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2023 Bengals Position Preview: Tight Ends

The tight end anthology series.

NFL: NOV 03 Vikings at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

How does Fargo do it?

Allison Tolman was incredible in the first season. Then in Season 2, Bokeem Woodbine stole the show with his portrayal of Mike Milligan. Harry Potter’s own Professor Lupin made for an incredible villain in Season 3, and in Season 4, the surprise casting of Chris Rock was inspired.

Like Fargo, the Bengals’ tight end room is an anthology series. There was C.J. Uzomah in 2021 and Hayden Hurst in 2022. Like Rachel Keller, who after Season 2 of Fargo went on to an incredible performance as “Syd” on Legion, Uzomah and Hurst moved on to bigger and brighter things.

The cast changes, but year in and year out, tight ends coach James Casey makes it work. This year will star Irv Smith Jr.

So let’s take a look at the trailer for this season.


  • Hayden Hurst
  • Mitchell Wilcox

Key Additions:

  • Irv Smith Jr.

The Cast

The talk of Bengals Twitter last offseason was how the team needed to strike defenses at the seams, and that is exactly what they can do with Smith. He is better suited for vertical routes than other tight ends they have had in recent years, which gives him big-play potential. He’s also an underrated blocker.

While not overpowering, he’s tough and works hard at it. Like Hayden Hurst before him, Smith is a former high pick who just hasn’t quite found his footing in the NFL. He was drafted in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings. The Bengals gave him a one-year deal to prove his worth to the league.

I’m going to switch similes for a moment here to talk about the Bengals’ version of Claire Temple. Rosario Dawson’s character is the constant that connected Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist on their respective Netflix shows. The one constant in this ever-changing tight end room is Drew Sample.

His name brings out an emotional response in Bengals fans and has unfortunately caused some of you to use the words “blocking tight end” in vain. Like so many others, he is a victim of his draft position, but that’s in the past. The Bengals brought him back on an affordable one-year deal, so stop thinking of him as a second-round pick and think of him as an affordable veteran.

He’s never going to be a major factor in the passing game, but he can play his role as the second tight end. Re-signing him was a smart move because it prevented the Bengals from having to reach to fill a need in the draft. As a result, they were able to build for the future at defensive back, wide receiver, and running back in the mid-rounds.

Devin Asiasi will likely be the team’s third tight end and has a fitting skill set for the role. He is a capable receiver but has not been overly productive or shown a penchant for making big plays. He is, however, an adept blocker who has played a lot of meaningful snaps and can contribute on special teams as well.

Key Battles

Irv Smith vs. Injury

Smith played in every game during his rookie season and only missed three games the next year. With Kyle Rudolph out of the picture, 2021 could have been a big year for him, but a meniscus tear ended his season before it started.

It can take some time to get comfortable after coming back from a knee injury, and right about the time Smith was probably starting to feel like his old self, he suffered an ankle sprain and was out for nine weeks.

I think it’s funny how some people get labeled as injury-prone, and others don’t. Smith has essentially been injured three times in four seasons. That’s not a lot. Unfortunately, two of those injuries caused him to miss a season and a half of action.

Personally, I don’t see this as a pattern, he’s just had some bad luck. I don’t think he is a greater injury risk in 2023 than anyone else they could have acquired.

Nick Bowers vs. Tanner Hudson vs. Christian Trahan

Even for a team that runs primarily 11-personnel and brings in a sixth lineman in short-yardage situations, it’s reasonable to think they will keep a fourth tight end. If not on the active roster, they’ll probably have one on the practice squad.

So who will it be?

Nick Bowers is 6’4, 265, and 27 years old. He signed with the Las Vegas Raiders as a UDFA in 2020 and spent that season on the practice squad. He made the 53-man roster the following year but saw limited action. In 2022, he wasn’t able to make the cut in Las Vegas and wound up on the Bengals practice squad.

The 28-year-old Tanner Hudson snaps also went undrafted a few years earlier. The Buccaneers picked up the 6’5, 239-pounder in 2018 and put him on the practice squad. Like Bowers, he made the team in his second year but did not play a major role.

The following year, he was back to the practice squad in Tampa, but he was activated for the Super Bowl that year as the Bucs defeated the Chiefs. He spent the next two years on the practice squad of the 49ers and the Giants, respectively, before ending up on the same of the Bengals at the end of last year.

Hudson was originally recruited as a punter. He was also a kicker in high school and can long snap. Being able to be an emergency replacement for three specialists could give him a slight edge in the competition.

And now for another UDFA!

This time it is a rookie in Christian Trahan. The 6’3, 245-pound former Houston Cougar is not a striking athlete, but his size and strength allow him to pick up yards after the catch. He is an affluent blocker who is particularly effective from the h-back position. As a result, he would give them something a little different in the position, a bit more in the mold of Tyler Kroft than the other options.

2023 Outlook

Joe Burrow runs this offense runs through the wide receivers.

Ja’Marr Chase. Tee Higgins. Tyler Boyd.

The tight end is, at best, the fourth option.

In 2021, Uzomah came up a few yards short of 500 and had five touchdowns.

In 2022, Hurst had barely over 400 yards and only two touchdowns.

I expect Smith to be somewhere in that range, and I don’t see any reason why he can’t do it. I also won’t be the least bit surprised if his numbers exceeded Uzomah’s and ended up with more explosive plays than a Bengals tight end has had since Tyler Eifert.

The Future

Every Bengals tight end who is likely to see serious action in 2023 is also scheduled to become a free agent in 2024.

So what does the future hold?

There is no telling. It could be Winston from New Girl, Keeley from Ted Lasso, Steve Harrington from Stranger Things, and Jon Hamm for all we know (next season on Fargo).