Stripe Hype Thursday mailbag

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Was it a mistake not drafting a tight end this year with Tyler Eifert’s injury history?

Tight end Tyler Eifert’s injuries the past couple years have been absolutely devastating, so the concern is definitely valid. Believe me, as an Eifert owner in a dynasty fantasy football league, I understand just how brutal his lack of field time has been. Eifert’s upside, though, is still very real. If these injuries are a thing of the past, Eifert can return to near-elite production next year and prove his long-term worth. However, even if Eifert can’t overcome his injury woes, the Bengals still made the right choice by not spending high draft capital on a tight end this year.

For one, the Bengals have solid tight end depth behind Eifert right now. In 2015, the Bengals spent two draft picks on tight ends, acquiring Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah. Kroft and Uzomah don’t necessarily inspire confidence as starters, but they are certainly capable of carrying the mantle while Eifert is absent.

Two years ago, when Eifert dealt with injuries only part of the year, Uzomah stepped up. He reeled in 25 catches for 234 yards and a TD, nearly matching Eifert in yards and catches. Last year, when Eifert missed nearly the entire year, it was Kroft who took over the starting role. Kroft totaled 42 catches for 404 yards and 7 TDs – only one TD behind AJ Green’s team-leading 8 scores.

Clearly, both Kroft and Uzomah can manage as the number one tight end in the offense. Neither has the dynamic playmaking of Eifert, but both are big enough, athletic enough, and reliable enough to be a third or fourth option for Dalton. Kroft and Uzomah have proven to be good targets in the red zone, too.

The Bengals don’t need much more out of their tight end – even if it is Eifert – than short yardage and red zone targets given the other weapons in the passing game. Wide receiver AJ Green will continue to see 125+ targets, running backs Giovani Bernard, Joe Mixon, and Mark Walton will combine for about that number, and one of Brandon LaFell, John Ross, or Tyler Boyd will emerge as a legitimate WR2 in this offense. If that’s the case, the Bengals can easily get by with Kroft and Uzomah as their starting tight ends should Eifert go down.

The other major reason the Bengals didn’t draft a tight end is that this tight end class was notably bad. The only prospect with superstar upside was Penn St.’s Mike Gesicki (check out his combine results), but he was also extremely raw coming out of college. If Gesicki were to become an elite NFL tight end, it would take several years of development and growth on the field. There was no guarantee he would reach that potential, either.

Aside from Gesicki, there were several pass-catching tight end prospects available who had serious blocking concerns. Dallas Goedert, Hayden Hurst, Mark Andrews, and Ian Thomas were all early picks, but their games are all extremely limited. Kroft and Uzomah are much better blockers than any of these prospects and offer considerably more versatility for the Bengals’ offense.

If Eifert proves himself this year and cements himself as a long-term option, great. If he has more injury issues, he becomes an unrestricted free agent again, and likely never play for the Bengals again. Once that theoretical divorce happens, then the Bengals can begin to look for their next franchise tight end. Until then, the Bengals made the right move by making a short-term bet on Eifert and relying on their tight end depth to save them in case of injury. The Bengals didn’t need to take an unnecessary gamble on tight end this year and wisely opted not to.  

-Answered by Jack Lane