The Bengals really liked what they saw in former Rutgers tight end Tyler Kroft prior to the draft, including his ability to have a big impact on the offense as early as this year.
Though most viewed the Scarlet Knight as the third or fourth best TE in this draft, Cincinnati had Kroft as their top-rated TE prospect, according to Geoff Hobson. He also says it looks like the addition of Kroft will allow the Bengals to use h-back Ryan Hewitt as more of a true fullback next year, something they think he may be one of the best at:
The big thing with getting Kroft is it allows Ryan Hewitt to block primarily as a fullback, a guy some at Paul Brown Stadium think is the NFL’s best fullback.
An undrafted free agent out of Stanford last year, Hewitt fought his way onto the final 53-man roster after a training camp battle with Nikita Whitlock. He went on to have a productive rookie season, grading out as the No. 5 FB in 2014 by Pro Football Focus. From Week 9 to the end of the regular season, Hewitt was the No. 2 FB behind only 49ers Pro-Bowler Bruce Miller.
Hewitt also became a legitimate pass-catching threat down the stretch with seven receptions for 68 yards during the final five games. He did that on just 10 targets, and should get more looks in 2015 if he lines up at tight end more than he did in 2014.
It's easy to see how the Bengals already think they have one of the better FBs in the NFL, and after a solid rookie season, maybe he will become the best there is in his second year.
Bengals Rated Kroft the No. 1 TE
While it's nice to see the Bengals really like what they have in Kroft, it's still hard to see how the Bengals could have Kroft rated ahead of Minnesota's Maxx Williams and Miami's Clive Walford, the consensus top TE prospects.
Williams, who was easily the best tight end prospect in terms of talent, led Minnesota in receptions (36), yards (569) and receiving touchdowns (eight) this past season, all while being a finalist for the 2014 John Mackey Award. He's a great pass-catcher and a decent run-blocker, whereas Walford is more of a complete TE. He's a solid run-blocker who's also a big target at 6'4" and 251 pounds.
This past season, Walford caught a team-high 44 passes for 676 yards and seven scores. He was productive throughout his college career, catching a combined 39 passes for 955 yards and six touchdowns in the two seasons prior to his breakout 2014 campaign. He's a complete tight end who is good enough to stay on the field if he's just there to be an extra blocker, or he can line up out wide and be a mismatch against smaller corners.
Kroft's game is more similar to Walford than Williams, who compares more to what the Bengals have in Tyler Eifert: A pass-catching tight end with straight-line play speed and the ability to stretch defenses deep. It's easy to see why the Bengals would pass on drafting another Eifert, but to have Kroft ahead of Walford shows how much they really like Kroft.
College Football Focus had Walford at or near the top of most of their advanced statistical rankings. The one are where Kroft excelled ahead of Walford was pass-blocking efficiency:
Maybe that's the edge that put Kroft ahead of Walford on the Bengals' draft boards, or maybe it was Kroft's character and leadership that did it. Whatever it was, the Bengals got the guy they wanted. They've had a pretty good success rate in recent drafts when that's been the case.