If you ask former NFL great Tony Gonzalez who the next great NFL tight end will be, apparently he'll tell you that it's Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' second-year player has caught the eye of the former Falcons veteran, almost exclusively because of his ability as a receiver.
"He's my number one young guy," Gonzalez told Sporting News (h/t Scout.com). "He's working with a quarterback that is still learning his way, but I think the sky is the limit. He's 6-6, 260 pounds, can run like the wind and catches the ball outside the framework of his body."
It's hard to argue with Gonzalez. When Austin Seferian-Jenkins has been on the field this year, he's looked outstanding, especially in the passing game. Even when he was getting on the field last year and playing inconsistent football, you could see the physical talent and potential. The problem is that he's only played one-and-a-half game this year, and missed seven games last year. Obviously
Some have used that to call the tight end out for being easily injured or even soft, because apparently injuries in the NFL are easy to play through and not at all frequent occurrences that constantly keep players out of games. Certainly Seferian-Jenkins' injuries so far have been a problem, but that doesn't mean they'll be an issue going forward. Gerald McCoy went through the exact same thing, missing 13 games over his first two seasons. Folks called him injury-prone and soft, too -- he's missed just three games since then and turned into one of the best players in the NFL at his point.
It's important to remember that while injuries are frustrating and certainly do hurt the team, they are not the fault of the individual player suffering them. More importantly, they are not a predictor of the future. Players suffer injuries frequently, and they return from them to continue their careers constantly as well. It's enitrely possible that Seferian-Jenkins will go through the rest of his career without a significant injury -- or he could be out of the league with repeated injuries in three years. It's impossible to predict, and anyone who will tell you that he's a bust now and will never be healthy does not know what they're talking about.
But that doesn't mean that staying healthy isn't important. It is. And as long as Seferian-Jenkins remains sidelined, talk of his being the next great NFL tight end will remain just that: talk.