While tight end isn’t atop the list of positions where the Cincinnati Bengals need immediate help, there are a couple of things to consider.
The first, of course, is Tyler Eifert’s injury history and the fact that he is going into the final year of his contract. The second element to the equation is how potent the offense could be with another big, playmaking tight end on the field at the same time.
It’s been 11 years since a tight end went in the top nine picks (Vernon Davis, sixth), but Alabama’s O.J. Howard could be the player to break that streak. If he’s still there for the Bengals at No. 9, he’ll warrant some serious thought.
Here’s a look at Howard and four of the other top tight end prospects this year:
O.J. Howard, Alabama
At 6-foot-6, 251 pounds with speed, Howard is a matchup nightmare the same way Tyler Eifert is, so the idea of putting both of them out there at the same time, along with A.J. Green, could make a Bengals team that struggled to finish drives last year a juggernaut in the red zone.
First-round tight ends are an anomaly in the NFL, except in Cincinnati. Only three tight ends have gone in the first round in the last seven drafts, and two of them – Jermaine Gresham and Eifert – landed in Cincinnati.
The Bengals certainly have more pressing needs, but they have always followed the best player available philosophy, and Howard has all the physical tools to be an all-pro, although some scouts question his motor and whether he actually loves the game.
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David Njoku, Miami
The latest in a line of successful tight ends to play for the Hurricanes, Njoku is a 6-4, 246-pound specimen who was a 7-foot high jumper in high school.
He’s still a bit raw after playing just two seasons at Miami, but most scouts have him targeted for late in the first round, which probably takes him out of play for the Bengals unless they trade back.
He lined up outside, in the slot and end-line and did a lot of his damage after the catch.
Evan Engram, Mississippi
One year after the Rebels lost Laquon Treadwell (Vikings) and Cody Core (Bengals) to the NFL, Engram led one of the SEC’s No. 1 pass offense in receptions (65), receiving yards (926) and receiving touchdowns (eight).
Teams won’t be able to gamble by putting linebackers on the 6-3, 234-pound Engram. They’ll have to use defensive backs. In addition to his speed, Engram has scouts raving about his hands and catch radius.
Most of the knocks against him are fundamental, X-and-O type of issues that an NFL coaching staff should be able to clean up. He’s projected to go late first round or early second round, which puts him in the Bengals wheelhouse at No. 41.
Adam Shaheen, Ashland
Shaheen will be the highest drafted player to come out of Ashland as long as he goes somewhere in the first 227 picks, which is a virtual certainty.
The 6-6, 278-pounder signed a Division II basketball scholarship out of high school before transferring to Ashland to play football, where he got off to a slow start before setting a Division II record for tight ends with 70 receptions last year.
He’ll be a project as a blocker, having gone against such inferior competition the last three years, but sheer size and above-average speed offer tons of upside for a team willing to write his name down, likely somewhere in the second round.
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Gerald Everett, South Alabama
Like Shaheen, the 6-3, 239-pound Everett has a basketball background. After playing just one year of high school football, Everett went to a community college before transferring to UAB, which disbanded its program one year after he arrived.
He transferred to South Alabama and was a two-team, first team all-league pick with 90 catches for 1,292 yards and 12 touchdowns in his two seasons.
While scouts knock him for poor route running, he has great physical tools and is impressive as a blocker. He’s likely to last until late in the second round or early in the third, and it will be interesting to see whether he goes before the much more accomplished yet injured (ACL in bowl game) Jake Butt, of Michigan.