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Bengals positional comparison from 2016 to 2017: Tight End

The Bengals added some depth at tight end this offseason, despite not having much room for change.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

A bit of a hybrid between offensive linemen and wide receivers, tight ends are often among the most underappreciated members of an NFL team. Despite being a position that essentially does it all, only 23 players at the position have ever been drafted in the first round and none have gone higher than Detroit’s Eric Ebron (No. 10 overall) in the last decade. The Bengals, however, have placed a higher priority on the position than most teams, drafting eight players at the position in the last decade, two in the first round.

For the most part, the Bengals’ recent commitment to the position appear to have the team ready at the position this season. But, the Bengals did make an addition to the roster this year. How does the tight end group compare to the look of the unit last season?

2016 roster

Tyler Eifert

When healthy, the Bengals’ star tight end has been an absolute monster in the passing game. In 2015, he caught 52 passes for 615 yards and 13 touchdowns. That was the second most touchdowns by any player in the NFL that year, despite only being active for 13 games and only starting 12. Unfortunately, the issue with Eifert has always been his ability to stay on the field. He has never played a full-16 game season, and only played in eight games last year. When he is on the field, he produces like one of the best tight ends in the NFL, if not the best. Unfortunately, he has missed 27 of the 64 games he’s been eligible for in his NFL career because of his injuries.

Status: Still on the team.

Tyler Kroft

In the wake of Jermaine Gresham’s departure, the Bengals selected Kroft with the 85th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Without Gresham, the Bengals needed a tight end adept at blocking, which was Kroft’s most notable talent in college and his biggest positive so far in the NFL. As a receiver, he has been extremely quiet, only recording 11 catches for 129 yards and a touchdown in his rookie season and 10 catches for 92 yards last year. Going forward, his role should remain virtually the same.

Status: Still on the team.

C.J. Uzomah

Uzomah has been known as more of a pass-catching talent at tight end than Kroft, and he proved that last year with more than double the number of catches (25) and far more than double the number of yards (234). He also scored a touchdown last year, which Kroft did not. The Bengals would probably like to see more blocking prowess and consistency out of Uzomah, but, his development so far has been encouraging.

Status: Still on the team.

Ryan Hewitt

The Bengals found a diamond in the rough when they signed Hewitt directly out of Stanford, following the 2014 NFL Draft. Although he is listed as a tight end, he occupies the Bengals’ starting fullback/h-back role. Since joining the Bengals, Hewitt seems to have entrenched himself as the Bengals’ long-term answer at the position, the first since Jeremi Johnson held the position from 2003-2009. He saw the field far too little in 2016 and should find a way to make more of an impact in 2017.

Status: Still on the team.

2017 changes

Bengals select Mason Schreck in Round 7

By the time the seventh round of the NFL Draft rolls around, teams are simply looking for players with potential other teams may have missed. That’s why the Bengals picked up Schreck in the seventh round. He may have been drafted with the intention of putting him on the practice squad, keeping more depth at a tight end position that has seen its fair share of injuries. His athleticism and run blocking ability could also make him useful as a potential h-back, should something happen to Hewitt during the season. It is always good to be prepared for every scenario, which is something the Bengals had the luxury of doing in 2017 with so many draft picks.

Bengals sign UDFA Cethan Carter

The only other move at the tight end position this offseason was the signing of Carter after the conclusion of the 2017 NFL Draft. It would be a shock, to say the least, if he stuck with the team beyond the first round of roster cuts, as he doesn’t measure up as a blocker and dropped 19 percent of his passes during the last two years (as opposed to just one drop from Schreck last year). Still, it is good to foster a competitive environment at every position, and tight end is no exception.

Are the Bengals better now than they were in 2016 at tight end?

The Bengals’ offseason moves at tight end leave very little to analyze. The only two changes in the offseason came in the form of two players who likely won’t make the final roster. However, there wasn’t much for the Bengals to change in the first place. Eifert, Kroft, and Uzomah seem to be a solid group at the tight end position with plenty of potential, leaving little reason for the Bengals to make much of an effort to change that up. Schreck and Carter will likely foster some necessary competition at the position, but neither seem to be in a position to oust anyone from the group. At fullback/h-back, Hewitt is the guy and there seems to be no need for debate.

It’s still possible the Bengals extend Eifert’s contract this offseason, which would be a nice move to add long-term stability to the group as all players currently on the roster at tight end (Hewitt excluded as a fullback) are on their rookie contracts. But, given his injury history the Bengals may let Eifert play out the final year of his contract and decide his future afterward. There wasn’t much room for change at the tight end position this offseason, so the Bengals’ lack of movement this offseason was entirely satisfactory.