Over the past few seasons, the NFL has transitioned into a league where offenses covet the big, athletic pass-catchers at tight end. Jimmy Graham in New Orleans, Rob Gronkowski in New England and the duo of Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert in Cincinnati all embody this type of player. There is another player in the AFC North who is becoming a big threat in the mold of the above-mentioned names--Cleveland Browns tight end, Jordan Cameron.
While he had some nice moments at USC with Matt Barkley at the helm, Cameron wasn't really a highly-touted prospect going into the 2011 draft. He was drafted in the fourth round as a project player, and didn't really make his presence known until the middle and late parts of the 2012 season. For those that are fantasy football snobs, you may have heard Cameron's name as a sleeper pick for your team this year. Boy, were those rumblings right.
Already this year through three games, Cameron has matched his 2012 reception totals (20) and surpassed his receiving yardage totals (226 in 2012 and 269 right now) and has quadrupled his touchdown from one to four. Quite the feat, seeing as how Cameron played in 14 games last year. Though Josh Gordon is the Browns' big-play weapon, Cameron is emerging as a huge threat himself, as evidenced by his three-touchdown performance last week in the win against the Vikings.
The Cincinnati Bengals defenses over the years have struggled against quality tight ends, to put it lightly. There isn't really rhyme or reason, other than the team hasn't invested high picks in rangy linebackers and/or safeties. Over the last two seasons, Cincinnati has lost their two best pass coverage linebackers for the season in Thomas Howard and Emmanuel Lamur, respectively. That puts them behind the eight ball a bit for Sunday's chess match against Cameron.
The Bengals haven't been killed by tight ends this year, but they have made their share of plays through three games. The Bears' Martellus Bennett had 49 yards and a touchdown catch--the lone one given up by Cincinnati's defense to a tight end this year. David Paulson of the Steelers also had 49 yards receiving against the unit, and Andrew Quarless of the Packers only had 21 yards.
The Browns offense relied on bog plays from Josh Gordon and red zone catches from Cameron. Their rushing offense wasn't much to write home about, as their leading rushers included a play to Gordon and Josh Aubrey's fake punt rush of 34 yards. If the Bengals can bottle up two of these three aspects/players, Sunday's game should be in the bag.
Still, Cameron should be a major focus in the Bengals film room this week. Look for a number of players to be assigned the task of covering the Browns' tight end. They newly-acquired Chris Crocker, who was signed to Cincinnati once again on Wednesday may have a role in that. The "joker/rover" position that Taylor Mays has been manning could be in charge of this as well. You will likely also see Vontaze Burfict and other linebackers hovering with him at times.
Regardless of who is there to guard him, they will need to keep Cameron in check as they have mostly done with other tight ends in 2013.