Rolling right along here in the 2019 version of the Ranking the Rooms: AFC North edition, I’ll take a look at the tight end rooms within the division.
Last season, the Bengals and Ravens battled it out for the top spot in the division with the Bengals coming out on top. This year though, there will be some serious shakeups as the Bengals lost Tyler Kroft to the Buffalo Bills in free agency, while the Pittsburgh Steelers lost Jesse James to the Detroit Lions in free agency, leaving the Steelers perilously thin at the position.
Let’s see how things shake out at tight end this year.
1. Baltimore Ravens
Heading into the 2018 season I had the Ravens as the second best tight end room in the AFC North, but this summer I have the Ravens ringing in as the top tight end room in the division.
While 2018 first round pick Hayden Hurst was mostly a disappointment last season, third-round pick Mark Andrews really impressed me as a receiver and blocker, developing some serious chemistry with Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson during his rookie season, emerging as a serious No. 1 tight end candidate for the purple and black.
I expect a major breakout in Year 2 for Andrews. As for the rest of the room, Hurst, Nick Boyle, and rookies Charles Scarff and Cole Herdman provide depth for the Ravens.
Hurst should emerged in his second year should he stay healthy after battling injuries in his rookie season. He’s an immensely talented tight end, so it’s ridiculous to write him off at this point in his career. If he takes a step forward in Year 2 and forms a formidable pairing with Andrews, look out.
Boyle is certainly overpaid, but he’s a very good blocking tight end that fits into Baltimore’s identity of physical, downhill football. He’s a sneaky receiving option in a pinch, but he’s a block-first tight end that acts as an extra tackle more often than not.
That’s a deep, talented 1-2-3 at tight end for the Ravens.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
After holding down the top spot in this series for the last two seasons, the Bengals slip to No. 2 this summer after Kroft departed for the Bills in free agency.
Tyler Eifert and CJ Uzomah return to give the Bengals some serious firepower with the top two, but Eifert is coming off of a serious ankle injury, so it’s hard to project just exactly what he’ll be in 2019. That said, if he’s back to full strength, he’d be a great second fiddle to Uzomah, who has really emerged as a legit dual-threat tight end in today’s game.
Knowing the loss of Kroft would hurt the depth, the Bengals went out in the second round and reached for Washington’s Drew Sample. Sample is a big body that is projectable as a good blocking tight end, but his receiving skills are a huge question mark. Good player, but round 2 was way too early. I think Bengals fans will be a bit disappointed in Sample’s production for a few years.
Behind the top three, guys like Mason Schreck, Jordan Franks, Cethan Carter, and Moritz Bohringer provide depth for the Bengals to work with in the offseason.
Carter and Franks are the ones to watch here for a possible TE4 role in 2019 for the Bengals.
3. Cleveland Browns
David Njoku really came into his own last season as a game-breaking tight end after Baker Mayfield took over the starting job, and that upward trajectory should only continue for the former Miami (Fl.) star.
Behind Njoku though, depth is a question mark.
Demetrius Harris is a solid No. 2 tight end that was brought into the fold in free agency from the Kansas City Chiefs, but he has just 57 career catches in five seasons. However, six of those catches have gone for touchdowns. Getting out of the No. 3 role in Kansas City and moving into a No. 2 role should really benefit Harris moving forward.
Seth DeValve has struggled to grab ahold of the hype that surrounded him the last two summers. DeValve has all the tools to be a strong second option next to Njoku as a receiving and blocking tight end, but he’s struggled to stay healthy and produce when on the field. As a No. 3 though, he’s solid depth.
Stephen Carlson, Orson Charles, and Pharaoh Brown provide the Browns with some decent depth in the room, with Brown serving as the one to watch due to his skillset and size.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
Losing James to the Lions certainly hurt in free agency, but the Steelers weren’t able to find a tight end that they liked early in the draft before grabbing Michigan’s Zach Gentry in the fifth round, and haven’t added anyone of significance since, leaving the tight end position very thin heading into training camp behind Vance McDonald, who struggles to stay healthy.
When healthy, McDonald has proven to be a dynamic tight end in the Steelers’ offense, giving Ben Roethlisberger a solid receiving option at tight end, not to mention a great blocking tight end in the run game.
Behind him though, at this moment…yikes.
For all of his talent, Xavier Grimble hasn’t really put it together for a full season and struggles with mental lapses (see Broncos game in 2018). Gentry certainly looks the part at 6’8”, 265 pounds, but his tape at Michigan leaves much to be desired as a receiver and a blocker. It wouldn’t shock me if Gentry were ticketed for the practice squad.
Backing up Grimble and Gentry is undrafted free agent Kevin Rader and Christian Scotland-Williamson, who will likely spend another season on the practice squad after making the move to football from England.
On paper, the tight end position looks disastrous for the Steelers. That said, this won’t be the group the Steelers ultimately open the season with. I have no doubt in my mind that Kevin Colbert will swing a deal for a tight end, or pluck one off the street after cut down day. Right now though, the room is a mess.
Last Season’s Rankings
1. Cincinnati Bengals
2. Baltimore Ravens
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Cleveland Browns