for the past decade. He is a fantasy football scout for 4for4 Fantasy Football and is co-host of the 2 Guys Podcast.

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