With their rookie seasons now done, let's take a day-by-day look at the Cincinnati Bengals' first-year players and examine what went right and what went wrong for them individually. Let's also examine the path ahead for the group that will comprise a key chunk of Cincinnati's foundation moving forward.
We started near the bottom of the depth and snap charts and are working our way up, culminating with the first- and second-round rookies who had a major impact on the direction of the Bengals' offense in 2013. Tyler Eifert emerged as a quality blocker and pass-catcher at tight end, while Giovani Bernard was Cincinnati's most explosive playmaking threat, catching passes and piling up yards after the catch, and pulling off numerous highlight-show worthy runs.
Because of injuries predating the start of the 2013 season or time mostly spent on the practice squad, several first-year Bengals haven't been discussed in this particular series. At a later date, we'll break down what their impact could be going forward. The names you shouldn't expect to see this week include: Cobi Hamilton, T.J. Johnson, David King, Onterio McCalebb, Quinn Sharp, Bruce Taylor, Larry Black, Brandon Joiner and Sean Porter.
TE Tyler Eifert
2013 stats: Appeared in 15 regular season games and the playoff game. Caught 39 passes for 445 yards and two touchdowns.
How acquired: First-round 2013 draft pick.
The good: Eifert made his presence known early when he caught five passes in the season opener at Chicago. While those receptions ultimately weren't enough to help the Bengals pull out a win, they still helped send a message that Cincinnati was serious about using a two-tight end offense. In the months that immediately followed Eifert's drafting, there was curiosity about what the Bengals' system might look like with Eifert joining Jermaine Gresham. At times throughout the season the two-tight end scheme came and went, giving way on occasion to heavy-receiver formations or two-back backfields. Eifert lived up to his early selection by catching 39 passes for 445 yards. Gresham only had 13 more yards, despite catching seven more passes.
The bad: By the end of the season, the Bengals saw what could happen when both Eifert and Gresham are missing from action. In the regular season finale, injuries to both players forced the Bengals to move Alex Smith, H-back Orson Charles and offensive tackle Dennis Roland into a tight end rotation that primarily maintained Eifert and Gresham's blocking presence. While Cincinnati held its own without the pair, and easily won that game, it still saw how much its offensive plans change without the rookie's presence in the lineup. One of the only real concerns from Eifert's rookie season was that he needs to stays as healthy as possible, because the depth behind him is shaky. It could take a hit this offseason, too, with both Smith and Roland up as unrestricted free agents.
Looking ahead: Eifert will be a major part of the Bengals' offense for the years to come. He effectively assured that this year, erasing any lingering doubt that may have existed. Of course, when a player gets taken in the first round, that is typically a sign his club wants to be committed to him for an extended period of time. It'll be interesting to see exactly what happens across the next three years as Eifert gets set for his second professional contract. Odds are high right now that the Bengals would bring him back for a longer term deal, but those odds certainly can change in that amount of time. Cincinnati's 2015 free agency plans could have an impact on Eifert, too, as Gresham's contract expires this time next year. The more veteran tight end has posted statistics worthy of a return, but he has his share of miscues over the years that make a departure a very real possibility. With Jay Gruden out of the mix as offensive coordinator, Gresham's future, and that of the Bengals' two-tight end package, will depend on Hue Jackson's plans this fall.