Tight end hasn't been a position with much history for the Bengals in the past two decades.
Not since the days of Tony McGee in the 1990s was there a tight end in Cincinnati who was consistently a game-changer and someone the offense could rely on. Jermaine Gresham showed flashes of becoming that guy, but his work ethic and enigmatic nature left the Bengals willing to let him go without an effort to re-sign him last year.
That left Tyler Eifert as the de facto tight end in an offense that wanted to feature that position, and for good reason. With Eifert, you have a 6-foot-6 guy who could sky over just about any defender for contested balls, but also run gracefully enough to line up as a receiver and do damage.
All of this was on display throughout the 2015 season as Eifert emerged and became an elite tight end. His 12 touchdown catches led the NFL through Week 12, but after seeing limited action in the last four games due to injuries, he finished with 13 scores, which was still a team record for TDs by a tight end (previously nine).
Eifert also finished with 52 grabs for 615 yards on just 72 targets. That's good for a 72-percent catch rate, which was the second best of any Bengal with over 20 targets. More often than not, Eifert was a reliable guy who was money in the red zone.
But as has been the case many times early in his career, injuries affected his availability. He missed three full games and the better part of two others due to a stinger and concussion. Then, during the 2016 Pro Bowl, which is more like a glorified game of flag football than a normal NFL game, Eifert suffered a foot injury that turned out to be just a sprained ankle that will recover with rest this offseason.
Still, it was a scary reminder as to how fragile Eifert has been to this point in his NFL career. Through his first three NFL seasons, Eifert has missed 20 games due to injury, including the playoff game in the 2014. Those injuries include a stinger, concussion, dislocated elbow and a torn shoulder labrum.
The latter of which caused Eifert to miss 16 games (including the playoffs) in 2014. The surgery and recovery led to him losing weight and spending much of 2015 just getting back to his 2014 form.
Now that Eifert is entering another NFL offseason, once his ankle heals, he can continue to better condition his body, and perhaps he'll be better at avoiding injuries in the future. He was as important to the Bengals in 2015 as just about any single player was.
After all, not many players account for 13 touchdowns in one season, and the Bengals have him for another year on his rookie contract, which could extend to two years if they pick up his fifth year option, as expected. As good as he's been at times the first three years, he's only begun to scratch his true potential, and he's on the cusp of becoming an elite NFL player if he continues to improve this offseason.