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Crunching the numbers: Looking at the Bengals' tight end situation

The Bengals have some tough decisions ahead when it comes to forming certain position groups via final cuts. There are a few ideas out there about how the tight end group will shake out, which we address here.

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The Cincinnati Bengals have some tough decisions to make this summer. Do they bring aboard some youngsters who might be impressing them in lieu of proven commodities? How many players do they keep at certain crowded position groups? These are situations that solid teams have to face.

Recently, editor Geoff Hobson proposed an idea for the team to contemplate a different look at tight end:

They feel encouraged by this crew. Eifert has been one of the best players in camp and Kroft’s qualities that made him the top tight end on their draft board (hands, speed, size, ability to adjust to the ball, willingness to block) have surfaced. Uzomah is a talented blank slate that intrigues them and who they think will be more of a factor later in the season. Lengel and Peters have not disappointed and look to be squad material. But question: what if Lengel has a better preseason than a sixth receiver?

The Problem: Inexperience

Hobson asks if one of the undrafted tight ends impresses more than some of the recently-underwhelming wide receivers who comprise the back end of their respective position group, do you take an extra TE and cut a WR? Even so, you're looking at three or four guys who have little to no NFL experience. Sure, Tyler Eifert has looked good in spurts of game action and his potential is off the charts, but the fact remains that he's still relatively unproven--especially as the No.1 guy.

If they do decide to go heavy at the position, does a late addition of a veteran who is floating out there come into play? How does one count Ryan Hewitt? As a back or a tight end?

Why Going Heavy At Tight End Doesn't Make Sense:

There is a cause and effect/chain reaction type of thing that points to why keeping four tight ends (if they also are keeping Hewitt) doesn't work for the Bengals. Traditionally, the team hasn't valued the tight end position very highly. Why? Because, even when they've had studs at the position, rarely have they used more than two as big offensive contributors. Sure, there was the 1988 trifecta of Rodney Holman, Jim Riggs and Eric Kattus, but when you look more closely at those stats, Holman definitely got the lion's share.

Because of their valuation and usage of the position, taking an extra tight end on the roster would chip away a position that is a bigger need and currently log-jammed. Defensive tackle, cornerback, safety and wide receiver are all packed with contributors and/or rookies with big potential, so keeping a fourth tight end who may not see the field, even on special teams, seems less valuable than going short at one of the aforementioned position groups.

Three Youngsters Showing Their Worth:

Even though they are unproven, the top three guys on the positional depth chart (Eifert, Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah) are showing nice performances in camp. Eifert has been almost unstoppable, per reports, and  Kroft is proving that he was worth the third round pick the team spent on him this year.

The wild card is Uzomah. He's athletic, but raw and is learning the nuances of the position. Rumor has it he didn't have a position coach at Auburn, forcing the Bengals' coaching staff to start from scratch, so to speak. Still, per Brennen Warner's outstanding training camp coverage, Uzomah gave us this little ditty at Wednesday's practice:

Versatility Muddying the Waters:

All of a sudden, Burkhead has shot from fringe roster guy to one of Hue Jackson's favorite toys. Burkhead has seen traditional snaps at running back, but has also seen significant time at the slot wide receiver position. His worth as both could open up a roster spot, should they decide to go light at receiver because of his versatility. Would that open spot be for a fourth tight end?

No, it likely wouldn't. Why? The Hewitt factor. Along with improving mightily throughout 2014 as a fullback, Hewitt can play tight end in a pinch. These "flex" guys might be able to save the Bengals some room at positions that were decimated by injury last year. Sure, tight end was one of those groups, but they would more likely want to hang on to an extra defensive lineman, linebacker or defensive back, if able.