2018 was a year of numerous misfortunes at the tight end position for the Bengals.
Four tight ends were kept on the final roster and just one of the original four avoided the Injured Reserve list — and he was playing hurt for the majority of the year.
Tyler Eifert returns to Cincinnati on another one-year deal and coming off another season-ending injury. Joining him are C.J. Uzomah on a brand new three-year deal along with Mason Schreck, Cethan Carter (who are also both coming back from I.R.), Jordan Franks and Germany’s own Moritz Boehringer.
Only Tyler Kroft was not retained and left for the Bills this offseason (and may not even play most of this season).
Still lots of youth. Still lots of uncertainty. That’s why Drew Drew Sample was drafted.
When the Bengals chose Sample with the 52nd overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft, many were surprised to see him go off the board that early. In the month that’s passed, the Bengals have witnessed what makes Sample not just a great player, but a great fit for what they needed.
Let’s take a look at the five main reasons why Sample will find a key role with Cincinnati.
1. Injury insurance
As stated above, the Bengals have had terrible injury luck with their tight ends and they needed to take steps to ensure they had adequate depth. If this unit can stay fully healthy, Sample may not get very many snaps. If the injury bug continues to plague the position, then Sample will be asked to contribute early.
2. Great blocking ability
Long gone are the days of Reggie Kelly. The Bengals haven’t really had a great blocking tight end in recent years, and that’s what Sample does best. Coming out of Washington, Sample was arguably the best blocking tight end in the draft and he should be able to immediately be able to contribute in that regard. Yes, run blocking has naturally been devalued as the game has evolved, but if the Bengals want to run the ball better, the addition of Sample will definitely help.
3. Potential upside
While he was best known for blocking, you could make the argument that Sample was heavily underutilized as a receiver. His above average athleticism suggests he can be a more prominent option in the passing game. Just last year, the Seahawks were said to have over-drafted Sample’s former teammate in Will Dissly and he looked fantastic in his injury-shortened rookie season as a receiver. Sample’s athletic testing at the NFL combine should indicate he can become a better player than he showed to be in college.
4. Greater versatility
Not only does his blocking suggest he has a great ceiling as an individual player, but it shows Sample offers great versatility to the total offense. He can be used as a sixth offensive lineman or he can be used as a downfield receiver. His versatility can help keep the defense guessing and allow the Bengals to get chunk plays. He should also be helpful opening up holes in the run game, even blocking out on screens for Joe Mixon and the Bengals other running backs.
5. Potential Tyler Eifert replacement
Eifert is one of the leagues best receiving threats at tight end anytime he is on the field. The problem is he’s rarely on the field. In extending Uzomah for three years, some form of stability was established, but Sample provides additional future support at the position. Of course, if Eifert is not retained next year, the Bengals will need another player to potentially step up in his shoes. Sample may not become that caliber of player immediately, but he gives them an option.
Overall, Sample is a good player with a lot of potential that should be better in the NFL than he was at Washington. Ideally, he would be given time to adjust near the bottom of the Bengals’ depth chart, and if luck is on their side for once, Sample can go through 2019 with a limited role. If Sample needs to play more and sooner than expected, his baseline ability should help him adjust.