We spoke with Cincy Jungle site manager Rebecca Toback about Cincinnati's expectations for third-round selection Tyler Kroft heading into his rookie campaign.
On the Banks: What are the chances Kroft is Cincinnati's starting tight end in 2015?
Rebecca Toback: If Tyler Eifert enters the season healthy, which he is on track to do, he will be the Bengals No. 1 tight end in 2015. But, the Bengals were gearing up to use a 2 tight end set last year and it's likely they will have two Tyler's on the field on a consistent basis, and that Kroft will get significant playing time.
OtB: What was the Bengals fans' reaction to the selection?
RT: Most fans were surprised when the Bengals selected Kroft, not because the team didn't need a tight end, they definitely did; but some thought the TE selection would come later in the draft. It seems the Bengals were very high on Kroft. It's been reported that they ranked him higher than Maxx Williams who was selected by the Ravens in the second round. The Bengals are known to stick to their board during the draft and select who they believe is the best player available. That very well may be the case with Kroft.
Bengals fans were happy about the selection of Kroft because it marked the first player the team drafted who has a real chance to get significant playing time this year. Also, many fans wanted the door shut and locked on Gresham returning to the team and drafting Kroft basically ensured that would be the case. Kroft also gives the Bengals the blocking TE they needed from this year's draft.
Judging by Toback's answers, Kroft appears to be a big part of the Bengals' offensive gameplan moving forward. Eifert, a first-round selection in 2013, is still their main guy, but if the injury bug bites again, the window is wide open for Kroft.
In addition to the two Tyler's, the Bengals currently list four other tight ends on their roster:
Kevin Brock: Rutgers grad with three years of NFL experience, played in 14 games for Cincinnati last year totaling 5 receptions for 21 yards
Matt Lengel: Undrafted rookie from Eastern Kentucky with great size (6-7, 270) but low production in college
Jake Murphy: Second-year player out of Utah who went undrafted, practice squad player for the Bengals last season
C.J. Uzomah: Gifted rookie tight end out of Auburn, selected in the fifth round of the draft
Lengel and Murphy are both practice squad players at best and Brock, who started the Bengals' playoff game last season, could be the odd man out if Eifert, Kroft and Uzomah all stay healthy. Speaking of Uzomah, what an interesting pick by Cincy. Very rarely do you see a team select two tight ends in one draft. However, the physically-gifted Uzomah is a matchup nightmare. Uzomah could steal some snaps from Kroft in the red zone, even though the former Knight is a red zone threat himself.
Even with Eifert in front of Kroft on the depth chart, the Bengals use a lot of two-tight end sets that should feature Eifert and Kroft. Cincinnati's usage of these sets makes it a near-guarantee that Kroft will get a lot of snaps from day one.
For a two-tight end set to be effective, both tight ends have to be able to block and attack the seams of the defense. And those are two of Kroft's biggest strengths.
Kroft's combination of size, athleticism and hands allow him to still be open, despite good coverage. Evidenced by the clip above, there is no answer for an accurate, high throw to Kroft on the routes up the middle of the field.
In the end, Kroft will play a key role in the Bengal offense from day one. Cincy Jungle projected Kroft to play 450 snaps his rookie season, the second-highest projection of all the Cincinnati draft picks.
Although Eifert is likely the starter, expect to see Kroft and Eifert on the field together a lot. Rutgers fans should tune in to as many Bengal games as possible this season (Cincy has three primetime games and one Thursday night game), as the Cincinnati offense should see a high dosage of Scarlet with Kroft and Mohamed Sanu.