Last season was a pleasant surprise in which the Bengals were able to not only make the playoffs, but win a second division title in five years. Despite the surprising season, a growing concern surfaced at the Tight End position. It started during training camp when Reggie Kelly and Ben Utecht went out with injuries and Chase Coffman had troubles learning the offense leading to poor performance during the preseason, leaving Dan "lead hands" Coats and J.P. Foschi to man the position.
Heading into this off-season, it was felt that the Bengals would address the situation by either signing a free agent or grabbing a tight end in the draft. The Bengals felt that despite Coats' inability to catch and hold onto the ball, he was worth of another year in burnt orange and black stripes. Realizing that this did not solve the problem, they are reportedly mulling re-signing J.P. Foschi who would actually be an improvement over Coats. There is now much speculation that they will use a high draft pick on a tight end to help the situation and several potential players have been mentioned. If they do decide to draft a tight end, who should it be and which round of the draft?
Many prognosticators have indicated that the Bengals will select Jermaine Gresham from Oklahoma who missed all of his senior season due to injury. He is known as a pass catching tight end and had a breakout season in 2008 finishing with 66 catches for 950 yards and 14 touchdowns. At six feet six inches tall and 261 pounds, this would make him a viable target in the red zone. Are the Bengals willing to change their philosophy for a position which they consider to be more important for its blocking than its receiving, however?
Florida Tight End Aaron Hernandez was selected as a first team All-American last season and become the first SEC tight end to win the John Mackey Award, given annually to the nation's top tight end. He decided to forego his senior season after leading all tight ends in the nation with 68 catches, 850 yards and five touchdowns. At 6-2, 238 lbs, he is one of the smaller tight ends in this year's draft but he also possesses the speed to be a deep threat with a 4.5 40 yard dash time as well the athleticism to make people miss. Like a number of pass catching tight ends, his weakness is blocking. Jordan Palmer, who works out with Hernandez in SoCal says "He's freaky. This guy has great yards-after-catch ability. He's a better Kellen Winslow [Jr.]. The problem is he's never blocked in his life."
Another tight end that has the Bengals eye is Anthony McCoy of USC. He was named Honorable Mention All-PAC 10 the past two seasons and led all tight ends in yards per catch with an average of 20.8. He finished his senior season with 20 catches for 450 yards and one touchdown. His overall strength is blocking, which has always been a requirement for Bengals' Tight Ends. What may hamper him is that he is considered to lack elusiveness and to have average speed and quickness. His 4.72 time in the 40 may not seem like a threat to stretch the field, but he is considered a good route runner and runs hard after the catch. His durability could be called into question as he spent time on the injured list during his college career with ankle and hamstring injuries.
These are the tight ends that have been mentioned by the Bengals as interests. Each player has pros and cons. So now it is draft day and one of the team's goals is upgrading the tight end position. Since I now bestow the position of General Manager upon you, I ask who do you select and how do you go about that selection? Do you sacrifice blocking skills for a pass catching tight end even though Chase Coffman was drafted a year ago, or do you select a tight end for his blocking skills that may not be able to catch and run, a la Coats.
Do you continue to work the free agency market, making a trade for a tight end? The position demands a balanced skill set of a blocker and a receiver, which is hard to come by. Few players clearly possess a balance of both skills.