CINCINNATI -- Yes, Tyler Eifert can catch a football.
That is an incontrovertible fact, evidenced by his team-high 13 touchdown receptions last season. Still, it must be pointed out that the Cincinnati Bengals tight end is much more than just a pass-catcher. What is one other area of his game that often gets overlooked?
What Eifert does as a blocker.
Although it's still too early to know for certain if the currently rehabbing Eifert will end up missing one or more games when the Bengals open play this September (Eifert had ankle surgery Wednesday to repair an issue that originally appeared in the Pro Bowl), it remains worth pointing out the myriad ways the Bengals could miss him if he indeed will be out any period of game time. Thanks to the good folks at Pro Football Focus, we can highlight one of them. Because of them, we can quantify exactly how much Eifert has meant to Cincinnati's offense as a run-blocker.
According to PFF, Eifert was the team's top run-blocking tight end last season, earning a plus-2.4 run-block grade. No other Bengals tight end or H-back had a positive run-blocking grade from the analytics site.
As we Jeff Luc moved to fullback" href="http://espn.com/blog/cincinnati-bengals/post/_/id/22798/tyler-eifert-bengals-jeff-luc-ryan-hewitt-injury-domino-effect-key-blockers-out-switches-linebacker-fullback" target="_blank">explored in this post from Wednesday, the Bengals are already tinkering with their run-blocking setup. With Eifert out at least the next three months and H-back Ryan Hewitt shelved at the start of organized team activities (OTAs), the Bengals moved linebacker Jeff Luc to fullback this week and signed rookie free-agent fullback Andrew Bonnet. The changes are mainly about experimenting with run-blocking fits from the backfield. Luc isn't expecting to touch the ball at all.
Despite those backfield modifications, which may not be permanent, the Bengals still are turning to their tight ends for added support in the run game. Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah, Matt Lengel and John Peters also will be utilized in those roles throughout the remainder of OTAs, minicamp and into the preseason.
To go back briefly to Eifert's lost impact as a pass-catcher, it is also important to highlight this one other number from the aforementioned link from PFF: 20. According to the site, the three Bengals tight ends/H-backs not named Eifert who played last season had a whopping 20 targets all of last year.
Eifert, per ESPN Stats & Information, had 70 targets in 2015, with 19 of them coming in the first three games alone. He finished the year with 52 catches for 615 yards and the 13 touchdowns.