Fantasy Football: Could Austin Seferian-Jenkins Fill the Void Left By Rob Gronkowski?
After an injury-shortened stint with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Austin Seferian-Jenkins has signed with the New England Patriots. The Patriots gain another journeyman tight end to replace Rob Gronkowski, while Seferian-Jenkins gets a chance to prove his worth on one of the best offenses in the league. Can he make an impact for fantasy players though?
Who is Austin Seferian-Jenkins?
ASJ was drafted out of the University of Washington as an incredible prospect. Jenkins broke out as a freshman with 538 yards and 6 scores, and then as a sophomore, he recorded 852 yards and 7 touchdowns. After a down junior year, Jenkins left for the NFL draft and was taken 38th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Despite ASJ's prodigious collegiate career, in five years of NFL experience, he has yet to hit even 400 yards.
The Good News
ASJ is joining a New England team that ranked second in passing last season, per numberFire’s team analytics. They were also fourth in points per game (27.7). A Tom Brady-led Patriots team will always have points to go around.
They also have a considerable hole left by a number of players. The Patriots not only lost Gronk (retirement), but also Chris Hogan (free agent), Josh Gordon (indefinite suspension), and Cordarrelle Patterson (signed with the Chicago Bears) this off-season. These players accounted for 41% of the Patriots' targets and 59% of their air yards last season. New England has a windfall of volume available, and touches in New England are some of the most efficient in the league.
Tight end is also a position that Brady has historically been especially efficient when targeting. Of players Brady has targeted 50 times or more, Gronk and Martellus Bennett rank second and third in adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A). All of Brady’s tight ends fall within the top half of his receivers in terms of AY/A.
ASJ could be the next in line of efficient Patriots tight ends.
Dominoes to Fall
Even though New England has a lot of outstanding volume, it won’t just fall into Seferian-Jenkins’ lap. Matt LaCosse joins ASJ as a free agent tight end in the northeast, though LaCosse should be the least of his worries. Last year was the first time LaCosse started more than one game in a season, and he failed to reach 300 yards in his fourth NFL season.
The Patriots also signed Maurice Harris and Bruce Ellington. Harris is unlikely to make an impact, but Ellington has an outside chance to find a role. Ellington started half of the games he was healthy for in the past two years. In that time, he caught 60 receptions for 554 yards. He’s most likely a backup to Julian Edelman, but should anything happen to Edelman, Ellington could be the next man up.
The greatest threat to everyone’s production on the roster right now is Josh Gordon. Gordon’s future in the NFL is entirely up in the air as he’s indefinitely suspended. However, the Patriots believe in his value and backed it up with a second-round tender. If Gordon is able to come back to football, the Patriots will likely be utilizing his skill set to the fullest.
When Brady has targeted Gordon, he averages an 11.5 AY/A. That’s the highest average of any receiver Brady has thrown to. Bill Belichick wouldn't have offered the second-round tender if he didn’t see the immense value that Gordon brings to the team. If and when Gordon comes back, he could take over Gronk’s role as the Patriots ball-dominant player with field-stretching ability.
Finally, Belichick has amassed a small fortune of draft picks. He has a first-rounder, two seconds, and three thirds just on days one and two. Expect some of these to be skill position players. In a stacked tight end draft class, it's also possible that Gronk’s replacement will be drafted and not a free agent.
Bringing it Home
James White, Sony Michel, and Julian Edelman should have unchanged or slightly boosted roles depending on how many offensive weapons the Patriots acquire via the draft. If the Pats forgo much of the receiver and tight end talent, expect these players to see even more volume than they did in 2018.
Seferian-Jenkins’ tenure with New England hangs primarily on if the Patriots take a tight end in the draft. If they choose to do so, he’ll likely be a rotational piece with little fantasy value. Because of this, he’s worth stashing or drafting in only the deepest leagues until the draft concludes.
Gordon is the real value on this offense. A player with a high probability of producing nothing, Gordon also has the upside of being the most efficient connection Brady has made in recent memory.