As we count down days until the 2018 draft, we will take a look at the first round pick selections by the Cincinnati Bengals over the last 10 years.
The Cincinnati Bengals selected tight end Jermaine Gresham out of Oklahoma with the 22nd overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Coming off of a 10-6 playoff season, the Bengals looked to squeeze the most out of an offense full of veterans. They returned quarterback Carson Palmer, running back Cedric Benson, and wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, and signed wide receiver Terrell Owens in the offseason.
The only major flaw remaining was the tight end position. With Daniel Coats and Chase Coffman comprising a disappointing core, the Bengals took Gresham. Coming into the draft, many touted Gresham as the most talented tight end prospect available. He was extremely versatile as a blocker and receiver. Even in a loaded class, Gresham looked like the best.
In his rookie year, Gresham had a really solid campaign. He put up 52 catches for 471 yards and 4 TDs in 15 games. Gresham ended up starting most games that season, even as a rookie. Though those stats don’t jump off the page, a 52/471/4 stat line as a rookie tight end is actually quite impressive. Most college tight ends struggle to adjust to the NFL as blockers, which limits their time on the field. Gresham entrenched himself as a reliable option as a rookie in what was a disappointing 4-12 season for the Bengals.
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Gresham continued to grow in the offense in his second and third seasons. Many of the Bengals’ weapons changed around him in these seasons as the Bengals rebuilt through the draft. Gresham became more of a focal point of the offense, growing his stat line each season. In 2011, he missed two games, but still posted a slash line of 56/596/6, improving on his rookie year. In 2012, Gresham increased that line to 64/737/5 in a fully healthy season. Both seasons, the Bengals made the playoffs and Gresham was named to the Pro Bowl.
Things changed drastically for Gresham in 2013. The Bengals saw the deadly dynamic the Patriots had in pairing Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and wanted a piece of that for themselves. They took Notre Dame TE Tyler Eifert in the first round that year (more on him in about three days) to complement Gresham as a receiving threat. That left Gresham relegated to mostly blocking assignments and short-yardage passing situations, which hurt his overall production.
Gresham’s play clearly declined in the two years following Eifert’s selection. His stats were certainly respectable, but he peaked in 2012. The next two seasons, Gresham posted lines of 46/458/4 and 62/460/5. The most notable change in his production was that his yards per catch steadily declined each year, falling to a dismal 7.4 in 2014. Eifert had definitively overtaken Gresham as the passing downs tight end.
Gresham also struggled as a blocker these two seasons, missing his assignments on running downs from time to time. Gresham’s decline following Eifert’s arrival in Cincinnati led to the Bengals decide not to offer him an extension. In 2015, the Bengals moved on from Gresham and he went to Arizona, where he parlayed a pair of one-year contracts into a four-year deal in 2017. Gresham’s production as a Cardinal has been reminiscent of his last two years as a Bengal.
Gresham’s performance in Cincinnati is difficult to evaluate in retrospect. He posted very solid numbers each of his five years and remained relatively healthy every season. Gresham made two Pro Bowls and contributed to four playoff teams in five years. However, he was never a true “difference-maker,” and was eventually outplayed by Eifert in his final two years. I think the best way to characterize this 2010 first round pick would be “unspectacular.” Gresham was generally a solid contributor to a winning football team but never became the stud player many hoped he could be.