Our Training Camp previews roll on with a look at the tight end position. Say what you will about Jesse James but he was a pro who showed up for work and gave the Steelers everything he had. Replacing him at the number two spot is not going to be easy. Does the team have faith in Xavier Grimble and rookie Zach Gentry? Let’s discuss.
By The Numbers
Receiving Yards: 1,118 yards (22% of total receiving yards)
Receptions: 86 (James -30, McDonald -50, Grimble -6)
Targets: 119 (17% of total targets)
Vance McDonald (7th year)
McDonald is far and away the number one tight end on this roster. Last season he was able to stay healthy and that in large part led to his success. The danger now is what happens if he should go down with an injury for an extended period of time. I’ll get to that below. McDonald is a terrific pass catcher and more than able blocker. He can set an edge, power block and can get down-field to block as well. His ‘run after the catch’ ability is now the stuff of legends after his career-ending stiff arm of a Buccaneers’ defender in 2018.
Xavier Grimble (4th year)
I’ve probably gone to the well too often on this but when Grimble was trucked at the goal line in Denver last season fumbling the ball out of the end zone I was done with him as a viable option. Grimble should have been the one to lower his pads and decimate the defensive back and instead he took the punishment. Fair or unfair, Grimble cannot be relied upon to be the permanent number two tight end. He’s a very good athlete and has made some great catches in his time in Pittsburgh but his inability to block consistently is a negative that can’t be ignored. I want to be wrong about him but I can’t lie to myself about what I’ve seen.
Zach Gentry (1st year), Kevin Radar (2nd year), Christian Scotland-Williamson (2nd year as part of International Pathway Program), Trevor Wood (1st year)
At 6’8″ Gentry will present Ben Roethlisberger with a big target that for sure. He’s a smart player but I’ve seen him struggle with consistent catching and his blocking needs serious work. Wood is very intriguing because he also brings long snapping experience and solid blocking. If he can unseat Kam Canaday as the team’s long snapper and he blocks consistently then he’ll essentially provide the team an extra roster spot.
Go ahead and pencil in McDonald. Last season I predicted if he stayed healthy he’d be a Pro Bowler. He didn’t quite get there but I’ll stick with that prediction again especially with so many targets available now with Antonio Brown gone. I have said since the spring that I believe the Steelers will make a deal for a veteran tight end to back up McDonald at some point prior to the start of the season. I cannot for the life of me see them enter the season with Grimble and Gentry backing him up. They are both hard-working guys but I just don’t see them as consistent enough to be number two tight ends. Keep a very close eye on Wood. The Steelers love versatility and that long snapping combined with good blocking would be a huge move for them.