Cincinnati’s Drew Sample caught 40 passes last year, but they didn’t do much damage. The vast majority were short check-down balls around the line of scrimmage.

Sample is more blocker than pass catcher, and they’re not interested in trying to get him downfield much. He averaged only 8.7 yards per catch last year – lowest among tight ends with at least 30 caches.

Only twice in the last three years, in fact, have tight ends caught at least 40 passes and averaged even fewer yards per catch. (Both Jason Witten and Jacob Hollister in the 2019 season.)

Sample at least caught 75 percent of the passes thrown his way, 3rd-best among players at his position with at least 40 catches. But that stat is a reflection more of the way he’s being used, rather than his pass-catching ability. I don’t think anybody should be heading into 2021 with hopes of Sample putting together some kind of breakout season. The Bengals use mostly spread formations, and the hope is to get the ball to wide receivers like Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins.

Barring a notable draft pick or free agent acquisition, the Bengals will head into the season with Sample and C.J. Uzomah at tight end. Uzomah is a similar kind of player. Will be a surprise, methinks, if Cincinnati is anything other than a below-average tight end team.

In the last 20 years, 30 tight ends have averaged under 9 yards per reception while catching at least 40 balls.

SHORT-RANGE TIGHT ENDS (last 20 years)
2017Austin Seferian-Jenkins, NYJ503577.143
2014Jermaine Gresham, Cin.624607.425
2007Eric Johnson, N.O.483787.882
2012Anthony Fasano, Mia.413328.105
2002Freddie Jones, Ariz.443588.141
2002Bubba Franks, G.B.544428.197
2016Will Tye, NYG483958.231
2005Jermaine Wiggins, Min.695688.231
2015Martellus Bennett, Chi.534398.283
2006Jermaine Wiggins, Min.463868.391
2019• Jason Witten, Dall.635298.404
2010Tony Scheffler, Det.453788.401
2016Dennis Pitta, Balt.867298.482
2019• Jacob Hollister, Sea.413498.513
2017Benjamin Watson, Balt.615228.564
2017Jack Doyle, Ind.806908.634
2017Jesse James, Pitt.433728.653
2002Frank Wycheck, Ten.403468.652
2012Joel Dreessen, Den.413568.685
2003Jim Kleinsasser, Min.464018.724
2020Drew Sample, Cin.403498.731
2015Richard Rodgers, G.B.585108.798
2007Jeff King, Car.464068.832
2016Ryan Griffin, Hou.504428.842
2003Billy Miller, Hou.403558.883
2017Jason Witten, Dall.635608.895
2003Anthony Becht, NYJ403568.904
2015Heath Miller, Pitt.605358.922
2008Desmond Clark, Chi.413678.951
2005Alex Smith, T.B.413678.952

—Ian Allan