Is Jermaine Gresham Worth a Look in Fantasy Football With Tyler Eifert Sidelined?
The Cincinnati Bengals were already without one of their top receiving options prior to Week 1, as Marvin Jones continues to recover from a foot injury. This weekend, they got even thinner on the pass-catching depth chart, as Tyler Eifert suffered an ugly elbow injury and will be placed on IR designated to return, according to Adam Schefter.
With Eifert sidelined, the Bengals now have Jermaine Gresham, Ryan Hewitt and Alex Smith (the former Stanford tight end, not the former Utah quarterback) at the position, with Gresham representing the most capable man to help the offense cover for the loss of their talented second-year tight end.
So what can we expect from Gresham, and are the Bengals getting to be too thin at receiver and tight end?
Back in the Spotlight
Prior to last year, Jermaine Gresham was the unchallenged leader at tight end for the Bengals, seeing over 80 targets in each of his first three seasons. But last year, Eifert's arrival split the workload between the two tight ends, and he set career lows as a result.
According to our Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target metric, it was Gresham's worst season from an efficiency standpoint, in addition to being career-worst from an overall production standpoint. He finished second-worst among tight ends with 50-100 targets last year in Reception NEP per target, with Eifert finishing just four spots better out of 24 eligible players.
So neither tight end was particularly efficient in 2013 for the Bengals, but a return to a one-tight end system for the next couple of months may help Gresham bounce back a bit and post more respectable numbers.
Dividing the Targets
How will Gresham's role expand within the offense? As we already discussed when Marvin Jones' injury was announced, there's not a lot of talent at receiver outside of A.J. Green, as the other wideouts combine for a career stat line shy of what Green produced last year.
And that proved itself to be true on Sunday, as the Bengals targeted Green nine times, Giovani Bernard 10 times, and their duo of tight ends eight times combined. That means 27 of 38 pass attempts were thrown to the players we expected to see leading the way as pass catchers for the Bengals while Jones is out.
Gresham saw five of those eight tight end looks on Sunday, and that's a reasonable level of volume to expect from him moving forward. With Smith and Hewitt not really representing a threat to his job, Gresham should be the third-in-line to see passes in Cincy, just shy of Green and Bernard.
Despite being a tight end and generally running shorter routes and playing a position that doesn't focus entirely on catching passes, Gresham had a very similar season last year to Mohamed Sanu. According to our data, Gresham was .01 NEP per target better than Sanu, who is listed as the second receiver for the Bengals but only saw five targets this past weekend.
Take Advantage of the Clarity
Gresham isn't a special player, but he's now in a clearly defined role as the de facto starting tight end for a team incredibly thin at receiver. While Marvin Jones remains sidelined and Eifert is stuck on injured reserve, Gresham will be a fairly safe play in fantasy football thanks to his status as the third-best option for Andy Dalton on passing plays.
Dalton finished as our seventh best quarterback in Week 1, and threw 38 passes, which is a reasonable expectation on a weekly basis for the Bengals. That would mean 8-10 looks per game for Gresham for as long as Jones and Eifert remain out, and that's very good volume for a tight end.
Dennis Pitta, Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, Jimmy Graham and Antonio Gates are the only tight ends who saw double-digit targets in Week 1. Gresham will likely join them over the next few weeks, especially in a pass-friendly matchup against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 2.
Don't expect a season-long superstar in Jermaine Gresham, and don't make any rash moves to bail on a top tight end option to take a flier on him. But if you're streaming tight ends, or you had Eifert on your roster, Gresham is an ideal Week 2 pickup with a good matchup and a clearly-defined role in a good passing offense.