The Bengals have a few clear needs going into the 2019 offseason. They need to upgrade at both linebacker and offensive line, and there are a few players at the top of the draft like LSU linebacker Devin White or Alabama offensive tackle Jonah Williams.
It is looking increasingly likely that those players won’t be available at the 11th overall pick, though. Because of that sentiment, 247 Sports has presented a new possibility for the Bengals at 11.
The tight end position had been a big part of the Bengals offense in the past. The strategy may change here with the hire of Zac Taylor. The team can not continue to invest their season’s fortunes into tight end Tyler Eifert. He can not stay healthy. Iowa tight end Noah Fant was underutilized with the Hawkeyes but has tremendous potential. He had 39 receptions for 519 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
Fant is a very interesting prospect. He was obviously underused as he only had 69 catches for just over 1,000 yards over his final two seasons at Iowa. He did, however, score 18 touchdowns over that span, which projects well to the NFL.
What makes him intriguing is his style of play. When you hear that he is a 6’5” tight end who is a touchdown machine, one is inclined to think he is a basketball-first guy, adept at boxing defenders out, but is a project. While Fant has shown he can do that, he does most of his damage with actual route-running and athleticism.
When you watch him play, Fant looks more like a wide receiver out there than a tight end because of his fluidity. In fact, there were several times Iowa tossed him bubble screens that would normally go to the quick receivers, but he would show an amazing ability to run after the catch.
Fant’s draft stock has yet to really be determined, though. He has plenty to gain from the NFL Scouting Combine and private visits where teams can really put him through some drills.
And, as we know in today’s NFL landscape, quality pass-catching tight ends are a rising commodity. It also helps that San Francisco’s George Kittle, another Hawkeye tight end, has had great success after having a very similar collegiate background to Fant.
Right now, it seems like the Bengals could move back pretty easily in the first round and still end up with him, but he could easily rise up draft boards in these pre-draft workouts. Luckily, the Bengals are in a spot where a team looking for a quarterback could try and move up to No. 11 if one falls, so if Fant remains a mid-to-late round target, Cincinnati could stockpile picks (sound familiar?) while improving another part of their offense and selecting the guy they truly covet.
Fant could become a pretty big name if he joined the Bengals, but it would also show the team probably moving on from their former first round tight end, Tyler Eifert. He is set to become a free agent after being placed on injured reserve following a gruesome leg injury—his latest in a string of unfortunate issues plaguing him since 2014.
However, is also very possible that the Bengals could bring Eifert back on another one-year “prove it” deal and still draft a guy like Fant to be the future at the position, as well as overall insurance for the 2019 season. After all, C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Kroft are also set to become free agents, and Andy Dalton has show a proclivity to use tight ends pretty frequently.
Sadly, it has become increasingly hard for the Bengals to rely on Eifert to stay healthy. It’s unfortunate because he is obviously a talented player when healthy, but he has missed 34 games since he made the Pro Bowl after a stellar 2015 campaign.
That’s where the selection of Fant makes sense. With a new head coach coming in, it could be time to fully move on from Eifert and try to grab a young player who looks like he could give opposing NFL defenses some major matchup issues.