Part of the impetus behind a team having two competent pass-catching tight ends stems from a need to stretch the field with big targets in the red zone.
There's many reasons teams have recently moved to two-tight end setups, but for the purposes of this particular exercise, we're focusing only on the red zone angle.
The Cincinnati Bengals are, of course, among those teams who like having two tight ends on the field at the same time. Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert formed a rather formidable combination early last season before Eifert's receiving numbers started tumbling in the latter half of the year. Despite the comparable late lack of production from Eifert, still look for both players to play key roles in the Bengals' offense this season.
But in Tuesday's factoid, we're focusing primarily on Gresham. Here's the number for the day: 70.0.
That's the percentage of targets Gresham has caught from inside the red zone since his career began in 2010. In that time, no other tight end in the league has caught as high a percentage of red zone throws that were directed at him.
Using that statistic alone it's quite clear Gresham's value inside the opposing 20 is high.
In all, Gresham has been targeted 40 times in the red zone during his career. He's caught 28 of those throws. Also of note: he hasn't dropped a single pass that's come his way in the red zone.
It's important to mention Gresham's lack of red zone drops because he's drawn the rather unsavory reputation in Cincinnati for having unreliable hands. He has 17 combined drops in both his regular-season and postseason careers, including eight that came in 2012 alone. The two he had in the Bengals' wild-card round playoff loss to Houston that season was the final straw for some frustrated fans. They didn't necessarily come at bad times, but given the fact Gresham and quarterback Andy Dalton had trouble hooking up throughout the game (Dalton targeted Gresham seven times, but only completed two passes for seven yards), the drops became even more glaring.
Gresham improved in the area of drops last season. He had just three.
Along with being sure-handed in the red zone -- he also doesn't have a fumble on plays inside the 20 in his career -- Gresham has 16 touchdowns. That's enough for a tie for seventh in the league since 2010. Chicago's Greg Olsen and former embattled Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez are the others with 16 red zone touchdowns in the past four seasons.
With 16 touchdowns on 28 receptions, 57.1 percent of the balls Gresham has caught in the red zone directly resulted in scores. Among tight ends with at least 16 touchdowns since 2010, that's the NFL's fifth-highest percentage of receptions for touchdowns. One of those players ahead of Gresham on the list, the Saints' Jimmy Graham, currently is going through a grievance hearing to determine whether he's a tight end or receiver. An arbitrator's ruling will impact which position he ought to be compensated for playing. A case could be made that when healthy, Rob Gronkowski (whose 32 red zone scores since 2010 resulted in a 69.6 receptions for touchdown percentage) has been used a lot like Graham.
Gresham, whose contract expires next March, certainly has a measure of tangible value for the Bengals. But will this alone be enough for them to retain him next offseason? Might he do more in 2014 to warrant an extension? We'll start getting a better idea once the season finally begins.