Sometimes what seems like a safe bet is the riskiest one. The Cincinnati Bengals have one of the top three tight ends in all of football in Tyler Eifert, as well as some seemingly solid backups in Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah. However, the position group may be a bit of a house of cards, for a variety of reasons.
When this position group is at full strength, it’s one of the better ones the Bengals employ. However, injuries, questionable development and a lack of a true in-line blocker bring about some big questions to an important offensive facet.
In a year where Andy Dalton needs as much blocking assistance and passing options as possible, Cincinnati needs their athletic tight ends to step up in 2017. If they stay healthy and show the needed development to bring extra excitement to a high-potential offense, we could see a Bengals return to the postseason.
A look at the unit:
Roster locks: Tyler Eifert, C.J. Uzomah
A battle for the last spot?: Tyler Kroft, Mason Schreck
Potential wild card: Cethan Carter
No stout blockers on the roster: Kroft is the best blocker of the group and that really isn’t saying much. Eifert has improved in the facet since his 2013 arrival, but there’s no doubt that the forte of both he and Uzomah is in the receiving game. There’s been a pretty big difference in what the team has looked for in the position since the early portion of the Marvin Lewis days, with Jermaine Gresham seeming to bridge the transition from using primarily blocking tight ends to utilizing true threats in the passing game.
Obviously, those who remember the Bob Bratkowski days revel in the pass-catching abilities of the guys on the current roster. However, in a year of major turnover and big questions on the offensive line, a tight end who can block well, as Reggie Kelly once did for the Bengals, might be a current need. Imagine Dalton having that same security blanket Carson Palmer had for eight years—particularly in 2017 with two new tackles manning each spot.
Injuries: This is the most obvious and pressing issue facing the group. Eifert has missed more games (28) than he has touchdown grabs (20) in his star-crossed career; and he has a lot of touchdowns! Uzomah made nice strides last season, but he also missed a few games with an injury in 2016, while Kroft has struggled to contribute to the offense since joining the club in 2015 and also battled a knee injury in training camp last year.
If the unit can stay healthy, this entire topic is largely a moot point, given the overall talent of the group. However, most of the concern is there being a giant “if” hanging over the club. Another facet to watch is Eifert’s recovery from offseason back surgery, though, he looks like he’s healed up.
The trio of Eifert, Kroft and Uzomah will likely be the one that lands on the final roster, as we’ve seen the past two seasons. However, Schreck’s skill set is intriguing for a Round 7 pick out of a small college program like Buffalo and if Kroft continues to be a ho-hum player, Schreck could supplant him, even with their draft selection disparity.
This is a boom-or-bust group. If they can all stay healthy and Kroft makes the necessary improvements, it’s one of the best groups in the NFL. However, imagine a scenario in a crucial part of the season where Eifert and Uzomah are out at the same time with injury. Will the young receivers and backs be able to carry the rest of the offense?
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