Tyler Eifert on the mend but Bengals can’t rely on former top pick

Cincinnati Bengals

In a perfect world the Cincinnati Bengals could plan on a healthy and productive season from Tyler Eifert. Unfortunately, that’s not realistic.

When healthy, Tyler Eifert is one of the top pass-catching tight ends in all of football. He has a great ability to get open down the seam and use his long arms to bring down tough catches. Unfortunately for Marvin Lewis and the Bengals, they can’t afford to count on Eifert to stay healthy.

The former Notre Dame star has only managed to play 10 games in the past two seasons. Last season’s back injury is particularly troubling for the Bengals front office. They are so determined to avoid any setbacks in his recovery that they’re still holding him out of 11 v 11 work during OTAs. Eifert insists he’s ready to handle a “full workload” but team officials are limiting his exposure to injury.

That’s certainly a wise strategy for Cincinnati. Tyler Kroft is a solid backup, but he isn’t nearly as talented as Eifert is as a receiver. He managed to produce 42 catches for 404 yards in Eifert’s absence last season, but he can’t duplicate Eifert’s ability to threaten the defense down the field. Kroft is a reasonable safety valve for Andy Dalton, but he’s not a player opposing defenses are forced to game plan around.

The challenge for the Bengals is that Eifert is both too good to replace and too brittle to truly count on. His potential is downright tantalizing. Unfortunately, his lack of durability also makes him the most frustrating player on the Cincinnati roster.

That’s why the Bengals have to build their offense as if Eifert won’t be a key player. That means the coaching staff should do everything they can to build plays that feature the likes of A.J. Green, Giovanni Bernard and Joe Mixon. Those are players the team can reasonably expect to stay healthy. In the NFL, availability is a skill. It’s a skill that Eifert lacks.

That doesn’t mean the team should freeze their talented tight end out entirely. Lewis and the offensive coaching staff should be prepared to use him while he’s healthy. It might even make sense to have a special package installed just to take advantage of his unique skills.

If the Bengals expect Tyler Eifert to be anything other than a luxury this season they’re going to be seriously disappointed. Instead, Cincinnati has to plan their offense as if they’ll only have Tyler Kroft at tight end. Anything they get from Eifert this season should be considered an unexpected bonus.

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