Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas, Jordan Cameron and Antonio Gates: What do all of these tight ends have in common? They were all former college basketball players (albeit, not all equally talented) as well as top ten tight ends last season. Utilizing basketball-football hybrids as tight ends has become a popular trend that more and more teams are picking up on after the mega-star that Graham among others has turned into. The latest team to jump on that bandwagon was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when they took Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the second round of this year’s NFL Draft.
Over the course of three seasons at the University of Washington, Jenkins managed to take in 21 touchdowns as well as over 1,800 yards — something none of the aforementioned players accomplished in their collegiate football careers. Of course, that’s due to none of them having played more than a season in the NCAA. Yet with their select football experience, they’ve all become dominant players in their own right. So what makes people doubt Jenkins’ abilities after he saw less yards and receptions in his junior season opposed to his sophomore season? Of course it’s because it’s a sign that defenses have started to read him.
But there’s an underlying factor to this equation of decline. From his sophomore to junior season, the Huskies threw the ball two attempts less, as well as having their starting QB, Keith Price, split attempts with Cyler Miles, creating inconsistent targets for Jenkins. But through that all, Jenkins managed to take in more yards per reception as well as more touchdowns.
In his sophomore season, he averaged 10 receptions before landing in the end zone. In his junior season, it only took 4.5 receptions before he scored a touchdown. That’s a clear sign of a great red zone target which should come as no surprise.
Jenkins stands a towering 6-foot-6, 276-pounds to make him a stubborn target to defend, much like Rob Gronkowski. Now Josh McCown will have another big target in his arsenal that already consisted of the nearly identical Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans.
McCown hasn’t had a steady job before this season; his highest playing game total was playing fourteen games in 2004 for the Arizona Cardinals when his tight end Freddie Jones ranked as the 18th tight end. But in 2007 as an Oakland Raider, he helped another second-round rookie Zach Miller reach the 16th rank among tight ends. I know that’s not all that flattering, but both of those seasons were under West Coast style offenses — a typically non-flattering system for tight ends.
Luckily, Jenkins will not be playing in that scheme. He’ll be playing in the advanced system new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford brings to the table that should do well for the entire passing corps. With an expected full season ahead for McCown, he should be able to make the most out of his new red zone target that the Bucs were in dire need of (ranking 24th in red zone conversions last season).
But if you’re still not convinced he can prosper in Tampa because of his decline in certain categories in his last collegiate season, consider this: None of the players I originally mentioned had more than a season under their belt before the NFL.
All of them had struggled in their rookie seasons partly because of this. Once they had their feet wet and thrust into the starting position such as Jenkins’ situation, they all became top 10 tight ends worthy of a start every week. Jenkins has been playing consistently over the past three seasons, and if it were not for his run-in with the law before that, his stock would have warranted a first-round pick. Simply put, he has the skills and body to succeed.
He won’t be a pick you’ll watch rack up yards upon yards each game, but you’ll get a scoring alert often enough from him as he’ll be racking up touchdowns all season in the red zone. He’ll likely see around 40 receptions and put eight of them in the end zone. On top of that, a projected 500 yards should place him in the neighborhood of the top 12 among TEs, but I certainly won’t be surprised to see those numbers rise.