As I mentioned in another post recently, the Bengals are in an odd stage of limbo in regards to this year's draft. What I mean by that is with their back-to-back playoff appearances and 19 wins in the last two years, the team is seemingly headed in the right direction, but a few glaring roster holes remain. It would have been nice to plug some of those in free agency, but it appears that the team will once again be relying on the draft.
When you've had some recent success as Cincinnati has enjoyed, an argument can be made to take the best player available on the board, regardless of position. With the type of forward thinking that the team has employed this offseason, it's easy to think that this is what we could see this April. Still, big holes remain at safety, linebacker and running back and those will likely need to be addressed early. Quite a pickle, eh?
So, what if certain players that the Bengals could be targeting in the first round are gone? In a recent Bengals.com mock draft, that's how the board fell. Gone were the receivers Tavon Austin, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Keenan Allen. The top safety in this year's class, Kenny Vaccaro, was off the board by the time No.21 was up, as were two top cornerbacks in Dee Milliner and Desmond Trufant. Want a linebacker? The two Georgia boys, Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree are gone as well. And, as some predicted, the Bengals.com mock has four tackles going before No.21, including the oft-mocked-to-the-Bengals D.J. Fluker.
So, what to do?
Dave Lapham has the answer and it isn't likely to be a popular one. The lovable radio color analyst for the Bengals has the team selecting Notre Dame tight end, Tyler Eifert.
"They're married to Gresham and Gresham is a good blocker as well as a guy that can make a big play," Lapham says. "But you add Eifert you're getting a hell of an athlete. He's not a blocker, but he's a great receiver. He gives you another threat. All you have to do is look at New England with (Rob) Gronkowski and (Aaron) Hernandez and what they've been able to do with athletic tight ends."
The Patriots are always the shining beacon of an example on why to have more than one tight end, aren't they? Some had visions of that offensive attack being employed by the Bengals last year with the drafting of Orson Charles, but that never materialized. We're hopeful for a bigger role for Charles in 2013, but the Eifert pick would likely nullify that.
Eifert would bring an element to the Bengals that the offense is currently lacking--a big, dependable red zone target that also has the the ability to work the middle of the field. The team has been quite ineffective in the Andy Dalton/Jay Gruden era in scoring touchdowns instead of field goals and a guy like Eifert could change that. What's more, as you can see in the picture of this article, Eifert wore the Captain's "C" for the Irish, obviously denoting his leadership skills.
At the beginning of March, I wrote a piece asking the question if the Bengals should draft a tight end fairly high this year. The comments were overwhelmingly against the idea, citing the lack of proper usage of the tight ends that are currently on the roster. I wasn't even preaching the drafting of a tight end in the first round (more the middle rounds), so I can imagine how the Eifert pick will be received. However, some food for thought: perhaps the under-utilization of Gresham isn't a fault of Gruden, but rather that Gresham doesn't have some of the tools that Gruden wants out of his tight ends. After all, one has to remember that Gresham was drafted during the previous offensive regime--not the one that currently exists with Gruden.
Ultimately, this comes down to Gresham and how the team views him going forward. Yes, the former first rounder has two Pro Bowls to his name, but those were more of a default awarding because of the mixture of their team's success and injuries to the New England studs. And yes, Gresham has been productive in his first three seasons here. But the inconsistency that he shows is maddening and the bitter taste from his awful postseason performance a couple of months ago still lingers. And, if the idea is to get Andy Dalton as many weapons as possible to be successful going forward, Eifert might not be a bad idea to kick around.