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Comparing Jermaine Gresham To The Careers Of Great Bengals Tight Ends

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So much has been made of Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham this offseason, from Jay Gruden's public statements to NFL-specific analysts talking him down. For example ESPN analyst K.C. Joyner called him one of the league's most overrated. More recently Pro Football Focus writes that Gresham dropped 14 out of 122 "catchable balls" for a league-high drop rate of 11.5 percent, compared to all tight ends over the course of the past three seasons (Gresham has only played two) with at least 100 targets.

Though the drop rates may appear more factual, excluding the emotion to dictate perspective, a majority of the assault on Gresham this offseason isn't his doing. Nor is it really that fair. Along with being integrated into completely separate offensive systems with different offensive coordinators during his first two seasons, Gresham still generated 108 receptions for 1,067 yards receiving and ten touchdowns. That's actually fairly impressive when reflecting historical context on a team that's housed great tight ends.

For example, Dan Ross, who holds the record for most receptions in a Super Bowl (along with Jerry Rice, Deion Branch and Wes Welker), is the only tight end to generate more than 100 receptions in consecutive seasons. Well other than Gresham. Bob Trumpy never reached that milestone, neither did Rodney Holman or Tony McGee. And it's not like these guys had short careers. Holman played 11 seasons with Cincinnati. Before retiring Bob Trumpy spent 10 years in a Bengals uniform. Tony McGee played nine and Ross played six.

Jermaine Gresham's first two seasons compares to the best seasons by the franchise's best tight ends.

Tight End Season Rec. Yards Touchdowns
Jermaine Gresham '10-11 108 1,067 10
Tony McGee '94-95 95 1,246 5*
Rodney Holman '89-90 90 1,332 14
Bob Trumpy 84 ('71-72) 1,474 ('68-69) 12 ('68-69)
Dan Ross '80-81 127 1,634 9
* Posted 10 touchdowns between 1996-97.

If we refocus the comparison, taking Gresham's first two seasons and comparing that to the franchise's best tight ends and their first two seasons (first two seasons as a starter in Rodney Holman's case), this is how it looks.

Tight End Season Rec. Yards Touchdowns
Jermaine Gresham '10-11 108 1,067 10
Tony McGee '93-94 84 1,017 1
Rodney Holman '85-86* 78 1,049 9
Bob Trumpy '68-69 74 1,474 12
Dan Ross '79-80 97 1,240 5
* We picked the first two seasons that Holman became a starter, rather than his first two seasons (which only amounted to five receptions and 32 yards receiving.

There are an inordinate amount of expectations on Gresham. Largely unfair, considering his athleticism is forcing comparisons to some of the league's best tight ends who are currently installed on more efficient, productive and stable offenses. Seriously. Jimmy Graham has Drew Brees. Rob Gronkowski has Tom Brady. Gresham had Carson Palmer (who was infatuated with Terrell Owens) and Andy Dalton (who is infatuated with A.J. Green).

But this is a different game. There's more passing today.

Let's take a look at that. During his first two seasons in the NFL from 2010 and 2011, the Cincinnati Bengals averaged 562.5 pass attempts per season. Holman's best seasons (from '89-90), Cincinnati's offense averaged 469 passes per season (majority of the time while protecting a lead). McGee's best seasons ('94-95), Cincinnati's offense averaged 564 passes per game (majority of the time while trying to recover from an early deficit). Dan Ross' best season (1980-81) sported an offense that averaged 530 passes per game. The largest differential really rests with Bob Trumpy, who generated 74 receptions during his first two seasons on an offense that only averaged 310.5 passes per season (in 28 games).

Say what you will about Gresham, drawing upon forced expectations that were probably a little premature. But if he keeps going like he is, Gresham will have a place among the great tight ends in Bengals history. And in reality, he will only get better.