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Bengals’ 2016 season points to future need at tight end

Even with some high picks and a Pro Bowl player at tight end, the Bengals may still have a big need at the position going forward.

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Bengals’ current 5-9-1 record and the 2016 season have taught those who have followed the club that there are a number of seeping roster needs under the surface. With a top-10 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft looming and just a little bit of uncertainty in the coaching ranks, no position should be off the table for improvement.

Over the course of the past few games, deficiencies on offense have become a glaring issue. Now, it’s obvious that injuries are a big part of the equation, as Cincinnati has missed Pro Bowl pass-catcher A.J. Green for essentially five games and Tyler Eifert for another seven games this season (so far), pointing to an obvious reason for why the team has averaged less than 19 points per game since the bye week.

Reasonable frustration from their absence aside, the amount of games missed by these big weapons have called into question the state of their position groups. The Bengals have gotten by at receiver without Green, who has been relatively durable in his six NFL seasons. But the tight end position and Eifert’s injuries have many wondering what the team should do going forward.

Last spring, I wrote a post suggesting the Bengals might need to look at additional options at the position because of Eifert’s injury history and the unproven nature of two second-year players going into this season. Most fans disagreed with the sentiment, but Eifert missing what will eventually be half of this season, while C.J. Uzomah misses six games of his own in 2016, and Tyler Kroft dealing with his third injury of the season, make it worth re-examining.

Why it doesn’t make sense: Other needs abound

With 2016 rookies Andrew Billings and William Jackson III coming back next year from season-ending injuries this summer, it takes a little bit of heat off of the defensive side of the ball in 2017. Adam Jones has been struggling a little bit in 2016 and Dre Kirkpatrick is facing free agency next offseason, so Jackson might actually be pressed into a bigger role than he might expect in his second professional season.

Additionally, edge rushing help and speed at both wide receiver and linebacker more prominently sit ahead of the likes of another big pass-catcher. In the AFC North, both speed and physicality on defense reign supreme and some of the best Bengals’ playoff runs have come on the heels of dominant, year-long defensive performances.

Oh, and as if that wasn’t enough, the Bengals’ offensive line is a shell of its former self, while also facing potential turnover this coming offseason. It again puts additions to the tight end position down the pecking order.

If you can’t suit up, you can’t help the team:

There’s no doubt that the trio of Eifert, Uzomah and Kroft are athletic and bring quality assets to the Bengals’ offense, but the missed time from the group has been a major issue in the bridging of personnel turnover this year. For any team in the NFL, tight ends missing time with injury is common, but having able options in the position group is a necessity.

The New England Patriots are a prime example of how basically every NFL team should operate, as their reliance on Rob Gronkowski doesn’t come without a contingency plan. Because of the wear and tear Gronk takes on a yearly basis, the Patriots wisely added another highly talented tight end to rely on in Martellus Bennett.

The outspoken twin brother of Michael, has had a solid year with Gronkowski on the sidelines. With 52 catches, 668 yards and six touchdowns, Tom Brady has had another nice security blanket to rely on this year. And former Bengals practice squad tight end Matt Lengel is now on the Patriots’ roster, too, and scored his first touchdown in Week 16 against the Jets.

After being selected in the first round back in 2013, Eifert has missed/will have missed (if the reports are true that he also won’t play next week) 28 total games (including the postseason) over the past four seasons. Even with his massive red zone talent, that’s more games missed than he has touchdown receptions (20) in his career.

Playing to Andy Dalton’s strengths:

It’s not a secret that the Bengals’ quarterback has had issues with the deep ball in his six-year career. While he’s had a number of long plays to Green through the years, the bombs have been inconsistent, but Dalton is very accurate in short and intermediate routes.

Hue Jackson’s wizardry as offensive coordinator last year, as well as having a deep threat (Marvin Jones), an all-around star (Green) and a red zone maven (Eifert) at his disposal, allowed Dalton to have an MVP-like year. With Jones leaving for Detroit this offseason, Dalton needed consistent targets to move the chains to give the Bengals a chance at a sixth straight postseason appearance.

Because of injuries to the Green and Eifert, Dalton and the offense have had trouble creating big plays, scoring points and allowing No. 14 to rekindle his 2015 confidence. With the talented guys on the roster, it’s hard to push hard for another talented tight end, but if you’re not promoting competition as an NFL team, you’re not getting better, right?

What are your thoughts on the current state of the Bengals’ tight end position?