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Bengals roster bubble 2017: tight end/fullback

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With the majority of the depth chart at the tight end and fullback positions seemingly set, will anyone grab a surprise roster spot?

Cincinnati Bengals v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals’ tight end position seems to be set for the foreseeable future. Starter Tyler Eifert is only 26-years-old and, when healthy, he plays like one of the best tight ends in the NFL. However, when he isn’t healthy, the Bengals turn to 24-year-olds Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah and who are typically much less effective in the passing game, but still growing as NFL players.

The Bengals’ fullback position is held down by Ryan Hewitt, who has proven himself to be an extremely reliable, if not unheralded player at the position. At fullback, that is exactly what you want from players, and Hewitt is under contract through 2019 after signing a contract extension in 2016.

The Bengals spent one draft pick on tight end depth and brought in two undrafted free agents to compete for the fullback role. This offseason, the following players will be competing for what could very well be one single roster spot:

C.J. Uzomah

In the third string role, the Bengals have been developing the 24-year old Uzomah, who showed plenty when his number was called in 2016. He recorded 25 catches for 234 yards and a touchdown. That’s nearly 10 yards per reception, showing it is a very good idea to make an effort to get the ball in his hands. In fact, you could make the argument that Uzomah will be the No. 2 tight end this year, and work his way up the depth chart past Kroft.

What’s holding Uzomah back is his development as a blocker, which has lagged. His production in the passing game has been good, but it doesn’t quite measure up for the coaches to forget his shortcomings. Not to mention, he could stand to improve over catching only 65.8 percent of the passes thrown his way. So far, his development has been mildly encouraging, although not necessarily enough to hold off a strong bid from one of the young players looking to prove themselves. Still, he’s in good position to make the roster and it would be a big shock to see him not in Cincinnati in 2017.

Mason Schreck

The Bengals selected former University at Buffalo tight end Mason Schreck with the 251st overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. No major draft services ranked him as a draftable prospect due to his lack of base strength, inability to fight through coverage, poor route running, and questionable ball awareness. However, at 6’5” and 235 pounds, he certainly looks the part and made great impressions during his pro day.

The Bengals’ scouts were clearly impressed by his lack of dropped passes, solid blocking technique, and ability to use his size to his advantage after the catch. And with just two picks to go before becoming Mr. Irrelevant, the Bengals picked him up in the seventh round of the draft, finding his strengths were enough to invest their final draft pick on a tight end and locking him away from signing with the other teams after the draft. Reportedly, Schreck had an agreement in place with the Philadelphia Eagles to sign with them if he went undrafted.

Schreck’s run blocking ability might be enough for the Bengals to consider keeping him around as an emergency H-back, if something were to happen to Hewitt. But, he is facing an uphill battle to usurp Uzomah as the No. 3 tight end. The Bengals won’t keep four tight ends on the 53-man roster, so his most realistic option for now is the practice squad, where he can develop and wait for an opportunity to arise.

Cethan Carter

Primarily used as a blocking tight end in college, Carter might be better suited to aim for a practice squad spot. At 6’4” and 229 pounds, he is rather undersized for a tight end, but could be very useful as a mobile run blocker. It is extremely unlikely he will beat out Uzomah, and almost as unlikely he will beat out Schreck. But, insurance at H-back could be a good idea for the Bengals, which seems to fit Carter’s skill set perfectly.

Darrin Laufasa

If the Bengals are looking to keep around a more traditional fullback, Laufasa is their guy. Like Carter, the Bengals picked him up as an undrafted free agent, however, that is primarily due to how little NFL teams value pure fullbacks these days. As a blocker at UTEP, he helped Aaron Jones break the school’s all-time single season rushing record with 1,773 yards. The Bengals’ running game could certainly use a similar injection of production, but Laufasa has a tough battle ahead.