BBD Editor: Dan Hope
The National Basketball Association held its 2013 draft on Thursday night, in which 60 talented basketball players achieved their dream of being selected by an NBA team.
In recent years, however, the National Football League has begun to see an influx of talented basketball players with the athleticism to be professional athletes, but who just aren’t quite good enough to play in the NBA. The tight end position in football has proved to be a natural transition for many physically-gifted basketball wingers, where the size, athleticism and skill set of a basketball small forward can be ideal.
This modern trend of basketball players-turned-tight ends has produced some of the best tight ends in the NFL today, including Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham. Meanwhile, while Rob Gronkowski and Vernon Davis weren’t college basketball players, both elite tight ends fit the physical prototype standard set by the basketball converts.
This trend has revolutionized the tight end position, and has scouts looking at tight end prospects much differently than they did in previous generations. If a team is going to invest an early draft pick in a tight end, they are looking for a player who has great size and length, great leaping ability and good downfield speed.
Scouts covet those type of athletic specimens in tight end draft prospects, and a background in basketball certainly doesn’t hurt. It certainly won’t hurt Washington junior Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who is projected to be the top tight end prospect in the 2014 NFL draft should he declare.
Seferian-Jenkins played college basketball as a freshman at Washington, but he is better known for his ability on the football field.
An explosive athlete listed at 6’6” and 266 pounds by Washington’s official athletics website, Seferian-Jenkins has ideal measurables to fit the NFL’s modern tight end prototype. While he must improve as both a football player on the field and a person off the field, Seferian-Jenkins truly has the potential to be an NFL superstar.
Physical Ability and Versatility
Seferian-Jenkins combines the frame of an offensive tackle with the athleticism of a wide receiver.
As a receiver, Seferian-Jenkins creates constant mismatches with his size and leaping ability. He already has a size advantage over linebackers and defensive backs, while he does a tremendous job leaping up and high-pointing catches.
He also takes contact very well with his size. When he goes up for an accurately-thrown pass, he almost always comes down with it, as there are few linebackers and defensive backs who can knock the ball away from him.
There are many examples of Seferian-Jenkins leaping above defenders to catch jump balls, but the following example versus Utah (courtesy of Draft Breakdown) is one of his best.
His measurables also make him a tough player to bring down in the open field. While he will not make defenders miss laterally, he frequently uses his size advantage and toughness to drive through contact in the open field and run through tackles, such as he did in the following example versus Utah.
Yet although Seferian-Jenkins is a dangerous receiving playmaker, he is used just as frequently by Washington as a blocker and extension of the offensive line, even in passing situations.
Physically, Seferian-Jenkins looks like an offensive tackle. He has terrific length and a strong upper body. He has the strength to take on defensive ends and turn them away from running plays or shield them from passing plays.
Expect there to multiple coaches pleading their case for their team to draft Seferian-Jenkins come May. Because of his rare combination of size and athleticism, coaches will be able to take advantage of his developmental upside and versatility and find many unique ways to utilize him on the field.
Last season at Washington, Seferian-Jenkins lined up as both an in-line and flex tight end, outside and in the slot as a wide receiver, as both a lead blocker and receiver as an H-back out of the backfield, and occasionally as an extension of the offensive line. He even showed that his size and athleticism could translate to the defensive side of the ball in limited snaps at defensive end, including in the remainder of this Draft Breakdown cut-up versus Utah.
Seferian-Jenkins almost certainly won’t play defensive end in the NFL, and should spend the vast majority of his offensive snaps playing close to the line of scrimmage as a tight end. Nonetheless, his versatility to play in many different spots will increase his value to an NFL team, and allow his NFL offensive coordinator to come up with creative ways to take advantage of his skill set.
Seferian-Jenkins has the ability to contribute immediately on an NFL offense as both a receiver and blocker, but in order to solidify his stock as a high draft pick, he needs to improve in both areas in his junior season.