When the Cincinnati Bengals selected Rutgers tight end Tyler Kroft in the third round, it resolved a need that encapsulated two points:
1) It resolved a serious lack of talent at tight end (and the question regarding Tyler Eifert's recovery/rehabilitation from a dislocated elbow last year -- forcing him to miss 15 games).
2) It officially moves up on from the Jermaine Gresham era.
The pressure and work involved during the predraft season can be rough -- if not more taxing than a team's performance during the regular season. There are flights, conflicting schedules, tests, observational trust (is the coach scouting reliable?) and tons of pressure. Missing out on players during the draft is inevitable. Then there are those players that you hit on.
Tight ends coach Jonathan Hayes spent the offseason looking for talent. Jermaine Gresham entered free agency and then underwent surgery to repair a recently-discovered herniated disc. Tyler Eifert is rehabilitating from a dislocated elbow, which caused him to miss 15 regular season games last year. Alex Smith is gone. Prior to the NFL draft, the team's tight end roster is rounded out by Kevin Brock and Jake Murphy.
Hayes found himself in Rutgers during their Pro Day to scout tight end Tyler Kroft.
They hit it off.
"The one thing about Tyler when we visited and had an opportunity just to talk, just sitting there talking football and listen to him articulate was just fun to be around him," said Hayes. "He loves to play football. He has a good understanding of the game and he’s a personable kid. He’s a leader by example. Everyone down there really enjoys him.
"I think that everyone’s going to be happy about him because he’s going to come in here on the first day, he’s going to come early, leave late and he’s not scared of hard work," Hayes continues. "He’s from a blue collar family. He’s got the right value system and he’s going to be ready to work once he gets here."
The conversations at Rutgers' pro day and the 15-minute interview at the NFL Combine were enough for the Bengals, who didn't bother inviting Kroft to Cincinnati for a predraft visit. He has the tools, the personality and addresses significant needs with a little icing on the cake.
"I thought I hit it off pretty well with coach (tight ends coach Jonathan Hayes), especially at my pro day," recalling Kroft during a conference call with Cincinnati's media. "My agent said to make sure I had my TV on when the Bengals were picking."
Even though Kroft addresses needs for a position that's limping along in the offseason, the Bengals are enthusiastic about Kroft's skill set and his personality. "There’s a reason why we were looking at this kid at this stage," said tight ends coach Jonathan Hayes. "He’s going to make us a lot better on the offensive side of the ball. He has a big catch radius, he’s an elusive runner, he’s an effective and willing blocker."
He'll need to be.
"I knew going into the year that my role was going to shift and I was going to have to take on more of a blocking role," said Kroft. "So I didn’t let it affect me too much. Obviously it was frustrating not being a playmaker like I usually was, but ultimately I think I played hard and that’s what I can hang my hat on."
It also doesn't mean that he won't have the opportunity to be a play-maker. Eifert missed significant time last year (is this an aberration or a preview of things to come) and Hue Jackson had intended to use a significant number of double-tight formations.
They should use him in the passing game too.
Over his last two seasons at Rutgers, Kroft posted 67 receptions for 842 yards receiving -- he scored five touchdowns during his collegiate career. In addition to his pass-catching ability, Kroft is projected as a solid blocker. According to Pro Football Focus, Kroft has allowed only one pressure in 66 pass blocking snaps last season.
New Bengals TE Tyler Kroft was the third-highest graded run blocker and eighth-highest graded overall tight end in this class— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 2, 2015
"We are really excited about him," said head coach Marvin Lewis on Friday. "He is a guy we had targeted who fit what we are looking for, and in this draft, the best of the TE prospects. We feel really good about his ability to be an all-around tight end and a guy that has a lot of ability continue to grow and have great upside both as a blocker and a receiver. He has a great feel for route running and a feel for moving away from leverage."