The Starting Tight End Debate: Jermaine Gresham Versus Tyler Eifert

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

We take a look at the numbers and ask the question if Tyler Eifert is deserving of a bigger role--as in, a starting one.

Sometimes there is a curse with having two good players at the same position, who also carry high draft designations. Such is the case with the Cincinnati Bengals tight ends, Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham. While fans hold the Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez combination from 2010-2012 as the example for teams that employ two pass-catching tight ends, the truth is that they are the outliers.

While both Bengals tight ends are having pretty solid statistical seasons, some believe that one or both could be doing more. There is definitely some truth to that sentiment, but the fact remains that both Gresham and Eifert are secondary passing options for Andy Dalton behind wide receiver, A.J. Green. And, for this offense, that's okay.

Even with spending a similarly high pick on Eifert, he has take a back seat to the incumbent starter, Gresham. To his credit, the fourth-year tight end has remained relatively productive through a myriad of issues over the course of those seasons, be it quarterback and offensive coordinator turnover, as well as adjusting to a new offensive game plan. Still, there are games with underwhelming performances from Gresham, be it problems with fumbles, dropped passes and/or penalties.

With those issues of inconsistency that continue to plague Gresham, the calls for Eifert getting more time as a starter or just having an increased role grow louder. Given both players' output on Sunday night against the Steelers, I decided to dive into some numbers. Let's have a look:

Player Targets Catches Catch % Rec. Yards Yards Per Catch First Downs Touchdowns Fumbles Penalties Drops
Jermaine Gresham 63 43 68% 412 9.6 22 3 2 7 3
Tyler Eifert 58 38 66% 439 11.6 18 2 0 0 2

You can see that most of the stats are comparable, except for the fumbles and penalties. The calls against Gresham could mostly be attributed to his starting role and the team leaning on him to block, but only three of the seven penalties against Gresham were offensive holding calls. Three others were false starts and another was an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. So, take that information as you would like.

In crunching the numbers, I was surprised that the dropped passes were almost equal, especially since their targets and catches were so close as well. Here's what I take away from these numbers: if you gave Eifert the role that Gresham has, the statistical production would likely stay the same, without as many fumbles or penalties. Sounds great on the surface, right?

While most people would accept that and love to see it happen, there is the blocking aspect to consider. Though Gresham has his share of holding calls and isn't the best blocking tight end in the league, he is more capable at that duty than Eifert is. The rookie from Notre Dame is a bit more of a finesse player than Gresham is, but has better high-point catching skills and more speed.

The good news is that the Bengals can't go wrong either way, should they decide to give either player a bigger role. And, maybe they shouldn't even think about making any changes, given both players' production in the system. Still, with big games looming and the possibility of the playoffs around the corner, the penalties and fumbles that have plagued Gresham should be considered by the coaches. It's hard to want to have to lean on a rookie in huge games, but Eifert simply isn't making rookie mistakes. Gresham, on the other hand, has made them before and is still making some of the same ones from his previous years this season.

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