Eifert wore No. 80 at Notre Dame, where the Fort Wayne native developed into one of the nation’s best tight ends. The Bengals got him with the 21st overall pick on Thursday night even though they didn’t have a glaring need for another tight end — yes, they think he’s that good.
His college number was already taken in Cincinnati, so he had to choose another when he showed up at Paul Brown Stadium on Friday. No. 85 was available.
“Yeah, I knew a little bit about it,” Eifert said. “I knew Chad Johnson, or Ochocinco — I don’t know what it is now — wore it and all his touchdown dances.”
He was still Ochocinco when he was traded to New England before the 2011 season. He changed his name back to Johnson and is out of football after being released by the Dolphins last year. He became the Bengals’ top receiver during his stay, but tangled with coach Marvin Lewis over his look-at-me antics that drew fines from the NFL.
Eifert is the anti-Ocho in that way — not a self-promoter or a show-off. He chose the number anyway. Receiver Armon Binns got it after Ochocinco left, but he was released midway through last season.
Lewis posed with Eifert holding the jersey, which bears the number that receiver Isaac Curtis also wore.
“You didn’t think we had any of those jerseys left, huh?” Lewis said, joking. “I don’t think there’s going to be any Velcro on the back of this one.
“Hopefully this 85 will be as productive as the last 85. That’s all we can dream for, on the field. And the 85 before that. It’s been a great number in Bengal history, and he has an opportunity to set his own legacy.”
The Bengals already have a first-round pick starting at tight end — Jermaine Gresham, who also was taken 21st overall in 2010 — but figure that Eifert can complement him and give quarterback Andy Dalton another option in the passing game. Eifert was known for making tough catches at Notre Dame.
Lewis visited South Bend two weeks ago and talked to coach Brian Kelly about the tight end. Kelly was head coach at the University of Cincinnati for three years before moving to Notre Dame.
“He was kind of glowing in talking about Tyler and what Tyler meant to their football team and how he was able to use him since he’s been there as head coach,” Lewis said. “He really felt he was able to use him in a lot of ways in a mismatch against a defense, and that he would give us a lot of flexibility.
“Definitely a guy that Brian Kelly felt very, very strongly about.”
Eifert didn’t think the Bengals would pick him, given that they don’t really need another tight end. By going to Cincinnati, he gets to stay close to home. Eifert grew up in Fort Wayne, Ind. His father, Greg, played basketball at Purdue. Eifert grew up a Colts fan and watched Peyton Manning and tight end Dallas Clark grow into a formidable tandem.
Eifert’s first appearance in a regular season game could happen in Cincinnati’s opener in Chicago on Sept. 8, his 23rd birthday.
“That would be pretty cool,” he said. “I have grown up in Fort Wayne, went to college an hour and a half away, now I get to stay close to home here. I’m sure there will be a lot of people at that game.”