The AFC North, for the most part, is loaded on offense. There isn’t an exception with the tight end position, where all four teams have difference-making players. The problem is, many of the impact making tight ends are injured. That’s not just the case for the Bengals, or for the AFC North, but for the entire NFL. But injuries aside, how do the tight end groups in the AFC North rank? Here’s our take.
1. Cincinnati Bengals: Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah, Ryan Hewitt (fullback)
Durability and injuries will certainly play a factor in the Bengals’ performance at the tight end position in 2016, but when healthy, Cincinnati’s tight end position is so far ahead of the rest of the division it’s easy to imagine the team will lead the division in tight end production by the end of 2016. Eifert is a superstar, and at just 25-years-old, he has a way to go before reaching his ceiling — that should be scary for opponents.
Kroft is a quality backup who excels both as a blocker and a pass-catcher, while Hewitt has made an impact as an H-back and as a pass-catching tight end. Uzomah has shown signs of upside in limited action, so the Bengals — despite suffering injuries at the position during the offseason — should still be set at tight end in the upcoming season.
2. Baltimore Ravens: Crockett Gillmore, Dennis Pitta, Maxx Williams, Kyle Juszczyk (fullback)
Despite losing free agent acquisition Ben Watson to a season-ending injury, Nick Boyle to a 10-game suspension and Darren Waller to a four-game suspension, Baltimore has what appears to be the deepest tight end position group in the division.
Gillmore was a pleasant surprise for the Ravens in 2015, catching 33 passes for 412 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games. The former first-round pick, Williams looks eager to make an impact in Year 2, while Pitta — perhaps the unluckiest player in recent NFL history in terms of health — still appears to be a quality player, despite missing 41 games over the past three seasons. Whether he can stay healthy is still a major question mark, but if Pitta sustains another injury, Baltimore has two capable tight ends who will rejoin the team after serving early-season suspensions.
Juszczyk, one of the league’s best run-blocking fullbacks and a major factor in the passing game, is icing on the cake for a deep position group in Baltimore.
3. Cleveland Browns: Gary Barnidge, Randall Telfer, Seth DeValve, Malcolm Johnson (fullback)
The Browns’ tight end position is shallow, but having Barnidge — who hauled in 79 passes for 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns in 2015 — certainly helps. 2015 draftees Telfer and Johnson will look to make an impact in their second years, while rookie DeValve could potentially contribute early on as well. With Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson at running back, the Browns will certainly need their tight ends to step up as blockers.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ladarius Green, Jesse James, David Johnson, Xavier Grimble
Pittsburgh’s acquisition of former Chargers tight end Green was praised as a brilliant move by NFL analysts across the media landscape, until it was revealed Green has been suffering from recurring headaches — something which likely contributed to the Chargers’ decision to roll with Antonio Gates over the youngster. Green is also recovering from offseason ankle surgery and will begin the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. He won’t be eligible to return to action until Week 7 at the earliest. The move leaves James, a fifth-round pick in 2015, as the team’s starter. There’s a solid chance James succeeds and helps Steeler fans cope with the loss of now-retired Heath Miller, but as of now, the position group looks weak in comparison to those of Pittsburgh’s AFC North rivals.