The Bengals drafted ten players who could all conceivably make the 2012 roster and contribute in some fashion. The weekend was a masterpiece for the club, as they put on a clinic on how to address needs and take the best player available. Nearly everyone took notice, as the praise continues to be heaped onto Marvin Lewis and Company for the work that they did over the three days.
As I've said before, we could see a small handful of these players start and many more contribute on a "by committee" basis, which is becoming more and more a staple of the Bengals offense under Jay Gruden. One of the committees we could be seeing is at the tight end position. Along with the starter, Jermaine Gresham, there is Donald Lee, Colin Cochart and rookie fourth-round pick, Orson Charles. I contend that Charles will have the biggest impact of all of the team's rookies this year.
Last season at the University of Georgia, Charles grabbed 44 receptions and five touchdowns. He was known as a fierce competitor, as well as being a guy who made tough catches and always fought for the extra yard. Even though he wasn't viewed as a polished blocker, many draftniks predicted that Charles would have been a fringe first to second round draft pick. Fortunately for the Bengals, he slid all the way to the middle of the fourth round and landed in their lap. With Gresham, Lee and Cochart in the fold, the team didn't necessarily need a tight end, but his skill set was too much for Lewis and Gruden to overlook.
In the Marvin Lewis era, the team's tight ends haven't been much of an offensive weapon. In the years preceding Gresham's arrival (2003-2009), the main main was Reggie Kelly and he was relied upon for his superb blocking skills, allowing the star receivers to make plays. It seemed that the team was always looking for a player at the position who was more of a receiver, and that was evident with the team's pursuit of Ben Utecht and the eventual selection of Gresham.
Since his arrival, Gresham has performed well and has improved his blocking. He's a staple of the offense and could have his best season yet, in 2012. Still, the Bengals need a player behind him that can make a lot of plays. Enter Charles.
So, why will Charles succeed? With the team currently lacking a viable No.2 wide receiver (that's not to say that they don't have one in Armon Binns, Mohamed Sanu, and/or Marvin Jones, they're just not established yet), opposing defenses will shift their focus to Gresham and A.J. Green, as they'll likely be Andy Dalton's primary target. If you line up Charles in either a two tight end formation or in the slot, he'll beat most NFL linebackers and safeties. With the focus on his teammates, it's very likely that Charles will roam free in the middle of the field where he makes his hay. It's there that defenses won't know what hit them.
However, it's in the red zone where I feel that Charles will make his biggest contributions. Last season, the Bengals weren't very efficient in the red zone, as they failed to convert touchdowns and had to settle for field goals many times. In fact, according to teamrankings.com, the Bengals were 25th in touchdown percentage in the red zone. Yikes. Luckily, they received an outstanding season out of Mike Nugent, but settling for the field goal hurts--especially against division powerhouses like Baltimore and Pittsburgh. In the same above-mentioned formations, Charles could be lethal in this area. Defenses will no doubt flock to Green and Gresham, which would leave Charles to convert these red zone opportunities. At 6'3" and 250 pounds, he makes for a great target as the field shortens.
Furthermore, the days of the team not understanding how to use multiple tight ends went out the window with the departure of former offensive coordinator, Bob Bratkowski. Everybody figured that they found the answer to the multiple tight end threat situation with the drafting of Chase Coffman, but that didn't work out because Coffman was too one-dimensional as a player. Though there are similar concerns with Charles, he's a much more physical player and I don't see him stumbling over the same hurdles that Coffman faced. With a more competent coordinator calling the shots, Charles will be put in situations where he can succeed.
The old adage goes "a young quarterback's best friend is a good tight end" and well, Dalton has a plethora. I feel that Charles will be more than a mere "bail-out option" and could even become Dalton's No.2 target at times in the season. Though Charles doesn't like the "Aaron Hernandez comparison", there is some validity to it. Charles and Hernandez may be different types of players, but we could see the type of production that the Patriots put up with their two tight ends.