As we count down the days to training camp, Around the League will examine one player from every team set for a breakout campaign in 2012. Up next: the Cincinnati Bengals.
Jermaine Gresham has caught 108 passes for 1,067 yards with 10 touchdowns in his first two seasons in the league. Gresham led rookie tight ends in receptions in 2010, and only six tight ends in the NFL caught more touchdown passes than his six in 2011. Those raw statistics are respectable numbers for a young player who has played for two offensive coordinators in his career and was denied an offseason by last year's lockout, but he has yet to become the dominant player his impressive physical attributes says he should be.
According to Football Outsiders, Gresham ranked 38th in DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement) and 37th in DVOA (defense-adjusted yards over average) among tight ends as a rookie before improving to 26th and 30th in those advanced metrics in 2011. Several factors, unrelated to Gresham's skill level, can explain why he's not been as productive as other tight ends.
Even though he's perceived as a tight end who can stretch the field, Gresham has not run many deep or even intermediate routes thus far in his career. That's hardly his fault. As a rookie, just four of Gresham's 83 targets were considered "deep" pass attempts. That number jumped to 14 out of Gresham's 92 targets last season, but an overwhelming number of his targets have involved the ball traveling fewer than 10 yards, which has kept his yards per reception at 9.9 yards for his career.
The bright side is that Gresham caught eight of the 14 "deep" attempts in 2011, gaining 176 yards and scoring a pair of touchdowns. Gresham has also effective in the red zone, where he's scored nine of his 10 touchdowns and has posted positive DVOAs in each season. Gresham went to the Pro Bowl as a Super Bowl replacement for Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and has the potential to be a superstar in his own right.
With a full NFL offseason to work with quarterback Andy Dalton -- who never had a tight end like Gresham at TCU -- on those intermediate and deep routes in Jay Gruden's offense, Gresham could be an "Original Ballot" Pro Bowl selection this season.