Cincinnati Bengals: Full Position Breakdown and Depth Chart Analysis at TE
Since then, Gresham has hogged the top spot on the depth chart and has been joined by talented youngsters and veterans alike.
In recent years since the arrival of quarterback Andy Dalton and tenure of offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, even more emphasis has been placed on the spot in an effort to be better outfitted to run their desired offense based on big-bodied targets.
This has driven the fantasy football realm mad as production is spread out, but the depth chart can and will continue to produce if healthy. As it stands with training camp on the horizon, the battle for roster spots at tight end is quite intriguing. Let's take a look.
6. Kevin Brock
A journeyman tight end out of Rutgers, Kevin Brock signed with the Cincinnati Bengals last December and represents a cap hit under $500,000 in 2014, per Spotrac.
Brock spent much of his 2013 campaign with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he caught three passes for 36 yards in four games before being handed his pink slip with Anthony Fasano back from an injury.
In Cincinnati, Brock will likely continue to be injury insurance. At 28 years old, his chances of working his way up the depth chart on pure skill alone are slim, but he's a sound backup who may very well sneak onto the final roster thanks to his cheap asking price, but only if he proves valuable in other areas.
5. Ryan Hewitt
Thanks to the Cincinnati Bengals coaching staff's love for hybrid players who can line up at a multitude of positions, Ryan Hewitt makes this list in spirit.
Many may pigeonhole Hewitt as a fullback given the state of that position in Cincinnati, but the 6'4", 248-pound Stanford Cardinal product has his uses as a receiver, too.
In fact, Hewitt filled in at tight end a few times at the collegiate level. Not only is he a somewhat effective lead blocker, Hewitt has soft hands that make him a reliable target. In other words, he is direct competition for the next person on the list.
4. Orson Charles
Excitement ran through the city of Cincinnati when the Bengals selected Orson Charles in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, but things have been rocky for the versatile H-back ever since.
Charles was a prototypical fit in the Cincinnati offense on paper, as his ability to catch passes from any spot was supposed to give opposing defenses fits. Instead, Charles floundered as a blocker at fullback and was unable to supplant others at tight end for playing time.
To top it all off, this offseason the Georgia product was arrested and charged with wanton endangerment for allegedly brandishing a firearm, per ESPN.com's Coley Harvey.
In other words, this spot on the depth chart is very much up for grabs. Charles is undoubtedly talented and can be useful, but opportunities, performance and behavior have to align this offseason.
3. Alex Smith
At 32 years of age, Alex Smith is a known commodity. He's also first in line for a roster spot behind the two first-round selections the team has made at the position in recent years.
It took a bit of time, but Smith healed from wrist surgery and re-upped with the Cincinnati Bengals in early June. Geoff Hobson of the Bengals' official website provided the news and some detailed notes about the deal:
With tight end Jermaine Gresham not participating this spring with an unknown ailment, the Bengals moved to bolster the tight end spot when they were expected to re-sign 10-year veteran Alex Smith before Tuesday’s practice. Smith took 247 snaps last year in his first season with the Bengals before his year ended with a dislocated wrist in the regular-season finale. The 6-4, 250-pound Smith, who rehabbed with the Bengals the past month, is a solid blocker that covers them in the blocking end of it until Gresham comes back.
Smith will more than earn every penny of his new deal over the course of the next year or so, not only as depth and a quality blocker, but as a veteran presence in the locker room and to the young players at one of the more important positions on the offensive side of the football in Cincinnati.
2. Tyler Eifert
Don't expect Tyler Eifert to overtake Jermaine Gresham just yet, health permitting.
That needs to be said, because both players have been absent from Cincinnati Bengals activities this offseason, as Geoff Hobson of the Bengals' website points out:
From all indications, Jackson is committed to two tight end sets, so I don’t see Gresham disappearing. What is interesting is that both Gresham (unknown) and Eifert (shoulder) missed the spring with injuries and we barely saw two tight ends.
Like the man before him, new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson seems intent on using two-tight end sets to help quarterback Andy Dalton. As ESPN.com's Coley Harvey points out, this approach was wildly effective last season:
Gresham had 256 yards after the catch. Eifert had 225. Thanks to those numbers, the Bengals were the only team last season to have two tight ends with more than 200 yards after the catch. The Bengals also were one of two teams that had a pair of tight ends both go over the 400-yard mark in total receiving yards. Gresham had 458 total yards receiving, while Eifert had 445.
Those are formidable numbers, with Eifert doing his job in traffic as a rookie. It is safe to presume he will see an uptick in looks and production as a result, but in spirit, the No. 1 slot on the depth chart is not his.
1. Jermaine Gresham
Marred by drops and untimely, sometimes immature penalties that hurt the team a year ago, Jermaine Gresham enters the most important season of his pro career.
In the last year of his rookie deal, Gresham has a lot to prove. From a production standpoint, his 461 receiving yards last year were a career low and his four touchdowns were the lowest since his rookie season in 2010.
Much of that has to do with the arrival of Tyler Eifert and a slight shift in offensive philosophy, but the aforementioned issues certainly did not help.
Gresham has a chance to right the ship in a big way, and it is no secret he is one of the most gifted players in the league at the position from a physical standpoint. Should it all come together this offseason and bleed into the regular season, his grip on the top of the depth chart won't loosen for quite some time.