Why Tyler Eifert Can Be a Top-12 Fantasy Tight End in 2014

Tyler Eifert has the tools to break out, and his new offensive coordinator can make it happen.

Last year, Tyler Eifert was being drafted as a late-round flier at tight end because of his size, athleticism, and opportunity in Cincinnati. He's 6'6" and 250 pounds, and proved his elite athleticism within his position at last year's NFL combine, ranking top four in every workout drill.

His across-the-board abilities earned the Notre Dame prospect a first-round selection by the Bengals last year, a season with modest production: 39 receptions, 445 yards, and 2 touchdowns. This year, he's going mostly undrafted, but there are reasons to believe he could produce a huge year for the Bengals.

Eifert's Athleticism

A few weeks ago, I looked into another athletic tight end who was 6'5" and 250 pounds, Kansas City's Travis Kelce, and saw that his size and athleticism was a very rare combination for tight ends coming into the NFL. He compared well with Rob Gronkowski, which made him enticing, but the other closest name to Kelce (and to Gronkowski) was Eifert's.

Eifert's overall ability was impressive among the 2013 tight end class (again, top four in every drill), but he also rated fantastically tight ends who were at least 6'5" and 250 pounds since 2000. He ranked eighth out of 40 eligible tight ends in a composite score in combine drills (the 10-, 20-, and 40-yard dash, the vertical jump, the broad jump, the 20-yard shuttle, and the 3-cone drill). Here are his scores compared to some other top-12 composite-scoring tight ends (with the non-factor tight ends removed for smoother reading).

PlayerHt.Wt.40-Y20-Y10-YVert.Broad20-Y Sh.3-Cone
Jimmy Graham782604.532.611.5338.51204.456.9
Coby Fleener782504.522.651.56371164.37.02
Tony Scheffler782544.542.661.6133.51154.046.82
Greg Olsen782544.512.591.5935.51144.487.04
Tyler Eifert782504.682.691.6535.51194.326.92
Travis Kelce772554.642.721.61351244.427.09
Rob Gronkowski782584.682.681.5833.51194.477.18

Athletically, Eifert compares well to some of the most successful tight ends over the past few years, and these players have a good track record in their second seasons, particularly in terms of Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP quantifies the effects of a player's production on each play, rewarding players for moving the chains in critical situations and scoring points while weeding out garbage-time stat-padding.

Sophomore YearRec.Rec. NEPTargetsTarget NEPRec. NEP per Target
Jimmy Graham99108.8714953.540.73
Coby Fleener5246.10876.460.53
Tony Scheffler4940.736523.870.63
Greg Olsen5442.568220.720.52
Rob Gronkowski90131.91124102.901.06

To contextualize that a bit, Jimmy Graham led all tight ends with a Reception NEP of 119.71, and Brent Celek ranked 16th with a Reception NEP of 42.58. Eifert's Reception NEP was 29.96, 28th among tight ends last season.

Based on the history of his physical peers, though, Eifert is in a promising situation in 2014.

Eifert's Raw Potential

In terms of production alone, Eifert's rookie season was also very promising even though his stats were rather modest. Eifert tallied 39 receptions for 445 yards and just 2 touchdowns, which resulted in his being just the 30th-best fantasy tight end in 2013.

Since 2000, 13 rookie tight ends have caught at least 39 passes, had at least 445 yards, and scored 2 touchdowns. Most of them had pretty good success in future seasons, but what matters most for potential Eifert owners is the sophomore year. Here's how those players made the jump into year two excluding, obviously, Eifert, Tim Wright, and Jordan Reed, since their rookie seasons came in 2013. I'm also excising Dwayne Allen and Tony Moeaki because they had one combined catch in their sophomore years.

PlayerRk. RecSo. RecRk. Rec NEPSo. Rec NEPRk. FPSo. FP
Aaron Hernandez457950.4274.3197.00136.50
Dustin Keller484556.0134.8271.5065.90
Heath Miller393438.4034.3381.9069.30
Jeremy Shockey744967.7341.2998.4064.50
Jermaine Gresham525637.4443.6271.1094.60
John Carlson555158.8654.7192.7099.40
Randy McMichael394938.9143.7672.3071.80
Rob Gronkowski429056.71131.91113.60240.90

No, there isn't an obvious correlation between the baseline rookie stat line (39/445/2) and an outstanding sophomore season. Half of these eight players declined in fantasy production, but that means that four improved their fantasy point totals. In 2009, John Carlson finished as the 11th-best fantasy tight end. The other three played their sophomore seasons in 2011. Gronkowski finished as the top fantasy tight end, Aaron Hernandez finished third, and Jermaine Gresham finished 13th. Gresham, by he way, is battling a sports hernia injury, which may or may not diminish his role in the Bengal offense, but it's certainly not bad news for Eifert's potential.

Eifert is going undrafted, had a statistically significant rookie season, and stacks up very well athletically and physically to some of the most successful tight ends in recent history. This suggests he has the potential for a top-12 season and costs you nothing in your draft.

Huge Potential in Hue's Offense

Cincinnati has a new offensive coordinator this season in Hue Jackson. Jackson was the offensive coordinator in Washington in 2003, Atlanta in 2007, and Oakland in 2010. He was never an offensive coordinator longer than a season for any of these teams, but did get promoted to the head coach position in Oakland in 2011.

His tight end production is a bit cringe-worthy at first glance, and I had to double-check that one of these guys was an actual football player.

TeamSeasonP/R RatioAdj Passing NEP/PlayTop TETop TE FP
Washington20031.35 (6)-0.04 (17)Zeron Flemister7.9 (68)
Atlanta20071.56 (5)-0.09 (25)Alge Crumpler74.4 (14)
Oakland20101.07 (29)-0.04 (25)Zach Miller97.5 (10)
Oakland20111.18 (25)0.05 (15)Kevin Boss54.8 (29)

Of these offenses, just one ranked above-average in Adjusted Passing NEP Per play, which is adjusted for strength of schedule. Bear in mind, though, that Jackson didn't really operate with physically-dominant tight ends. Jackson's moderately-talented tight ends (Alge Crumpler and Zach Miller) were able to be top-14 players at the position, but Jackson couldn't do much with Kevin Boss and Brandon Myers in 2011.

By the way, Boss and Miller fit the criteria of 6'5", 250-pound tight ends. Their composite scores in the combine drills were 20th and 29th, respectively, out of 40. Eifert's was eighth.

A Lethal Combination

Eifert's athletic ability suggests he can morph into an elite or at least very, very good tight end in the NFL. His rookie season production suggests he can be a top-12 type tight end. And Jackson's pedigree as an offensive coordinator may not indicate elite levels of tight end usage or passing efficiency, but he hasn't had a tight end quite like Eifert to use before. Also, two of the four teams for which he's called plays have placed inside the top six in terms of pass-to-run ratio, and two of his tight ends had top-14 fantasy production.

It's hard to ignore Eifert's raw potential, and with Jackson's modest success at coaching tight ends and Eifert's undrafted status, he could turn into one of the best fantasy tight ends behind the position's true elites, giving you top-10 tight end production for no initial investment. With Jordan Reed and Ladarius Green becoming everyone's favorite high-upside tight ends, you can make a similar play in Eifert for even cheaper.