The tight end position has become one of utmost importance in recent years in the NFL. They’re versatile, and they’re matchup nightmares, with the good ones combining size and speed to create mismatches in the middle of the field. In today’s NFL, having a great tight end, or even two, is almost a necessity. The Cincinnati Bengals have two talented players at the position, and there figures to be a fight for the starting spot for the 2014 season.
Jermaine Gresham: Gresham is the incumbent at tight end, having 52 games over his first four seasons in the NFL. The former first round pick has been a solid contributor, averaging over 50 catches and 500 yards a season, but has yet to have that breakout year that put him in the class with the league’s best at the position. He has made the Pro Bowl in two of his four seasons, and has made his share of big plays throughout his time with the Bengals. On the other side, he has gotten some flak from fans for his propensity to draw penalty flags, and some drops at key times in playoff games. He has good size and terrific strength, and is a decent blocker, which is important going into 2014, but he lacks top speed, and has mental lapses. He’s also a more emotional player than his competitors, which can be good and bad.
Tyler Eifert: Another first round selection, Eifert is the fan favorite in this battle. He came in as a rookie last season and notched 39 receptions, 445 yards, and a couple of touchdowns. He showed a great deal of athleticism, and also displayed great speed and a nice pair of hands through the course of the year. He’s got a higher ceiling than Gresham, and in time, could develop into the kind of tight end that opponents fear, a player who uses his size and speed to make him next to impossible to cover. However, his blocking skills are well short of where they will need to be in order to be a major player in the expected run-heavy offense that coordinator Hue Jackson wants to run. If he doesn’t improve that area of his game vastly, he will be relegated to the bench more often than he, and many fans, would like.
Overall: It would appear that Gresham has the edge at this point in the offseason process. His ability to block is well ahead of Eifert’s, something the coaches value highly. Both are solid receivers, and though Eifert’s potential is limitless, for the 2014 season, he may find himself still behind the veteran on the depth chart.