"I want to be great at everything. I want to be the best at everything."
New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski—two of the NFL's best. Anyone would be happy to have the career of either. Washington tight end prospect Austin Seferian-Jenkins wants it all. He wants to be better than both.
The question is the same, and the answer is almost always vanilla: What NFL player do you compare yourself to? I told Seferian-Jenkins that I didn't want the generic answer, and I told him I knew the generic answer was coming. Seferian-Jenkins is not a generic type of guy.
Seferien-Jenkins knows he needs to get better, just as he got better throughout his college career. Still, he believes he can combine the receiving ability of Graham with the blocking of Gronkowski. Of course, that combination would likely make him one of the best tight ends of all time.
I think that might be the point.
How is Seferian-Jenkins working toward that goal?
He's working with the team at EXOS (formerly Athletes' Performance), one of the premier training groups around sports and (easily) one of the most successful pre-combine training facilities. He mentioned Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder was there throwing to the assembled prospects which includes Wyoming wide receiver Robert Herron, LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks and Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey—among many others.
Seferian-Jenkins said he lost 20 pounds and 11 percent body fat, is down to 262 and expects to run in the 4.6s— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) February 20, 2014
As I noted earlier, Seferian-Jenkins is working on every aspect of his game, telling me that he's in the "best shape of [his] life," and is "Working on technique, working on everything. I'm doing everything I can and working against different coverages."
That idea of working against different coverages shows a maturity in Seferian-Jenkins and is evidence he has a grasp of what is needed to be great in the NFL. In college, coverages are often very vanilla, and he was one of the biggest, fastest and strongest players on the field on every play. In the NFL, he'll need to prove he's still got it against equal (or better) athletes with better coaching and more complex defenses.
Getting better is nothing new for Seferian-Jenkins, who has been working on his football skills since kindergarten:
"My dad showed me a football and would throw it up and have my dog—a german shepherd—chase me around when I went after the ball. I caught it because I was scared of that dog. The next year, my dad talked to the commissioner of a local league and convinced him to let me play as a first grader with third graders."
He explained that he's still very close to his dad, although people don't know it, as Seferian-Jenkins is often pictured with his mother and the two have been separated. He explained that his mom spent his childhood, often "working two or three jobs to make sure I got to do what I wanted to do."
Yet, his dad is "always in the background. He's always been a great man, and he's always been there for me."
As for other people who have helped him in football, Seferian-Jenkins pointed to the staff around Washington during his time there. Current Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and USC head coach Steve Sarkisian both imparted plenty of wisdom, and Philadelphia Eagles running back Chris Polk was a great example of doing everything it takes to get to the NFL.
It wasn't all good at Washington, however, and Seferian-Jenkins' career there has been distilled by many in the media to one solitary night. As explained by the Associated Press (via ESPN.com):
He was arrested on March 9 following a late-night car accident. His blood-alcohol level was 0.18 percent, more than twice the state limit. A police report stated Seferian-Jenkins' vehicle was found at the bottom of a catch basin at a park near the University of Washington. The driver objected to medical care, but was eventually placed on a backboard and transported to Harborview Medical Center. He objected to a blood test at the hospital before police obtained a search warrant to draw his blood.
Seferian-Jenkins called the night a, "poor choice...a very poor choice," but didn't want that one night to define him in the way he feels many have made it out to: "I made one mistake, I think believe believe it was multiple mistakes...but I grew from it. It helped me mature both on and off the field."
Personally, I believe a DUI is a much worse problem in the NFL than other more-widely reported off-the-field incidents. There's no excuse for it, with the kind of money and resources that teams and the NFLPA give to players, there's just no reason ever to put your own life, the lives of passengers or the lives of fellow drivers at risk.
It's interesting, though, that as I've covered this league, DUIs are lower on the list of red flags for draft prospects—probably ranking slightly below one-time marijuana usage and something teams just don't really care about.
The idea is that boys will be boys, and while it's not morally acceptable, a DUI may not have much more behind it than simply a really poor instance of decision-making on one night and not be indicative of any larger problem.
The National Football Post's Erik Oehler had this to say about the night in question, rating the "red flag" risk as "very low":
Based on the isolated nature of the incident, and his actions since, it wouldn’t be reasonable to get overly concerned about drafting Seferian-Jenkins. Some NFL players with college DUI convictions become problems like Justin Blackmon (2010), who repeated the offense in 2012, and had two subsequent violations of the league’s substance abuse policy in 2013.
Others like Kiko Alonso (2010) and Michael Floyd (2011) manage to turn things around and become steals for the NFL teams that take a chance on them. Every player is different. His on the field talent and very positive attitude should make it very easy to convince any team that does their homework on him to draft him high.
It's a similar to the impression I had while talking to Seferian-Jenkins. Over the years, I've talked to hundreds of NFL players and prospects, and he is among the tops in terms of initial impression. I did this interview back-to-back with Northwestern QB/receiver prospect Kain Colter, and it was the most respectful, well-spoken, polished and sincere tandem of interviews I've ever done.
When I say that Seferian-Jenkins is "polished," I don't mean what most prospects go through as they prepare for the combine—prepared answers, recited ad infinitum to bored media members who aren't expecting a straight answer to any of their regurgitated questions. No, Seferian-Jenkins was honest, forthright and downright respectful.
This is the Seferian-Jenkins coaches and teammates know. Not a kid who is a troublemaker or constantly needs to be watched over. No, they know a young man who is mature, who leads by example and is consistently looking to do the little things it takes to get better:
"Preparation starts after the game before. When I get out on the field, it’s all about football, I love football."
Best stat I left out...34.3% of Seferian-Jenkins' receptions came in the red zone compared to an average of 10% for the rest— Greg Peshek (@NU_Gap) February 19, 2014
That love of football—born in kindergarten and fostered by a close relationship with his dad—is what defines Seferian-Jenkins, and it's what fuels his desire to be the absolute best.
Graham plus Gronkowski? It's a tall mountain to climb, but the desire to reach those heights is genuine. If a player wants to be the best and is truly willing to do whatever it takes to get there, who are we to bet against him?
Michael Schottey is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff on his archive page and follow him on Twitter. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.