How Will the Cincinnati Bengal Tight Ends Fare Under Hue Jackson?

Will the new Bengals offensive coordinator utilize Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham more often than his predecessor?

When Cincinnati used the 21st overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft on Tyler Eifert, Bengals fans were caught a little off guard. There were a lot of other needs to be addressed, but Marvin Lewis and company opted to go for the best player available in the freakishly athletic tight end out of Notre Dame.

Within days after the draft, confusion turned into excitement for Bengals fans as they envisioned Cincinnati utilizing a two-tight end offense with Eifert and fourth-year man Jermaine Gresham. Visions of the Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez combination emanated in the minds of football fans in the Queen City.

Former Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden called the plays for the Bengals 2011 through 2013, including the single year that Eifert and Gresham have under their belts together.

After Gruden took the head coaching gig in Washington, Cincinnati assistant Hue Jackson was promoted to offensive coordinator, a role he has previously served in Washington, Atlanta and Oakland. Jackson has frequently noted that he plans to run the ball more, and many fans and analysts expect Jackson to utilize Gresham and Eifert on the field together more often than Gruden.

Gruden's Tight End Usage

The charts below depict the Bengals' tight end use under Jay Gruden, both from a raw statistics perspective, as well as a Net Expected Points (NEP) one.

2011 Jermaine Gresham92565966
2011 Donald Lee13111150
2011 Total105677116
2012 Jermaine Gresham94647375
2012 Orson Charles1081010
2012 Total104728385
2013 Jermaine Gresham68464584
2013 Tyler Eifert60394452
2013 Total128859036

Year/NameReception NEPTarget NEPRec NEP/TargetSuccess RateLeague Rec NEP Rank (TE)
2011 Jermaine Gresham43.6211.350.4782.14%22nd
2011 Donald Lee8.806.120.6854.55%49th
2012 Jermaine Gresham63.5732.840.6879.69%7th
2012 Orson Charles5.903.800.5975.00%55th
2013 Jermaine Gresham29.8814.390.4473.91%29th
2013 Tyler Eifert29.964.210.5079.49%28th

The only NFL experience that Gruden has is during his three years running the Cincinnati offense led by Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. When looking at the basic statistics, I took the top two tight ends from each season in Gruden’s offense. Although Gresham ranked seventh in Reception Net Expected Points - the number of points added on catches only - in 2012, the combined statistics between the top two Cincinnati tight ends in both 2011 and 2012 were relatively underwhelming.

With the drafting of Eifert, Bengals fans and NFL pundits all seemed to think that Gruden would implement more two-tight end sets. According to Football Outsiders, Gruden used an 11 personnel (one tight end) on 40 percent of the plays and a 12 personnel (two tight ends) on 43 percent of the plays. But with talented physical specimens like Gresham and Eifert on the roster, fans would like to see them on the field together a lot more often. It’s obvious that Eifert is by far a better player than Orson Charles and Donald Lee, but the combined statistics between Gresham and Eifert in 2013 weren't much better than the two previous years in Cincinnati.

Jackson's Tight End Usage

Doing the same exercise, below are the numbers for tight ends under Hue Jackson through the years.

2003 Zeron Flemister179890
2003 Robert Royal115480
2003 Total28141370
2007 Alge Crumpler71424445
2007 Martrez Milner99500
2007 Total80514940
2010 Brandon Myers1612800
2010 Zach Miller91606855
2010 Total107727655

Year/NameReception NEPTarget NEPRec NEP/TargetSuccess RateLeague Rec NEP Rank (TE)
2003 Zeron Flemister2.44-4.260.1488.89%78th
2003 Robert Royal4.241.230.29100.00%64th
2007 Alge Crumpler39.1510.250.5583.33%13th
2007 Martrez Milner2.280.710.0844.44%79th
2010 Brandon Myers3.25-1.240.2058.33%68th
2010 Zach Miller16.106.960.6290.00%38th

Jackson has also spent three years as an offensive coordinator. He was with Washington in 2003, Atlanta in 2007 and Oakland in 2010. He's had two productive tight ends in his time - Alge Crumpler in 2007 and Zach Miller in 2010. While Miller’s 2010 plain-eye statistics look better, Crumpler had much better NEP numbers, helping out the Falcons overall offense more so than Miller helped the Raiders’. But in 2003, Jackson’s tight ends didn’t catch a single touchdown pass, with his top two only combining for a mere 14 receptions.

Throughout Jackson’s career as an offensive coordinator, his reliance on tight ends has depended heavily on his talent available at wide receiver. The small amount of production that the 2003 Redskins produced in the passing game generally went to wide receivers Laveranues Coles and Rod Gardner due to the fact that there wasn’t any talent at the tight end position. In 2007, with above average production from Roddy White and Michael Jenkins, Crumpler saw a solid amount of targets, but he wasn’t heavily relied on.

But when Jackson was stuck with duds at receiver in Oakland with Louis Murphy, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Jacoby Ford, he dumped the ball a lot more to tight end Miller, who had more targets than any other Raider in 2010.

Pass-to-Run Ratio

numberFire writer Kenny Cook recently wrote an article on Hue Jackson’s impact on the Bengals offense as a whole. He focused on the pass-to-run ratio utilized by Gruden and Jackson in their respective offenses. Gruden has generally been known as a pass-heavy coordinator, while fans and analysts have expected Jackson to provide a more run-heavy, balanced attack. What he found, though, was a bit surprising. Both coaches’ ratio was nearly identical. So while some may think that Jackson’s promotion could hinder the game of receivers and tight ends, it doesn’t look like that is necessarily the case.

Fantasy Implications

Among tight ends, Eifert is ranked 26th and Gresham 30th in numberFire’s Fantasy Football Draft Cheat Sheet. While Jackson’s use of tight ends has varied throughout his career, he's never had someone as physically talented as Eifert. Jackson has tended to adapt to the talent that is there, rather than using a set formula.

With Gresham’s nagging injuries and fumbling issues, combined with the potential for Eifert to see more time in the slot due to Marvin Jones’ broken foot, Eifert seems to be the guy that will step up this year for Cincinnati.

Gresham and Eifert had similar NEP numbers in 2013, and both could benefit from Jackson taking the reins by seeing more playing time due to their sheer talent. There’s always the chance that the two could steal targets from the other, but due to Jackson’s affinity toward naturally-talent players, Eifert could be a huge steal in your upcoming fantasy draft, and as writer Brandon Gdula predicted, a top-12 season is definitely not out of reach for the second-year man.