At one time, tight end ranked as one of the strongest position groups in the AFC North. Baltimore boasted Dennis Pitta, Pittsburgh had Heath Miller, Gary Barnidge started for Cleveland and Tyler Eifert led Cincinnati.
Now, only Eifert remains in the division to spearhead a tight end group that has more questions than answers. And, Eifert is far and away the best of the bunch. Here’s our ranking of the top tight ends in the AFC North.
1. Tyler Eifert
Tyler Eifert was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft and played in all but the season finale that year, finishing with 39 receptions for 445 yards and two touchdowns. During the first game of the 2014 season, Eifert suffered a dislocated elbow and missed the remainder of the season.
Eifert really came into his own in 2015. Despite missing three games because of injury, he still managed to rack up 52 receptions for 615 yards. He set a Bengals’ franchise record for a tight end with 13 touchdown receptions and led the league in that category. Eifert earned a bid to the 2016 Pro Bowl, but injured his ankle during the game, which triggered a series of unfortunate events for the Bengals’ tight end.
For his 2015 season, Eifert was ranked 44th by his fellow players on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2016, his only appearance on the list since joining the league.
Eifert’s Pro Bowl injury carried over into 2016 and kept him on the sidelines for the first six games of the season. He also missed the final two games of the year with a back injury. As a result, Eifert managed only 29 receptions for 394 yards and five touchdowns. Still, his 13.6 yards-per-catch average was the best of his career.
When healthy, Eifert is a candidate to score regardless of the opponent. But when he is banged up, the Bengals’ offense suffers. Eifert had back surgery just before the end of the 2016 NFL season, but was ready for the start of training camp this year, which he hopes will be his first injury-free season.
Eifert has missed 27 games during the course of his four seasons with the Bengals (including the playoffs) but even so, he has scored 18 times during his past 21 games as is the undisputed top tight end in the AFC North.
Eifert is in a contract year and hopes to return to the form that he displayed in 2015.
2. Jesse James
Jesse James was a fifth-round selection of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015. James, who started 13 games and played nearly 80 percent of the snaps during the 2016 regular season, proved to be quite the find as he finished fourth on the team with 39 receptions for 338 yards and three touchdowns. He then tacked on 11 more catches in three playoff games.
He had five catches for 83 yards in the Steelers’ AFC divisional round victory against the Chiefs and five more for 48 yards against the Patriots in the AFC championship game. Among Steelers’ receivers, only Antonio Brown, who recorded 18 receptions for 309 yards, had more receiving yards in the postseason. He hopes to make a bigger impact in Pittsburgh heading into his third NFL season.
3. David Njoku
The Cleveland Browns traded up into the first round to draft David Njoku in the 2017 NFL Draft, and Njoku proved to be one of the big winners of the spring. Cleveland is counting on him to be a reliable red zone target, and believe he possesses the ability to develop into a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.
Njoku played his college football at the University of Miami and, as a redshirt sophomore in 2016, recorded 43 receptions for 698 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s not yet established in the NFL, but he does have big potential.
4. C.J. Uzomah
C.J. Uzomah was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft and played in five games as a rookie, recording one catch for four yards.
Uzomah scored his first NFL touchdown on January 1, 2017 on a one-yard pass from Andy Dalton against the Baltimore Ravens. For the season, he played in 10 games with eight starts due to injuries to starter Tyler Eifert and recorded 25 receptions for 234 yards. He, too, is hoping for an increased role in 2017 and as a solid blocker, he may just see it.
5. Tyler Kroft
Tyler Kroft was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft and hasn’t yet really found his way in the league, though, he’s getting there. He caught his first career touchdown in the final game of the 2015 season on a 20-yard pass from AJ McCarron. Kroft played in all 16 games as a rookie, including six starts, and recorded 11 receptions for 129 yards. Kroft missed two games in 2016 with knee and ankle injuries and finished the year with just 10 catches on 12 targets for 92 yards and no scores.
6. Nick Boyle
Nick Boyle, who was selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, was suspended for the first ten games of the 2016 season for his second violation of the performance-enhancing drug policy.
Boyle appears to be the leader in the clubhouse in the tight end race for the Ravens, a race that is marked by several players who are injured. In six games last year, Boyle recorded six catches for 44 yards and no touchdowns. He has yet to score a touchdown in his NFL career. The Ravens’ situation at tight end is very cloudy due to so many injuries at the position and they very clearly have the worst tight end group in the division, which is not good news for Baltimore.
Which AFC North team has the best tight end unit?
This poll is closed