If you told the Cincinnati Bengals back in March that one of the most important players on their team in 2016 would be tight end C.J. Uzomah, you may have been laughed out of the building.
The Bengals have one of the best tight ends in the league with Tyler Eifert and Tyler Kroft, the Bengals’ third-round draft pick last year, was firmly in control of the backup position. So the notion that Uzomah would even see the field much in 2016 would have seemed absurd.
Things certainly have changed since then and suddenly Uzomah’s importance to the team has skyrocketed.
The problems all started when Eifert’s recovery from an ankle injury began to take longer than expected. It started as a minor problem that wouldn’t take long. Then turned into surgery that would cause him to miss the preseason. And now it has some people expecting him to be back around Thanksgiving.
The next man up was Kroft, but he hyperextended his knee in practice and was carted off. He’s expected to recover and be ready by the start of the season, but after the luck Cincinnati has had with injuries so far this year it’s easy to be skeptical.
So with both Eifert and Kroft out for the foreseeable future, suddenly Uzomah becomes a crucial part of the Bengals’ offense. And for the 23-year-old, a huge opportunity is now directly in front of him.
Last year, after being selected in the fifth round of the draft, Uzomah played very sparingly for the Bengals. In total, he appeared in five games and made just one catch for four yards.
Uzomah never truly played the tight end position until last season. At Auburn, he primarily lined up as a receiver and was attempting to convert to a true tight end with the Bengals. So in reality, this will be Uzomah’s first real experience ever as a true tight end and the Bengals will need him to learn very quickly.
Uzomah knows that he needs to get comfortable in the offense quickly with this opportunity in front of him.
“I’m comfortable. I got to do it all last year for however many months and practice before that,” he said about adapting to playing tight end. “I got slight exposure in college, not too much, but I’m comfortable. I feel like I’m a tight end true and true. There are little intricacies I just need to fine-tune, little things that are coming along, but it’s good.”
Ultimately if Uzomah is able to pick up the finer points of playing tight end quickly, he should be able to flourish in this opportunity. The bottom line is that the strongest part of his game is his ability to catch the football and the Bengals depend on their tight ends a great deal in that aspect.
Last year, Eifert was targeted nearly six times per game and that number was even higher with Andy Dalton at quarterback. With that in mind, it is a huge opportunity for this young man to make a name for himself in the NFL.
Inevitably Eifert will come back and reclaim his spot, but if Uzomah can take advantage of the targets he is going to get he will have a very bright future.
One thing is certain, everyone in Cincinnati will be rooting for him.