Welcome to the Spotlight. Here we spotlight one key player for each game of the season, hopefully putting a different player in the spotlight each week. Today's player in the spotlight is tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. With ASJ returning from a two game suspension and the Jets offense in desperate need of a playmaker, Austin Seferian-Jenkins is standing in the spotlight for game three of the 2017 Jets season.
Seferian-Jenkins is a 6' 5", 260 pound tight end out of the University of Washington. ASJ had a very productive junior year at Washington, catching 69 passes for 850 yards and seven touchdowns. He regressed his senior year, catching only 36 passes for 450 yards and eight touchdowns. In his senior campaign ASJ was suspended for a game for a DUI conviction, suffered a broken pinkie which required surgery, and played through a stress fracture in his right foot which ultimately required surgery and prevented him from working out at the NFL combine. The senior year issues were foreshadowing for Seferian-Jenkins' NFL career to date.
ASJ was originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the 38th overall pick in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft. Like many rookie tight ends ASJ struggled early and ended his rookie season with just 21 catches for 221 yards and two touchdowns. Despite the modest production ASJ finished his rookie year with virtually the same production as fellow rookies Richard Rodgers and Eric Ebron, who trailed only the Jets' Jace Amaro among rookie tight ends. ASJ did so despite missing seven games due to injuries. ASJ missed two games early with complications involving his surgically repaired foot, and he missed the last five games of the 2014 season with a back injury. Despite all this ASJ led all Tampa Bay tight ends in receiving yards.
2015 saw improvement on the field, and more injuries keeping ASJ off the field. ASJ started the 2015 season with a bang, going for 110 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener before injuring his shoulder in the second game of the season. ASJ missed the next nine games before coming back in game 12. He finished leading all Tampa Bay tight ends in receiving yards and touchdowns in the 2015 season despite playing only seven games. His final 2015 numbers of 21 catches for 338 yards and four touchdowns are modest. However, prorated for a full 16 game season those numbers look like a tight end on the verge of stardom. Had ASJ managed to stay healthy all 16 games and maintain the same production he would have finished ninth among NFL tight ends in yards, tied for fourth in touchdowns, and second only to Rob Gronkowski in yards per catch. ASJ's prorated numbers would have led all sophomore tight ends in all three categories.
By 2016 Tampa Bay became disenchanted with ASJ's inability to stay on the field, his indifferent blocking efforts and his struggles with alcohol. After two games in 2016 with the Buccaneers ASJ was arrested on a DUI charge. It was the last straw in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers cut ASJ and the Jets signed him. ASJ made his Jets debut in the fifth game of the 2016 season, and promptly injured his ankle, missing four of the next five games. ASJ also ended the season early with a hamstring injury in the 15th game of the year. ASJ finished the 2016 season playing in only nine games, which was nonetheless a career high. In three NFL seasons ASJ has missed time with injuries to his foot, back, shoulder, ankle and hamstring. To date ASJ has missed exactly half of his 50 NFL games with injuries and suspensions.
On the field ASJ has shown signs of becoming a top pass catching tight end. ASJ's blocking has been a disappointment for a man his size, but his work as a receiver has been promising, if he can just manage to stay on the field. However, missing half of your first 50 games does not tend to endear you to coaches. 2017 may be ASJ's last chance to prove he can stay healthy and productive on the field. If he manages to do so ASJ has the talent and in limited games an emerging track record that suggests he can become a good, maybe even excellent NFL receiving tight end. However if ASJ again proves unable to stay on the field in 2017 this may be his last chance as an NFL starter. Sooner or later teams move on from players who spend too much time on the exercise bike. ASJ's time may soon run out.
In Jets training camp this year there was a lot of talk that ASJ is a new man. He has shed 30+ pounds, has quit drinking, and was reported to be the best receiver on the field for the Jets. Starting with this game against Miami ASJ will have the opportunity to show his feel good story of the summer can be translated into finally living up to his potential in the fall.
The Jets passing offense is largely devoid of playmakers. ASJ has the talent to help fill that void. A healthy, sober, in shape ASJ just might prove to be the weapon the Jets so badly need to create matchup problems for opposing defenses and give the offense a spark. Now is the time for Austin Seferian-Jenkins to finally prove he can be a top flight NFL tight end. If ASJ can live up to his potential the Jets offense might not be so horrendous going forward. A combination of a returning Quincy Enunwa, an ASJ living up to his potential, Robby Anderson as a deep threat, and a developing ArDarius Stewart in 2018 might even make up a pretty decent receiving corps. If on the other hand ASJ fails to seize this opportunity and develop into a top tight end this might be his last opportunity to do so. This is ASJ’s moment to banish his demons for good and finally dominate in accordance with his talent. This is Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ chance to shine. Let's see whether ASJ can breathe life into an awful Jets offense on Sunday. Time will tell, but if things go right perhaps ASJ can develop into a top tight end and a part of the Jets’ eventual return to prominence in the NFL.