Earlier this week, Jamison Hensley of ESPN began releasing his top-25 players of the AFC North. He kicked off his list at No.25 with a somewhat surprising nod to Bengals linebacker Thomas Howard. It's not that Howard was undeserving, it's more the fact that he is unheralded and has only been with the team for one season. It was an astute observation by Hensley.
The ESPN AFC North blogger continued his list and named Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham to the list. After making the Pro Bowl in 2011 (as a second alternate), many NFL writers are predicting a big year from Gresham--his second in Jay Gruden's system.
Placing him at No.23, Hensley writes:
Why Gresham is ranked 23rd: He's the best tight end in the division, and he'll really make that clear this season. Gresham led AFC North tight ends in receptions (56) and touchdown catches (six) last season, but he was underused in the Bengals' offense last season. With receivers Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell leaving in free agency, the Bengals will turn to Gresham after not signing a receiver in free agency or drafting one in the first two rounds. His 2012 numbers should be between 70 and 80 catches because he'll become Andy Dalton's No. 2 target behind A.J. Green. Look for the Bengals to stretch the field with Gresham more this season to take advantage of his athleticism. Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis made a point to tell reporters that Gresham came back from his first Pro Bowl with increased confidence. That should be reflected in his production.
"Underused" is a great adjective to use with the tight end. The fact that the team even used a first round pick on Gresham (which was the first time they used that high of a pick on the position) was a surprise. Like Hensley notes, he will likely have to emerge as the secondary target on the team behind A.J. Green.
With the inexperience at wide receiver this year, Gresham should be the beneficiary of some good statistical production. We still think that predicting 70-80 catches for the big guy might be a bit lofty, for a couple of reasons. First, the team hasn't traditionally placed that much emphasis on the position in their existence. Rodney Holman, widely-regarded as one of, if not the best tight end in the team's history, never had more than 50 catches in a season.
Secondly, the team invested a fourth-round pick on Orson Charles. We don't expect the rookie to take a boatload of catches from Gresham, though we do feel that he'll have an impact and the team will use more two tight end sets. Though we realize that there's a lot of quality players in the division, we feel that No.23 may be a little bit low for Gresham here, as not only is he coming off of a Pro Bowl berth, but Hensley himself calls him the "best tight end in the division". Still, he does have a point that we are all still waiting on that "wow" breakout season from him.