In an offseason after such a disappointing 2016 campaign, the Bengals need to closely examine each position group in an effort to get back to the postseason once again. While many starting spots are locked up, issues with depth and quality rotational backups is where Cincinnati needs to improve.
On the surface, one of the positions the Bengals don’t need to tinker with this spring is at tight end. The team has a Pro Bowl starter in Tyler Eifert and C.J. Uzomah showed some nice growth last year, while former third round pick Tyler Kroft is also in the mix. Throw in Ryan Hewitt as an H-Back and emergency tight end and it points to the team looking elsewhere in free agency and the NFL Draft.
However, reliability in the positional group remains an issue. Scott Schultze and I discussed the polarizing opinions that vary on how the Bengals should approach tight end this offseason on this week’s episode of The Orange and Black Insider.
While Eifert has molded into one of the top tight ends in the league, his missing of 27 games in four seasons (including the playoffs), is frustrating. He’s also entering the final year of his rookie deal, and though the team loves what he brings to the offense, they may not stand for another year of his missing substantial time. Did we mention he’s also in the midst of his second straight offseason rehabbing from major surgery—this time on his back?
Unfortunately, the offense just isn’t as potent without Eifert in the lineup. His absence was also magnified with Andy Dalton’s injury towards the end of 2015, and in the final two games of 2016 when A.J. Green was also sidelined.
Elsewhere, after a rookie season where he stepped up a bit in Eifert’s three-game absence, Kroft has now taken a back seat on the depth chart to Uzomah. He is the best blocker of the top-three at the position, but just hasn’t been much of an overall threat in the passing game, as evidenced by his 21 catches in two seasons. Kroft Even though he had a prior high draft designation, might he be the odd man out if the Bengals make an offseason addition at the group?
Uzomah has been a nice surprise for the team. After investing just a sixth round pick on him, the raw and athletic player grabbed 26 passes last year. Those catches resulted in 15 first downs and his first NFL score. Conventional wisdom sees Uzomah getting a similar, if not increased role in the passing game in 2017.
Unfortunately, Uzomah joined Eifert as the walking wounded at tight end last year. He missed six games in 2016, which undoubtedly hurt his statistical production, and thus the Bengals offense. Kroft also missed two games in 2016 due to injury, so each player in the unit experienced issues last season. Injury concerns might play into the team also looking at additional offseason help. After all, if you can’t stay on the field, you can’t help the team, right?
We’re not advocating a day one pick at the position or throwing huge money in free agency to one of the top players at the spot per se, but extensive time being missed by the top two at the tight end depth chart has to be concerning.
Should the Bengals stand pat with whom they have at tight end in 2017, or do they need some additional resources?
You can watch the Orange and Black Insider live every week here at Cincy Jungle or on our YouTube channel. If you’re unable to join us live, you can catch our content on iTunes and SoundCloud, as well as here at CJ. We’re also reachable for fan questions and feedback on Twitter @BengalsOBI or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.