As if losing to the Cleveland Browns didn’t sting enough, the Cincinnati Bengals suffered even more damage in their Thursday Night Football defeat. In just the second game of his NFL career, Joe Burrow lost one of his top targets for the rest of the season. Now, the Bengals must find a way to replace tight end C.J. Uzomah, who has quietly developed into an underrated weapon in Cincinnati.
C.J. Uzomah has developed into an underrated weapon in Cincinnati
C.J. Uzomah may not draw much national recognition, but Bengals fans have watched him become an underrated weapon over the last few years. Cincinnati selected the 6-foot-6, 260-pound tight end with the 157th overall pick of the 2015 NFL draft. Uzomah recorded just 29 catches at Auburn, but his combination of size and athleticism made him a high-upside late-round target.
Ultimately, he rewarded the Bengals’ faith by developing into one of the team’s most underrated weapons. Due in large part to Tyler Eifert getting injured frequently, Uzomah saw significant playing time by his second season. In fact, the former fifth-round pick started eight games and caught 25 passes for 234 yards and one touchdown in 2016.
After a nondescript 2017 season, Uzomah became Cincinnati’s full-time starter. In 2018, he set career-highs across the board. Operating as one of Andy Dalton’s most trusted targets, he totaled 43/439/3. The Bengals rewarded their breakout weapon with a three-year, $18 million contract extension that offseason.
Uzomah responded by starting all 16 games while totaling 27/242/2. Of course, the Bengals struggled overall as a team, which put them in a position to draft Burrow in April. With a new quarterback in place, Uzomah entered the year as one of Cincinnati’s key offensive weapons.
Joe Burrow loses his starting tight end for the year
A tight end can be a young quarterback’s best friend. So in the case of Joe Burrow, having a reliable weapon like C.J. Uzomah provided him with a big-bodied target to go to in critical moments. The veteran tight end showcased solid chemistry with his new quarterback in Cincinnati’s Week 1 loss to the LA Chargers. Uzomah caught four of five targets for 45 yards in the 16-13 defeat.
On Thursday, the 27-year-old looked like one of the Bengals’ best players. Uzomah racked up 42 yards on four catches and caught Burrow’s first NFL touchdown pass. However, the sixth-year pro suffered a brutal career setback after going down with an Achilles injury that resulted in him getting carted off the field.
On Friday, head coach Zac Taylor confirmed Bengals’ fans worst fears. Uzomah tore his Achilles and will miss the rest of the year. Now, the player who signed an $18 million extension last offseason will have to rehab from a potentially career-altering injury while leaving behind a sizable hole on the depth chart.
How will the Bengals replace Uzomah?
For the Bengals, losing a reliable weapon like C.J. Uzomah represents a massive blow to their 2020 season. Cincinnati currently has just two other tight ends on its active roster. That puts the pressure on Drew Sample to step up with Uzomah out for the year.
The 2019 second-round pick did not play a significant role as a pass-catcher at the University of Washington. In fact, the 6-foot-5, 258-pounder caught just 46 passes in four years with the Huskies. Despite lackluster production and concerns about his athleticism, the Bengals surprisingly selected Sample with the 52nd overall pick.
As a rookie, he failed to make a significant contribution. Sample appeared in nine games (two starts) and caught just five passes for 30 yards.
Against the Chargers, he played just 35% of the offensive snaps and finished the day with a single catch. Though he did step up with seven receptions on Thursday, Sample only gained 45 yards and has averaged just 6.3 yards per catch in 11 career games.
If the Bengals want to bring in a more established pass-catcher at the tight end position, Delanie Walker still remains unsigned. The three-time Pro Bowler has racked up 504 receptions for nearly 6,000 yards since entering the league as a sixth-round pick in 2006. However, the 36-year-old may not want to join a team that looks at least a year or two away from contending in the AFC North.
At the end of the day, though, the Bengals have to add a tight end to replace C.J. Uzomah. And while he may not be a nationally-known star, his injury creates a major hole on offense. Let’s see how Cincinnati adapts moving forward in the first year of the Joe Burrow era.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.