Keeping Jermaine Gresham was the Right Move


Oct 12, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham (84) during the first half at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Tight end Jermaine Gresham has been disparaged by many fans over the years.  He has been often cited as something of a “bonehead” due to his difficulties with pre-snap penalties and untimely mistakes.  Gresham has owned these mistakes in the past and even took the blame for a playoff loss to the Houston Texans back in 2012.  He went so far as to refer to himself as the “villain” at one point this year.

"“I kind of accept the villain role and just try to be a leader to guys like Tyler who are learning on the way.  As long as my teammates love me, I’m good.”"

To the approval of many fans, Gresham was reportedly a potential trade target this year.

Yet the trade deadline passed this Tuesday with barely a word of any realistic opportunity of this actually taking place.  Even when considering his tumultuous history, the Bengals made the correct decision when keeping Jermaine Gresham.

It’s true that the fifth-year tight end has struggled with mistakes over the years.  At times, just about every Bengals fan has become fed up with Gresham’s ill-timed, drive-haulting penalties.  But Gresham is on pace this year to really improve that part of his game.  Here’s a look at Jermaine Gresham’s penalties over the years.

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There’s an obvious troubling trend here with Gresham’s penalties.  Across his first four years, his penalties only increased even after the Bengals added another tight end last year in Tyler Eifert, which effectively decreased his snap count.  But with nearly half of the 2014 season gone for the Bengals, Jermaine Gresham is on pace for the lowest penalty total of his career.  Not only that, but Gresham has yet to be called for a holding penalty while he’s only been called for one false start (in Week One).  It’s an improvement when considering these two infractions are the ones that have plagued Gresham’s career the most.

Jermaine Gresham has also always been known as a very capable blocker with his blend of speed and power.  But a lack of technique has hurt this part of his game over the years.  Yet, Gresham hasn’t been called for a holding penalty yet this year and has graded out well as both a pass and run blocker.

He has made substantial improvements this year.  Maybe it’s the presence of Hue Jackson and his new system.  Or maybe he’s finally ignoring all the criticism rather than taking it to heart the way he has in the past.  Whatever the reason, it’s these kinds of improvements that fans wanted to see in the past.

Finally, any discussion of Jermaine Gresham must include his receiving ability.  He’s always been a very talented and capable receiver.  His first three years were incredibly impressive with his third year being the best when Gresham accrued 64 catches for 737 yards and five touchdowns.  His numbers understandably took a hit last year as the Bengals added Eifert.

This year, Gresham started the year slow often acting as a blocker rather than a receiver, but this changed over the past few games.  Since Week Six, he caught 20 passes (on 23 targets) for 150 yards.  It’s a welcomed improvement considering all the injuries the Bengals have experienced to their offensive weapons this year.

When discussing his receiving ability, one must look over Gresham’s issue with dropped passes. Admittedly, his drops have come in key moments, so putting numbers to the effects of these drops is difficult. Gresham has a total of 22 drops over the course of his career thus far with seven of these coming in 2012; Gresham’s worst year for drops (7.5% of his targets were dropped). He must do better in this regard, though it should be noted that when dealing with such small numbers, one less drop could put Gresham’s numbers similar to those of the best tight ends in the league. For example, here’s a look at the stats (courtesy of Sporting Charts) from several of the league’s best tight ends in 2012 (again Gresham’s worst year).

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If he had dropped just one or two less passes, his drop numbers would be much closer to the norm amongst the NFL’s best tight ends.  There’s no doubt that it’s the timing of these drops that have hurt Gresham’s value in the past, but his overall drop numbers may not be as bad as one would initially think.

It’s rare to find such a versatile tight end who is capable of performing equally well both when receiving and blocking.  Jermaine Gresham’s combination of size, speed, and power allows him to be this type of tight end.  If he continues to avoid the mistakes the way he has this year, his presence in this offense could make a real difference as the Bengals try to make the playoffs for the fourth straight year.  Keeping Gresham was the correct move.