Bucs preview: Austin Seferian-Jenkins or Cameron Brate?
As the Bucs' 2016 season fast approaches, one of the more interesting debates among fans is whether Austin Seferian-Jenkins or Cameron Brate will be more productive at tight end for Tampa Bay.
Seferian-Jenkins was a second-round pick in 2015 who has missed 16 of 32 career games with assorted injuries; Brate was an undrafted rookie cut by the Bucs in both of the last two seasons, only to return to the roster and play well in Seferian-Jenkins' absence in each season. Seferian-Jenkins made things more interesting this spring when he was kicked out of an OTA practice, though Dirk Koetter was careful to try to downplay the issue.
The larger question, when weighing which tight end might put up better numbers in 2016, is simply whether you think Seferian-Jenkins can be healthy -- he missed time as a rookie with foot and back injuries, then a shoulder last year.
Brate is a good story -- Harvard grad overcomes the odds to contribute after going undrafted -- but much of his success has come when Seferian-Jenkins was injured. In the nine games ASJ was out last year, Brate had 14 catches for 184 yards and three touchdowns, the best numbers among the Bucs' tight ends in those games. Those 14 catches came on 17 targets, an impressively high catch rate at any position.
But it's also important to note that when both players were healthy, Seferian-Jenkins was given many more opportunities to make plays than Brate. They were both active in Weeks 1-2 and Weeks 13-17 last season, and in those last five games, Seferian-Jenkins was targeted for 29 passes -- more than twice as many as Brate, who got 13. ASJ finished with 14 catches for 199 yards and two touchdowns in those games; Brate had nine catches for 104 yards and zero touchdowns.
Remember, Brate was cut to start the season, and was on the Saints' practice squad in Week 2 when ASJ was injured against New Orleans, rejoining the Bucs days later. In the final five games of the season, Brate was actually on the field for more plays (128-122) than Seferian-Jenkins, in addition to playing a larger role on special teams. Not only did Seferian-Jenkins have many more overall targets, but inside the opponent's 25-yard line, Seferian-Jenkins had 10 passes thrown his way, while Brate had only two, catching neither.
Brate has continued to shine in this off-season and establish himself as a NFL tight end, and Seferian-Jenkins will have to show he can have the focus that Koetter demands from his players. But last year, with Koetter running the offense, the stats show that when both were healthy, Seferian-Jenkins was in position to make much more plays than Brate, simply based on getting more targets.