Saturday, 17 August 2013

40 Players in 40 days: Number 14 Austin Seferian-Jenkins

(photo cred: Steven Bisig - USA Today Sports)
It seems like this post has been a long time coming but today is finally the day. I've talked about this player a few times this offseason and especially criticized his head coach for how he has handled this player. The next player on the countdown might be the most talented college player at his position that I have seen during my life time. This player also has a dark cloud hanging over him stemming from some legal trouble this offseason and his punishment and the University's handling off his case has put an even darker cloud over the program. Yes, it's finally time to write about the 14th best player in the Pac-12 for 2013, Washington Junior tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Before we get to what I'm sure will be my most controversial article in this series, here's a recap of players 40 through 15:

40. WR Chris Harper, Cal
39. OLB/S Dion Bailey, USC
38. S Alden Darby, Arizona State
37. OT Tyler Johnstone, Oregon
36. DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, Colorado
35. S Deon Bucannon, Washington State
34. LB Shaq Thompson, Washington
33. DE Taylor Hart, Oregon
32. DT DeAndre Coleman, Cal
31. CB Terrance Mitchell, Oregon
30. C Hroniss Grassu, Oregon
29. DL Henry Anderson, Stanford
28. QB Kevin Hogan, Stanford
27. LB Carl Bradford, Arizona State
26. RB Storm Woods, Oregon State
25. QB Taylor Kelly, Arizona State
24. DL Cassius Marsh, UCLA
23. S Ed Reynolds, Stanford
22. OT Jeremiah Poutasi, Utah
21. TE Colt Lyerla, Oregon
20. RB Bishop Sankey, Washington
19. DT Leonard Williams, USC 
18. WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State 
17. OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA
16. OLB/DL Trent Murphy, Stanford
15. OL David Yankey, Stanford
I always like to start off on a positive note so let's get into the good part of Seferian-Jenkins. Nay, let's get into the great part of college football's premier tight end. The best way to describe Austin Seferian-Jenkins is to say that he won the genetic lottery. Seferian-Jenkins is listed at 6'6'' and 276 pounds. He has reportedly run the 40 yard dash in as low as 4.65 seconds which is absurd for that size. He has long arms, big hands, and very agile and quick feet. In addition to being an All-American tight end, Seferian-Jenkins is also a member of the Huskies basketball team who managed to play seven minutes a game for the Huskies as a freshman (he did not play at all last season but was still a member of the team). Seferian-Jenkins is a freaking Adonis and it is impossible to overstate how physically and athletically imposing he is.

However, you should not start thinking that Seferian-Jenkins is just a force of nature who survives on talent alone. The big man is a very refined and well polished receiver who uses more than just size and athleticism to beat defenders. He runs very good routes, and he is adept at reading coverages and finding holes on the field. Some receivers will stick to their route no matter what and run themselves right into coverage but Seferian-Jenkins shows great smarts on the field by finding soft spots and breaking off or adjusting his routes to take advantage. He is not very elusive which minimizes his abilities after the catch but his size and strength certainly makes him difficult to tackle which does at least give him some after the catch ability. On top of being an elite receiver, he is also one of the best blocking tight ends in college football. He uses his size very well, doesn't over extend himself, and has very fluid and agile hips that allow him to turn defenders and open up holes without committing a penalty. As with most players on this list, I have a little film to illustrate what I'm talking about:

The LSU game was certainly a tough pill to swallow for the Huskies last season but I thought Seferian-Jenkins was one of the lone bright spots on the team from that dreadful evening last September. You can see he was frequently assigned to blocking All-American pass rusher Barkevious Mingo one-on-one, including during pass protection situations. I wouldn't say he had a great game against Mingo but you can see him win the battle a couple times in a situation where most tight ends would be out of their depth. He runs a really nice adjusted crossing route at 1:15. Based on the other routes on the play and the spacing of the offense that looked like it may have been a deep post route but he cut the route a little short to avoid the safety and ended up making the catch for a first down. He also makes a fine play at 1:53 by looking in the ball and quickly turning up the field. A lot of receivers even in the NFL struggle with this concept as they try to make their first move after the catch before they actually, you know, make the catch. This has never been a problem for Seferian-Jenkins though, as he always locks the ball in but he doesn't waste any motion turning up the field after the catch. Every time he looks it in, he immediately gets his body facing up field and starts looking for more yards. 
I also love his fundamental principles of catching the ball that he displays at the 3:00 mark. It's a very simple play that will never make a highlight reel but I love how he establishes his position on the field, turns his body to shield the ball form the defender and reaches out his arms to snag the ball without using his body. That play is just textbook all the way around and it shows an advanced understanding of how to play his position. As for the USC portion of the video, his big play at 6:56 shows why he is such a dynamic threat. He fakes a block nicely and sets up like he's blocking down to the left and helps the offensive line set up the play action. he then makes a quick move up field and shows surprising speed for his size as the USC S TJ McDonald who can run in the 4.4 40 range is unable to stay with him. Notice also that Seferian-Jenkins, runs slightly more toward than sideline and gives himself more room to operate away from McDonald. It's very subtle but it provided just enough space to prevent McDonald from tipping that pass away.

