While the NFL is still waiting a final determination on whether Jimmy Graham should be classified as a tight end or wide receiver, the question alone shows that the position has drastically changed over the last few years. With players like Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Julius Thomas, Cameron Jordan and at one point Aaron Hernandez tearing up defenses, the tight end position has become one of the most important in football.
If we equate this emergence of the “new” tight end with the entrance of Graham, Gronkowski and Hernandez into the NFL, which is a fairly safe assumption, than we need to take a look back at the 2010 NFL draft. That year, only one tight end was drafted in the first round: Jermaine Gresham by the Cincinnati Bengals. Although Gresham has been to two pro bowls, his career has yet to hold a match to the careers of Gronkowski (drafted in the second round), Graham (drafted in the third round) and even Hernandez (drafted in the fourth round).
To put Gresham’s career in greater perspective, his 19 career touchdowns are only two more than Gronkowski had in 2011 alone. So, when discussing the exponential growth of the tight end’s importance over the last five years, you have to question why Gresham, who is just one of two tight ends to be drafted in the first round during that span, has not been a part of the conversation.
Now, you may be asking, who was the other tight end drafted in the first round? Was it Thomas or Jordan? No, it was Tyler Eifert, whom was also drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals.
So again, just to clarify, in the last five years, as the revamped tight end position has exploded onto the NFL, only the Bengals have drafted a tight end in the first round, and they did it twice.
The question now becomes, with tight ends popping out of nowhere to become stars, how did the only two players worth a first round selection rank only 23rd and 25th in the NFL in terms of receiving yards by a tight end last year?
The problem is one of two things: Either the Bengals completely whiffed on the two players they drafted or they are completely misusing the tight end position. When you take into account how often it seems as if Andy Dalton has no other viable receiving option on the field apart from A.J. Green, it becomes clear that having two first-round tight ends contributing so little is a major issue.
The lack of production definitely has to fall on the shoulders of both the players and coaches. There is no question that the Bengals offense should have more of an emphasis on its tight ends, but it is also safe to say that Gresham and Eifert have failed to become the players many hoped they would be.
To be fair, Eifert is still just about to head into his second season, and there is no reason why he shouldn’t be able to jumpstart his career. On the other hand, Gresham may be an adequate tight end, but, when compared to those drafted after him, he is nothing short of a bust.
This is a problem that Cincinnati has to figure out right now. The fact is that a passing attack with three first round draft picks should drive fear into the hearts of the opposing team’s secondary, and that isn’t happening. Still, just because the Bengals have yet to maximize their tight end position, doesn’t mean they can’t. If they do, then Cincinnati may find that the combination of Gresham and Eifert has been the missing link they’ve been looking for.
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