Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ rookie campaign didn’t go as planned. Battling ankle and back issues throughout the year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2014 second-round pick was only able to play nine games and never able to get into any real rhythm. In his limited time on the field, the 24-year-old tight end finished with just 21 receptions, 221 yards and two touchdowns.
With the arrival of a new season comes an opportunity to hit the reset button. And it’s a great time to do so. This year, the Buccaneers will have a new offensive coordinator in Dirk Koetter who loves utilizing his tight ends. Just look at the resume. During his time (2007-10) with the Jaguars, Koetter turned the 6-foot-6, 255-pound Mercedes Lewis into a Pro Bowler in 2010 and helped him turn in three of his four best statistical seasons of his career.
After turning an average tight end in Lewis into one of the best in the league, Koetter got his hands on a future Hall of Famer in the 6-foot-5, 251-pound Tony Gonzalez and once again worked his magic. In his second season with the Falcons, Koetter turned the lemons of an early season-ending injury to No. 1 receiver Julio Jones into lemonade when Gonzalez caught a team-best 93 passes.
In his only full season (2012) with Gonzalez, Jones and Roddy White, the trio had targets of 124, 128 and 142, respectively. Now, Koetter has a very similar layout with this year’s Buccaneers offense, featuring Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and the 6-foot-6, 262-pound Seferian-Jenkins. With a very similar layout, should Bucs fans expect a similar approach to feeding Evans, V-Jax and ASJ the ball? Why not?
But when it comes to Jackson and Evans, we know what we’re getting. They’re the two receivers who will receive a majority of the targets and as a result, most of the defense’s attention. So another player on the Bucs’ receiving corps needs to step up. At the moment, the slot receiver is still a mystery. Will it be Louis Murphy? Can Kenny Bell outperform everyone and land that spot in the preseason? Does it even matter who it is. History tells us that Koetter will look for Seferian-Jenkins to fill that role and rightfully so. ASJ is a big, surprisingly fast and strong target in the middle of the field.
Barring any health setbacks, Seferian-Jenkins should have a bigger role in Koetter’s offense. Evans and Jackson will get their receptions, but when teams start focusing on stopping them, it’s going to be up to the Washington product to capitalize on his opportunities. After a disappointing first year in the royal red and pewter, ASJ is still something of a mystery around the league. In his sophomore year, he needs to let the secret out that he’s going to be something special for years to come.
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