Consistency. It's an issue that's plagued former Bengals first round pick Jermaine Gresham during his tenure in Cincinnati. While big No. 84 had many big plays and a couple of alternate Pro Bowl berths, penalties, fumbles and drops all stain his Bengals' memories as the team's starting tight end during the past five seasons.
For those and a few other reasons, including a back issue and rumored discontent from the coaching staff, the Bengals decided to look in another direction at the position this offseason. Tyler Eifert is entering his third season and is eager to prove himself in a very important year--make no mistake about it. But, the major changes came via the draft in the form of two tight ends, highlighted by third round selection, Tyler Kroft. Though he was a relative unknown shortly after the pick, we feel as if he could play an important role on the offense this year.
Why He Makes The List:
Reliability: Do we truly know that Kroft is reliable after just a handful of practices in shorts? Not wholly, no. However, that's his reputation coming out of college--willing blocker with the ability to make a few plays in the passing game. His best season as a receiver was in 2013, where he had 43 catches for 573 yards and four touchdowns. Not eye-popping, but the team likes him and Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has been known to use tight ends effectively throughout his career. Maybe the reliability will simply come with lesser expectations placed on Kroft than were on Gresham, given his draft status and what his slated role will be in 2015.
Blocking: The non-sexy facet of a tight end's gig is in blocking. To Gresham's credit, he improved on that over the years, but was never outstanding at it. Kroft seems, at a minimum, to be a capable player in that regard and should boost a running attack that finished No. 6 overall last year. While the stats looked nice on paper, that was more due to a late-season explosion on the ground, and those who watched the games closely saw an inconsistency early on that made fans pull their hair out. Now, one tight end won't necessarily come right in and cure all ills, but it couldn't hurt. Giovani Bernard may have more edge success with sustained blocking by a tight end, and Kroft has the upper hand in this skill set over Eifert.
The Red Zone: The Bengals could have a number of lethal formations on offense, as the field shrinks for them. This is assuming that most/all players are healthy, but Jackson should be licking his chops at the possibilities. One formation could have two tight ends (Kroft and Eifert), A.J. Green, Ryan Hewitt and either Bernard or Jeremy Hill in the backfield. The mind games that could ensue are endless and Kroft could become a beneficiary of passing plays because of attention spent on others in the lineup. He could also just be aiding the running game with sound blocking--providing that he continues to work and progress on that through Training Camp.
It's always risky to put a rookie on this list, particularly one whose role is yet to be determined, plus, he was a mid-round pick. However, NFL offenses are thriving with multiple tight ends who are able to contribute in the offense and we see some of the same potential in The Queen City. If Kroft can prove to be a more reliable player than Gresham was, that will help the offense, even though he isn't necessarily the same type of physical specimen, per se.
Though he'll be behind Eifert on the depth chart, Kroft should still see a good amount of playing time. There will be times when Eifert will be lined up in the slot and garnering a lot of defensive attention, so Kroft could be sneaky effective. And, we we all saw at the end of last year, the more viable passing options available to Andy Dalton as the year wears on, the better.