Without a playoff win to their name in the previous 13 seasons of the Marvin Lewis regime, the Cincinnati Bengals are always a team that needs to prove itself to the masses. Whether it's battling the notion of them being charlatans who only show up for the regular season, or the idea they play tight in the big atmospheres, the club is continually fighting for a share of the positive limelight.
We're kicking off a list of 10 Bengals players who we feel have a lot to prove in 2016. Whether it's a veteran coming back to alter their career path after some issues last year, younger guys who have freshly-inked big, new deals with the club, or someone attempting to prove they aren't a one-year wonder, the list of possibilities is lengthy. Because of the last reason listed, tight end Tyler Eifert makes the list at No. 10.
Why he makes the list:
Injuries, Injuries, Injuries: While Eifert had an outstanding 2015, he still missed three regular season games with a concussion and stinger and even came up lame with a sprained ankle in the Pro Bowl. Those nicks follow him essentially missing all of 2014 with an elbow injury (injured in the first quarter of Week 1), along with another missed game as a rookie. In three NFL seasons, Eifert has yet to remain healthy for an entire season and has missed 20 of 51 games in his career, including the postseason. It's kind of a shame when you note his missing of only two games in three years (both as a freshman) at Notre Dame.
Receiver Personnel Losses: Much has been made of the losses of Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones in free agency this year, and for good reason. Though Eifert was a target sought out more often than those two in certain packages, all three worked well with A.J. Green to keep opposing defenses on their heels. The team attempted to remedy the losses with the additions of Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd, but the implementation of two new guys into the offense could bring growing pains and disallow some of the opportunities afforded to him last season.
What he needs to prove in 2016:
Stay Healthy and Remain Consistent: Unfortunately for Eifert, any past issues were largely out of his control. Mike Mitchell's head-hunting last year and an awkward landing in Baltimore two years ago have been the biggest culprits of his missing of game time. Now, two productive comrades have left the offense in flux, so the pressure for Eifert to have anything close to his 2015 campaign is even higher. If he's on the field it's almost a forgone conclusion he'll do some good things, but it's staying there and working through any potential lulls in the offense now that Sanu and Jones are gone that will be key next year.
Some Improvement of Blocking: Look, this isn't Eifert's forte, nor is it what the Bengals drafted him for, but the tight end position does require some blocking prowess in the NFL. Jermaine Gresham steadily improved in this area, even through his own issues, and a lack of a good edge blocker outside of the tackles might have been one of the many contributors to Jeremy Hill's down year. He doesn't need to be outstanding or even good at it, but capable would be nice. He showed some areas of improvement in 2015, but some more steps forward in 2016 could help the offense.