Once upon a time, it looked like Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert was headed toward NFL superstardom. When he scored 13 touchdowns and made the Pro Bowl in 2015, he was being mentioned in the same breath as the league’s elite at the position, such as Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce.
However, an ankle injury suffered in that all-star contest and a subsequent back injury has forced Eifert to miss 22 games since his breakout campaign. He signed a one-year deal to return to the club, which is a “prove-it” contract to garner another long-term deal.
But, he seems to finally be healthy and ready to contribute at a high level once again. Whether it’s in his comfort level in Bill Lazor’s offensive scheme, or the power of his new mullet, Eifert could be a huge factor in Cincinnati’s potential success this year.
College: Notre Dame
Hometown: Fort Wayne, Indiana
Experience: Six seasons
Eifert signed a one-year, $5.5 million contract to remain with the Bengals this offseason. Per Spotrac, he has a $4.625 million cap hit this year. While a one-year rental deal was a prudent move by the Bengals to retain Eifert, the position group has long-term questions. Three of the four players on the active roster at the position (Eifert, Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah) are currently in the last year of their deals.
Eifert was a first round pick in 2013, as part of a class with Giovani Bernard and Shawn Williams. He initially took a back seat at tight end to Jermaine Gresham, but stepped into the primary role in 2015 after Gresham left in free agency.
As previously stated, Eifert scored 13 touchdowns in as many games played en route to a Pro Bowl berth. The following year, Eifert had five touchdowns in eight games played, but only played in two games last season.
Even with the myriad of injuries and massive amount of missed time, Eifert still ranks top-six in Bengals history in most receiving categories among tight ends.
Receptions: 127; sixth-highest among tight ends in franchise history
Touchdowns: 20; tied, fourth-highest among tight ends in franchise history
Receiving yards: 1,537; sixth-highest among tight ends in franchise history
Receiving yards per game: 39.4; second-highest among tight ends in franchise history
While these don’t necessarily shout greatness at first blush, Eifert is sitting behind some prolific players in team history. Dan Ross, Jermaine Gresham, Bob Trumpy, Rodney Holman and Tony McGee are all guys who are in front of him in various capacities in these statistical areas.
Still, Eifert is a frustrating player to have on your team. You know what kind of explosiveness he can provide when healthy, he’s a quality locker room guy and he’s theoretically in the prime of his career.
But when you’ve missed more games than played (he suited up for just 41 of 83 total games, including the playoffs) and the amount of missed games (42) is more than double that of touchdowns you’ve amassed, that’s a problem.
In Eifert’s five NFL seasons, he’s had the following injuries:
- A shoulder stinger that caused him to miss one game.
- A shoulder labrum tear that caused him to miss three preseason games. He eventually had surgery to repair.
- A dislocated elbow in Week 1 that ended his 2014 season.
- A shoulder injury that caused him to miss a game.
- A concussion that kept him out for two games.
- An ankle injury suffered in the Pro Bowl in January that kept him out of action for the first six games of the regular season.
- A back injury that caused him to miss two games.
- Another back injury that kept him out for the last two games of the season and later required surgery.
- Knee and back injuries that both required surgery and caused him to miss 14 games.
Now, Eifert is attempting to return from a nagging back issue after three back surgeries in his football career.
Eifert will be relied upon in the offense, but a breakout campaign by Kroft in 2017 could eat into some of his snaps. The team will also tread lightly with the amount of snaps played by Eifert because of his injury issues, but he’ll undoubtedly be prevalent in red zone situations.
Still, the cabinet looks stacked for Andy Dalton on offense, now that a myriad of weapons are going to be available at his disposal. Back in 2015, Dalton had a number of pass-catchers back from previous injuries and he played at a near-MVP level.
With Eifert back and looking to contribute, Dalton might be able to replicate a lot of his success from three years ago. And, if Eifert can once again prove he’s healthy and potent in the red zone, he’ll get a big payday in 2019.