The word that comes to mind when profiling Tyler Eifert is: flexibility. I don't mean to say that he is a contortionist-though as an athletic young man, I'm sure he bends just fine-but rather, that he adds figurative flexibility in two ways.
The first way is the most obvious. On the field, he can be used in a variety of places. Tight ends have traditionally lined up hunched over with their fingers on the ground, appearing ready to either block or run out for a pass. The game has morphed with great strides since then, and while many tight ends still begin their play in the old fashion, many coaches have flexed these players away from the offensive line in either the slot or even wide receiver positions.
Watching highlights of Eifert, one can quickly see how the guy causes problems from all of these areas on the field. When he lines up in the traditional tight end spot, he becomes a threat in the seam route. He is able to find open space past the linebackers and braces appropriately for the ensuing contact by smaller defensive backs. Split him out wide and watch him jump over shorter players on long throws down the sidelines, or watch him scoot across the middle on crossing routes as an easy safety-valve target. In the red-zone, he can be used in the slot and beat linebackers or zone coverages on corner routes in the end-zone. In short, he is an expert pass catcher for the college ranks (even caught five interceptions his senior year in high-school) and his body-positioning, strength, and safe hands make him a dynamic playmaker and a mismatch extraordinaire.
The first concern that is always arisen when discussing Eifert, though, is his blocking. Eifert himself admitted that it's what he hears too and he's indicated that blocking has become his offseason priority. In other scouting reports, one can read that he has made terrific strides in that regard since first enrolling at Notre Dame and that the question mark is somewhat overblown. Yet, in those same reports, one can also read how he might have problems with NFL defensive ends if he isn't able to use his hands more effectively when pushing back these brutes.
Offensive coordinator, Jay Gruden, has already made his opinion known about Eifert's blocking. He recognizes that Eifert was not asked to do much blocking in college and that if he becomes a one-dimensional pass-catcher, the defenses can predict his role easier and adjust to him more comfortably.
‘In order to be a difference-maker at that position, you have to be able to block to help the running game,' Gruden told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com.
One way he can assist the running game without being a tremendous blocker is simply securing the outside when split wide by blocking the defensive backs that line up against him. New running back and fellow Bengal draftee, Gionvani Bernard, could use some help out there when he blazes around the defensive line and finds open areas in the flats. I could also see Eifert being an effective blocker in the screen game for the same reasons.
Obviously, the Bengals already have a Pro-Bowl tight end in Jermaine Gresham, but Gresham is a more traditional version of the position. Gresham has demonstrated that he can block just fine. He's a larger guy than Eifert with a naturally thicker build. Strength is not Gresham's issue. Like other prototypical tight ends, though, Gresham doesn't have the greatest hands. I stand by my assessment that it derives from an inability to concentrate in the crucial nanoseconds that defines a play. They are both highly-touted prospects, but Gresham's potential is nearly realized. At this point, the world pretty much knows what he brings to the table, and that which he struggles with, Eifert reportedly excels. How they will both be used simultaneously remains to be seen, but Gruden recently chimed in about that too, explaining how easy it would be to adjust from the three-wide receiver sets the team used so often last season, to a two-tight end look. Ultimately, what Eifert brings to the offense is added flexibility to its scheme.
In the other sense, his arrival provides the Bengals some wiggle room on the business end when Gresham's contract runs out in 2014. As of now, Rob Gronkowski is the highest-paid tight end ever after signing a six-year, $54 million extension prior to last season. When healthy, Gronk has been an animal and a touchdown scoring machine, warranting big money, but he has suffered a number of setbacks on his broken forearm and teeters on the edge of being labeled ‘injury prone'.
Gresham has been relatively healthy and has put up decent numbers. His contract won't be of Gronk money, but he will command a sizable extension himself. The Bengals have been noticably shrewd in regards to free-agency, with the emphasis on saving money in order to resign their own stars. With A.J. Green, Andy Dalton, Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson all in line for their next payday, Gresham has to wonder where he falls on the team's priority list. Now with yet another first-round pick at the position, the Bengals don't seem to need him as much as perhaps it seemed last year. The development of Eifert's blocking and the hopeful improvement of Gresham's catching ability should go a long way toward clarifying the Bengals' long-term plans at tight end.
Many fans remember the letdown in Houston last year and pointed at least half the blame on Gresham himself. Then when Cincinnati drafted Eifert, some of those felt it was in response to that showing and that it was done to increase the pressure on him. While there may be a kernel of truth to that (or perhaps not), the pressure has been amplified nonetheless. The competition for the position and leading role in that area is now more important than it was before the draft and both leading competitors realize what's at stake. The organization gave itself flexibility while forcing a seasoned veteran to sweat a bit. Tyler Eifert is partly here to reinforce the underlying message of the profession to Gresham and to the rest of the team: this is pro football, where no is safe.
Mojokong-warming up with the weather.