Editor’s note: Every weekday in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest NFL news and translate what it really means for each team involved.
What Tyler Eifert's ankle surgery means for the Bengals: The big news to come out of Tuesday was that Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert will require surgery on an ankle injury that happened at the Pro Bowl. Right now his status for Cincinnati's season opener against the Jets is up in the air, which would be a big loss for the Bengals' offense.
Only three tight ends had a higher receiving grade than Eifert (90.8) in 2015, and with a position-leading 13 touchdowns to his name last year, he proved to be an integral part of the Bengals offense. His absence would leave them with Ryan Hewitt, Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah as the only tight ends who had any playing time a year ago, with Hewitt playing fullback on 177 of his 379 snaps in 2015.
Eifert was the highest-graded blocker at tight end on the roster last year, but obviously the biggest loss if he misses time will be felt by him as a receiver. Even if you brush over the fact that he has developed into one of the better red-zone targets in the NFL and just look purely at raw production, the other three tight ends on the roster combined for just 20 receptions a year ago. Eifert had that by midway through the fifth game of the season against the Seattle Seahawks.
The Bengals will be hoping he can make it back for the first week of the season, because if he can't, there's a big hole on that offense. Eifert was going to be counted on as QB Andy Dalton's second-most important pass-catcher behind A.J. Green, in a receiving corps that saw Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones leave this offseason in free agency.
Maurkice Pouncey being back to 100 percent is a big boost to Steelers' offense: As good as the Pittsburgh Steelers' offense was in 2015, the center position was a massive issue, with Cody Wallace earning the fifth-lowest grade at the position at 33.9. The good news, along with the return of Le'Veon Bell at running back, is that center Maurkice Pouncey is reportedly already at 100 percent after missing all of the 2015 season.
It's the second time in the past three seasons where he has missed the full season or close to it, playing just eight snaps in 2013. He's never quite graded as well as the hype around him suggests, but he has graded positively in every season he has been in the league, with the exception of a small negative grade in the eight-snap 2013 season. In 2014 he was our third-highest-graded player at the position, so at the very least he has continued to improve throughout his career.
In 2014 the Steelers averaged 4.3 yards per carry on runs either side of Pouncey, and with Wallace manning the position a year ago, that dropped to 4.1 yards per carry. Wallace struggled both as a run-blocker and in pass protection, allowing five sacks, six hits and 33 hurries from 637 pass-blocking snaps, giving him the second-worst pass blocking efficiency among centers at 94.6. In 2014, Pouncey allowed just one sack, two hits and 16 hurries from 651 pass blocking snaps, good for the seventh-best pass blocking efficiency at the position at 97.8.
That's 25 extra pressures allowed by Wallace in 2015 compared to Pouncey in 2014, so his return should prove to be a big boost to the efforts of keeping quarterback Ben Roethlisberger upright and healthy, as the Steelers look to navigate their way through 2016 and get out of arguably the toughest division in football.
Is there another contender for the QB position in Denver? This is one to simply file away as something interesting for now, but something that could become a much bigger talking point the closer we get to the start of the 2016 season. The Denver Broncos have seen more change at the quarterback position than any Super Bowl winner in recent history, first with Peyton Manning retiring, and then with Brock Osweiler heading to Houston on a huge free-agent contract. Since then they have traded with the Philadelphia Eagles for veteran Mark Sanchez, and traded up in the NFL draft to grab Memphis signal-caller Paxton Lynch.
Those two moves would suggest that it's a two-man battle for the starting quarterback job for the defending Super Bowl champions, but head coach Gary Kubiak's recent comments praising second-year quarterback Trevor Siemian suggest that might not be the case.
Siemian was drafted in the seventh round of the 2015 draft out of Northwestern after a solid final season in the Big Ten, and while his passing grade of +7.0 was just 17th among quarterbacks in that draft class, he did end the season well, with solid outings against Michigan and Notre Dame. Obviously with Manning and Osweiler ahead of him he didn't see any action in the regular season last year, but he was at least solid on 74 preseason snaps. He completed 23 of the 40 passes he attempted, with three batted passes and three drops.
This could all just be a quick comment out of the mouth of a head coach to confuse the media, but if Siemian has taken a step forward from a year ago, it's not absurd to think that he could potentially be better than Sanchez as the stop-gap before Lynch takes over. The former USC, New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback has failed to grade positively as a passer in each of the six seasons he has taken a snap in the NFL.
Either way, the Broncos defense is almost definitely going to have to come up big again in 2016.