Tyler Eifert’s Injury Could Open Up Even More Pass-Catching Volume in Cincinnati

With Tyler Eifert potentially sidelined to start the year, how does it impact the rest of the Bengals' pass-catchers?

There are always reasons why we can’t have nice things.

I’m reminded of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, where things go from bad to worse in a heartbeat for Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold, who just wants to have a nice family get-together. Instead, his dimwitted cousin Eddie and extended family show up -- including the drooling, lumbering dog Snots -- and proceed to set off ridiculous hijinks involving latrines being emptied into the gutter, kidnapping a businessman in a camper, and a SWAT team invading the Griswold family home. It’s a traditional kind of celebration.

Yet, one thing Cousin Eddie says rings true to how we pull through the chaos in our lives: “I’m doing just fine, Clark. I’m just glad to be here.”

Yes, despite another injury added to the ever-growing ledger of Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, we should just be glad his timetable only puts him out for three months or so; he could be back by the end of the preseason. Still, that’s valuable time lost getting back in sync with the offense, and that means Bengals’ backup tight ends Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah will be swigging eggnog out of moose-shaped glasses.

Could they -- and savvy fantasy football players -- make the most out of this bad situation?

Jelly of the Month Club

Now, before we go checking each individual lightbulb, let’s make sure the whole strand is plugged in. In other words, we need to know the big picture of the targets and potential value available before we can properly assess the value of individual players.

Should Eifert miss time, or be slowed to start the year, how many opportunities are available for the taking?

First of all, we know that wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones departed the Bengals in free agency and left behind 152 targets from last year. Eifert should be in line to receive some of that work if he’s healthy, but there’s no guarantee now that that happens. In addition, the Bengals did sign veteran wide receiver Brandon LaFell and drafted rookies Tyler Boyd and Cody Core, who could fill some opportunities themselves. This is a fairly full cabinet of talented options, but we need to figure out how the Bengals plan to split those targets.

The table below shows the Bengals’ average targets per receiving role -- and those roles’ market share (targets divided by total drop backs) -- over the past three years. I also weighted the averages, giving preference to the most recent seasons’ data, so that we get a better sense of the trajectory this offense is on. How have the Bengals split their targets?

Role Targets Market Share
WR1 133 24.46%
WR2 98 18.01%
WR3 45 8.28%
WR4+ 17 3.13%
TE1 75 13.80%
TE2 19 3.41%
TE3+ 3 0.50%

Over the past three years, we can see that the top tight end on the Bengals has at best been the third receiving option in the offense in terms of targets. In addition, without a prolific duo like Eifert and Jermaine Gresham were in 2013, the Bengals have been very content to ship the second tight end a meager 19 average targets per season. If there’s a lack of good talent at the tight end position (i.e. if Eifert isn’t at 100 percent to start the year), there’s a legitimate chance that the tight ends in Cincy see a target downgrade in 2016.

On the other hand, there’s a solid slice of the target pie in the Queen City that one of Boyd or LaFell could grab themselves, with the second wide receiver role being worth a strong near-100 targets in an average year. Sap a few extra targets from the tight end, and the receivers could have themselves a buffet of value.

The invisible gap here in the market share totals is that the Bengals have actually afforded their running backs an average of 20.28 percent target market share, or 111 average targets. If some short receiving value needs to be accounted for, perhaps quarterback Andy Dalton will dump the ball off to Giovani Bernard a little more often this season.

Piece of Government Plastic

We can also take a look at the Bengals’ play-calling in 2015 -- when Tyler Eifert missed three regular-season games -- to see what they did to make up for their lack of the big playmaker. The table below shows the target split between the Bengals’ top-five receiving options in the weeks Eifert missed, as well as the player’s target market share for those weeks. Were there enough chances to go around for the backup tight ends, Kroft and Uzomah?

Player Targets Market Share
A.J. Green 18 21.69%
Marvin Jones 18 21.69%
Tyler Kroft 10 12.05%
Giovani Bernard 10 12.05%
Mohamed Sanu 6 7.23%

In Weeks 13, 15, and 16, Tyler Kroft saw 12.05 percent of the team’s total targets, or just a hair below Eifert’s market share for the whole season (13.81 percent). On those 10 targets, Kroft caught eight of them for 94 yards and a touchdown, flashing some of the same playmaking ability that Eifert himself has.

Uzomah unfortunately saw action in just one of those games, with his lone target in Week 13 equating to a 4.35 percent target market share that week (1.20 percent of all targets without Eifert). It appears pretty obvious that there is only room in the Bengals’ current offensive configuration for one tight end, and Kroft has the clear leg up on his contemporaries for that job, should Eifert miss time.

The real benefactor when options are lacking is the second wide receiver, so Boyd or LaFell could be in for a big boom in usage.

Save the Neck for Me

In Eifert’s worst-case recovery scenario, he doesn’t get back up to speed before the season and hits the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List, losing the first six weeks of the year.

If that’s the case and the Bengals average the same number of passing plays as they did last year under Andy Dalton (around 33.75 drop backs per week), Tyler Kroft’s 12.05 percent market share without Eifert would give him around four targets weekly. That’s not an insignificant amount and could be a sneaky grab for your late-round picks in fantasy leagues. Extrapolated out to a full 16 games, those 64 targets would have put Kroft as the 25th-best tight end in terms of targets last year. C.J. Uzomah, however, would average seven targets in that scenario, and isn’t worth rostering right now.

Eifert’s ankle injury seems like a tragedy to some, but for Tyler Kroft and fantasy players who roster him? Well, we're just glad to be here, Clark.