Tight end wasn't viewed as a big position of need for the Bengals entering last year's NFL draft, but they still spent a high pick on one, grabbing Rutgers' Tyler Kroft with the 85th-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
At the time, drafting Kroft did look smart with Tyler Eifert recovering from shoulder surgery and Jermaine Gresham leaving via free agency. The Scarlet Knights pass-catcher notched 67 passes, 842 yards and four touchdowns during his sophomore and junior seasons, before opting to declare for the draft in 2015, forgoing his senior season.
The 6-foot-5, 247-pound Kroft broad jumped 10 feet, leapt 34" in the vertical jump and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.67 seconds at the Pro Day. This, after he suffered a high ankle sprain in the Quick Lane Bowl; he was unable to do every workout at the NFL Scouting Combine.
The problem at the time of this pick was most viewed Kroft as a Day 3 pick, not someone who should be going early on Day 2. While the draft analysts and experts didn't think as highly of Kroft as the Bengals did, not only did they love Kroft, but Marvin Lewis called him "the best of the TE prospects" in the 2015 draft.
You also have to understand Kroft's situation to see why a team like the Bengals thought he was worthy of a top-85 pick, when most had him ranked far outside that range. He was expected to be a bigger prospect heading into the 2014 season after leading his team in receiving yards (573) and receptions (43) to go with four scores in 2013. However, Kroft was part of an offense that finished 99th in total passing attempts in 2014 (357) and respectively, he was asked to be more of a blocker and less of a receiving threat.
Despite this, the Bengals felt really good about Kroft and took him in hopes he could be a solid No. 2 tight end next to Eifert. Luckily, that's exactly what he was. Kroft would play in every game as a rookie while making six starts. Some of those starts came while Eifert was injured with a stinger and concussion late in the season, and Kroft was serviceable in place, even getting a very Eifert-like touchdown in the Bengals' Week 15 game against the 49ers. However, Eifert went on to have a Pro Bowl season alongside A.J. Green, who also drew many of the passing targets in this offseason. That led to Kroft being relegated to mostly a blocking tight end for much of the year, a role he was decent in; still, he needs to bulk up and improve in that area this offseason.
When called upon in the passing game, Kroft was about as reliable as you could ask for. On just 14 targets, Kroft secured 11 grabs for 129 yards (11.7 yards) and a touchdown. His one score came during the above-mentioned Week 15 win over the San Francisco 49ers.
Kroft would finish the 49ers game with three grabs for 31 yards. The following week, Kroft would catch four balls on six targets for 46 yards against the Denver Broncos. Though it's a small sample size, that two-game stretch did show he can be a reliable pass-catcher when called upon, and both of those games came with AJ McCarron as the quarterback. Imagine what Kroft would do with Andy Dalton.
Kroft did about as much as you could have asked of him given the situation he was in. He was either the No. 2 tight end or starting with a backup as his quarterback. He's also just 23-years-old and could have been a senior in college this season, so there's reason to believe he could be in for a big jump next season.
Going into the 2016 season, Kroft should once again open the year as the No. 2 tight end next to Eifert. Those two together should be a formidable duo and help the Bengals' passing offense remain among the league's best.