All that ability and skill was enough for Seferian-Jenkins to tally 69 receptions for 852 yards and 7 touchdowns. He led Pac-12 TEs in catches and touchdowns and was second in yards (just 46 behind Stanford's Zach Ertz). with two years of eligibility remaining he's already set every relevant UW record for a TE and if not for former Maryland product Vernon Davis, Seferian-Jenkins would be the most impressive, well-rounded tight end I have seen in college during my lifetime.

Of course, I would be remiss if I did not address the controversy surrounding the Pac-12's finest tight end. On March 9 of this year, Seferian-Jenkins was arrested for a DUI. It's important to note that this was note a garden variety DUI that happened because some tight-cheeked, over zealous cop needed to fill his quota and tagged Seferian-Jenkins for being barely above the legal limit. This was not a case of Seferian-Jenkins drinking a couple beers but having them too quickly and not eating anything, therefore being above the legal limit but feeling fine to drive. Rather, Austin Seferian-Jenkins was arrested because he was involved in a car crash and registered a 0.18 blood-alcohol level, twice the legal limit in the state of Washington. Quite frankly, Seferian-Jenkins is lucky to be alive and he should be especially grateful that it was only a one-car accident and that he doesn't have the blood of another innocent person on his hands. Considering how big he is, he would have had to drink a lot to get to a 0.18 level. He should have passed the "I need to call a cab" threshold very early in the night so this whole incident shows a disturbing level of poor judgement and decision making on his behalf.

Seferian-Jenkins pleaded guilty, was convicted in a court of law, and sentenced to 364 days in jail with 363 days suspended, leaving him to spend one night in jail on July 31. Normally, an incident this severe would warrant at least a one-game suspension, usually more but that hasn't exactly been the case thus far. He was suspended following the incident until the justice system took it's course. Following the conclusion of his case on July 15, he was reinstated to the program and allowed to practice and begin fall camp with the entire team. I'm actually okay with this because I don't think it benefits anyone to have Seferian-Jenkins removed and isolated from the team. What I do have a problem with is the increasingly loud voices that suggest Seferian-Jenkins will be on the field for the Huskies' opener against Boise State.

We've known Seferian-Jenkins' legal destiny for over a month now but somehow Washington coach Steve Sarkisian is still undecided on punishment for his star tight end. I don't see what debate can be made though, Seferian-Jenkins made a very dumb decision that put lives at risk and has to be punished for it. You can't fine college players and forcing someone to do a couple wind sprints in the hot sun at practice doesn't send any message whatsoever so what can possibly be done to send the right message other than to suspend Seferian-Jenkins for the big opener against Boise State?
It's no secret that I have a very low opinion of Sarkisian on a personal level but he is really dropping the ball on this one and any argument to the contrary is simply incorrect. Urban Meyer, the poster boy for preferential treatment of star players and lack of discipline had the good sense to suspend All-American pass rusher Carlos Dunlap for the 2009 SEC championship game following a very serious DUI arrest in which Dunlap was passed out in his car and sitting at a green light. If Urban freaking Meyer has enough of a moral compass to suspend one of the best pass rushers in college football immediately for a conference championship game, what the hell is taking Sarkisian so long?

Of course, the decision might be made for Washington's disingenuous, hot aired, big talking, no walking head coach as Seferian-Jenkins recently broke his pinky finger and had to undergo surgery. I don't believe in karma, but I do believe that people get what they deserve and reap what they sow. I could attribute this to a higher power saying, "Steve, if you don't do the right thing I will." However, several Washington players including QB Keith Price expect Seferian-Jenkins to play against the Broncos. Price said, "He’ll be back...He just told me today, ‘Hey man, I could play today if I wanted to.'''
If Seferian-Jenkins is allowed to play on opening weekend, it will be a black mark and a stain on the University of Washington and the biggest piece of ammo yet (in a very big pile of ammo) to support the ouster of Sarkisian as head coach by the end of the year.

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