A great thing about the roster the Bengals have built over the past handful of years, is that they have few positions, if any, needing urgent moves. One of the more obvious strong points on the team's 2016 roster appears to be at the tight end position.
However, upon entering this draft, many positions, no matter how deep they seem, appear to be on the table for discussion. While Cincinnati has six young and talented options in the tight end position group, past injuries and inexperience could create a tough situation there in the blink of an eye.
Which positions are deepest in 2016 NFL Draft?
Everybody seems to want the Cincinnati Bengals to draft a wide receiver, but is that a smart pick? How does the 2016 group of receivers rate compare with previous years? How do other positions rate? Where is the 2016 draft class the strongest, and weakest?
The Current Cast:
Tyler Eifert: A budding superstar for the Bengals, some pundits are proclaiming him the second-best tight end in the NFL behind Rob Gronkowski. He made his first Pro Bowl last season with 13 touchdown receptions in as many games in his first full season as a starting tight end (missed all but one quarter of 2014 with an elbow injury).
Tyler Kroft: A somewhat surprise pick in the third round of last year's draft, Kroft started to emerge at the end of last season. Kroft logged a reception in five of the last six regular season games, including his first career touchdown reception against the 49ers in Week 15.
C.J. Uzomah: The incredibly athletic second-year guy out of Auburn has some major development to do in an effort to learn the nuances of the position. He finished 2015 with just one catch for four yards, but it did net a first down.
Ryan Hewitt: Technically, Hewitt is the team's fullback/H-Back, but can and has played tight end in a pinch. He's a versatile player who the coaches love because of his willingness to do everything asked of him, but his future next year is unclear, given Jake Fisher's late-season relief at H-Back because of an injury he sustained and the depth ahead of him at tight end.
Matt Lengel: The former Eastern Kentucky standout has the size teams covet at the position, but he couldn't crack the 53-man final roster in 2015 and spent the season on the Practice Squad.
John Peters: Extremely tall at 6'8", Peters has more of the big wide receiver billing as a tight end. He was with the team in the 2015 preseason and returns again for 2016.
Injuries: Eifert is the player the team has wanted at the tight end position throughout Marvin Lewis' tenure, but he can't stay healthy. And though the team got by without him for three games at the end of the season, the offense missed him in 2014. He missed another game as a rookie and then was injured again in this year's Pro Bowl, which he has yet to be cleared from. Beyond that, Hewitt also experienced an injury last year, forcing the team to plant Fisher in his H-Back role. If the team doesn't address the position and the injury bug strikes again, it could present a major problem.
Inexperience: Eifert is the veteran of the group entering his fourth season, but all others have just one or two years under their belt and with Uzomah needing to get past the learning curve with Peters and Lengel, while Kroft attempts to hone his blocking skills, the position group needs to grow up fast.
Blocking, Anyone?: While Jermaine Gresham became a villain late in his Bengals career, one bright spot was his development as a blocker over his five years in Cincinnati. Effect has improved a little bit in the capacity, but it's not his forte at all, and Kroft is still learning the skill. It's a trait Marvin Lewis loves, as evidenced by Reggie Kelly's long tenure with the Bengals, so someone might need to step up here--particularly with the run game struggles last year.
Solutions Late in the Draft:
This post isn't to suggest the Bengals will use a high pick at the position in this year's draft, particularly when the class isn't a strong one. But, they might find a player who can add more than those at the bottom of the current depth chart, whether it's for special teams skills, blocking ability or a contingency plan if injuries occur.
Tyler Higbee of Western Kentucky is a mid-round guy who might be an asset, as could Thomas Duarte of UCLA. Ben Braunecker of Harvard has been gaining interest from teams, so the Bengals could grab a decent player at a relatively low cost. Higbee seems to have the prototypical NFL frame for the position and has decent speed for his size (6'6", 250 pounds), while Duarte is the smaller receiver-ish type who find find a nice niche in the league.
Do you think the Bengals should use a pick on a tight end this year?