While most of the focus on this year’s draft for the Bengals is on the offensive line, the tight end position cannot be ignored. All three of the Bengals’ top tight ends over the last three years — Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah — are set to become free agents next year. The Bengals might only keep one of these three tight ends next year and to avoid starting from scratch, the Bengals should take advantage of this year’s talented crop of tight ends.
Names like Mike Gesicki, Hayden Hurst, and Dallas Goedert have been thrown around, but they will all likely be gone by the second round. The Bengals would be best served to overhaul the offensive line with their first two picks, (or at least use one of those two picks on another top position of need) so taking one of the aforementioned tight ends is out of the question. But if the Bengals want to wait until the third round, where they have the 77th and 100th pick, they could pull the trigger on Indiana’s Ian Thomas.
Thomas spent the first two years of his career at Nassau Community College where he became one of the country’s top junior college prospects and eventually landed in Bloomington. Even though he is raw, he has shown the skills it takes to become an NFL starter.
Weight: 259 pounds
Projected round: Rounds 2-3
NFL Comparison: Jermaine Gresham
Receptions: 28 career; 25 in 2017
Receiving yards: 404 career; 376 in 2017
Receiving touchdowns: 5 career; 5 in 2017
40-yard dash: 4.74 seconds
Vertical jump: 36.0 inches
Broad jump: 123.0 inches
3-cone drill: 7.15 seconds
20-yard shuttle: 4.2 seconds
The fact that Thomas only has 28 career receptions and is still projected to go as soon as the second round says a lot about how talented he is. It is rare that a prospect comes out this inexperienced and still generates this much hype. If he had one more year of eligibility, he could really make a name for himself at the college level and move even further up draft boards.
Inexperience aside, Thomas has demonstrated that he has all the tools that he needs to be an NFL player. He did everything well at Indiana, from blocking to route running to catching, all while lining up all over the field.
He made a statement at the combine, too, tying for the fifth fastest 40-yard dash among tight ends. His combine results were among the leaders of the tight end group, physically putting him above par compared to the rest of the class.
To summarize, he is one of the best athletes among the tight ends in the draft, and he can do everything on the field pretty well. He has the complete package in the body of an NFL-ready tight end. The only reason he is never included in the same conversation as some of the other top tight ends is because he needs to polish his game. But, that’s doable and once it happens, he could be as good as any tight end selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.
How he fits with the Bengals:
If the Bengals take Thomas, they can use him however they need. He is a solid blocker who stays engaged with defenders, and he is one of the best route running tight ends in this class. He is still raw enough that the Bengals could develop him to fit the mold they’re seeking.
Thomas could really flourish in Cincinnati if he is given the opportunity. In fact, the tight end situation in the Queen City currently might be a best case scenario for both the Bengals and Thomas. The Tylers (Eifert and Kroft) could still be the primary tight ends in 2018, so Thomas could “redshirt” as he develops in his first year. If he does well enough, the Bengals won’t have to lose any sleep over the tight end position if they let anyone go.
Thomas is a player who can help out in all phases of the offense. If the Bengals grab him in the third round, there is a good chance they can get a first round talent in the long-term.