Back in 2010, the Cincinnati Bengals' then-offensive coordinator, Bob Bratkowski, was desperate to add pieces to a flailing unit. Though the team swept the AFC North the year prior, it was mostly due to a sound running game and stout defense. After losing T.J. Houshmandzadeh before 2009 and a less-than-spectacular season from band-aid Lavernues Coles, Bratkowski and the rest of the coaching staff sought passing options.
Terrell Owens was added to the fold with much fanfare, but another option was needed and the Bengals sought a tight end. In a major rarity, the team opted for Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham with the 21st pick in the 2010 draft. Pegged as an immediate impact player, the team figured that they could have a potential franchise guy at the position.
Fast forward six years later and it all but seems that Gresham will be moving on elsewhere. The Bengals double-dipped at the position in the 2015 draft with third round selection Tyler Kroft and fifth-rounder C.J. Uzomah, and they already have 2013 first-rounder Tyler Eifert on the roster. Aside from that, Gresham has had back surgery this offseason, but has had interest from the Raiders and, just this past week, the Saints.
Gresham's time in Cincinnati was littered with highlight reel plays that would adorn both the halls of fame and shame, thus making him one of the more polarizing players in team history. That being the case, was Gresham a good pick for the Bengals, spending five years in the Queen City? Let's examine.
The Stats: With his 280 receptions, Gresham ranks as No.14 in team history for that statistic, and fourth among the team's tight ends. Historically-speaking, those are no small achievements in just five years, especially when the names in front of him are guys like Bob Trumpy (298), Tony McGee (299), and Rodney Holman (318). Keep in mind that each of those three players spent at least nine seasons with Cincinnati to reach those figures. Gresham also comes in ahead of the late, great Dan Ross in that category. He also had the second-highest single-season reception total in 2014 with 62.
With 24 receiving touchdowns, Gresham comes in at No.13 and as the third best tight end in team history. Only Holman (34) and Trumpy (35) eclipse him at the position in this category, and as mentioned before, both have almost a half-decade more of Bengals service. Aside from some questionable things at the end of 2015, Gresham was also pretty durable, averaging almost 15 games a season for those five years.
His Draft Position: It's hard to call a 21st overall selection a huge bust, no matter how you actually view the player, as teams are more liable to roll the dice on guys at that spot, as opposed to, say, the top-10. The Bengals have had other picks in the same range and higher who have had far less of an impact than Gresham at No. 21.
Three Offensive Coordinators In Five Seasons: Bratkowski lasted just through Gresham's rookie year and then was fired after a 4-12 season. Jay Gruden followed and got quite a bit out of a young Andy Dalton before getting the head coaching gig in Washington with the Redskins. Hue Jackson is now in place and was supposed to have a tight end-friendly offense, which has yet to fully come to fruition. In short, any young player who has to endure three coaching changes in five seasons would surely be spent.
Other Stats: One of the things that bothered fans about Gresham, be it his own fault or that of the offensive coordinators, are his low yards-per-reception totals. At 9.7 per reception for his career, Gresham barely beats some of the running backs on the all-time franchise list. While Gresham would occasionally take a slant for big yardage and do the same for bubble screens, most of his catches were for minimal gains.
Because of that, his 2,722 yards seem pretty low for a guy who has the talent level of big Gresh. The other areas that plagued him were when he had the opportunity to either catch or run with the football. He had a whopping 11 fumbles in five seasons, four more than Trumpy and other top tight ends in team history. His drops also seemed to come at critical times, such as the all-too-familiar scenes in the second Houston playoff game.
Better Quarterbacks Than Other Tight Ends: When one compares Gresham's career to a guy like Tony McGee, it isn't even close as to who had better quarterbacks. Gresham had Carson Palmer and Dalton feeding him the rock, while McGee had the likes of David Klingler, Akili Smith, Scott Mitchell, Neil O'Donnell and others. The relative stability and talent level at quarterback had to make life easier than it was for other tight ends in team history.
Draft Position And Other Players Available: Unfortunately for Gresham, he had the distinction of being selected in front of Patriots Pro Bowler and current NFL media darling, Rob Gronkowski. The Bengals likely opted for Gresham over "Gronk" because the former Arizona Wildcat had back surgery before the draft--an ironic twist of fate, given Gresham's current situation. Still, even though Gronk has played in nine less games, he has more than double the amount of touchdown receptions (54) as Gresham, and 1,657 more receiving yards (4,379).
Even though No. 21 overall selections aren't often pegged as "franchise-savers", the fact that Gresham had so much less of an impact than Gronk, a No. 42 overall selection, is staggering. Furthermore, though all hopes weren't necessarily pinned on Gresham to kick-start a sputtering offense, the fact that he was never a true game-changer (just 36.8 yards per game), and that he looks to be leaving after five years, makes one wonder if the value was truly there.