Since the retirement of Heath Miller, the tight end position for the Pittsburgh Steelers has been in flux. We thought it was solidified with the singing of Ladarius Green prior to last season but after just six games played and a whole bunch of games missed, Green was sent packing. So who plays tight end for the Steelers now?
Locks: Jesse James, David Johnson
Perhaps one day when Jesse James catches a pass the crowd will cheer his name rather than scream “Heeeeeeeaaaaaathhh!” That is more of a credit to Miller than a knock on James in my opinion. But, the job now is James’ and his alone. There is currently no one on this roster that will replace him as the number one tight end in 2017.
David Johnson is a lock for two reasons. First, he is a very good blocker, especially of the in-line variety where the Steelers need him most. Secondly, his professionalism and versatility have made him a favorite of Mike Tomlin and the coaching staff. Fact is, Johnson isn’t a number one tight end and really isn’t a number two tight end either but his experience, knowledge and ability suit the Steelers’ offense and until someone can knock him off he isn’t going anywhere.
Probables: Xavier Grimble
The ‘X’ man should make the roster by default and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What Grimble has going for him is athleticism. He’s caught 11 career passes but he averages almost 11 yards per reception. He has also shown he can catch the ball in traffic which a tight end must do.
The negative on Grimble is his blocking. The effort is often there but the skills, fundamentals and execution are lacking. If he makes a significant jump in his overall ability to block then that means more snaps. That’s something we need to see over the next several weeks.
On the Bubble: Scott Orndoff, Phazahn Odom
Orndoff is a Pitt product that many in the Steel City know well. The best way to describe him is how we’ve done so on the podcast. He’s very solid at just about everything but he doesn’t excite you in any way either. I believe he starts the season on the Practice Squad but in time could become a number three or even two for the Steelers.
Odom falls under the category of “next guy we want to see be Antonio Gates.” In other words, Odom is a former all-state basketball player who had a nice collegiate career at Fordham. His 6’8″ frame gives him a decided advantage over smaller defensive players and in time Odom could become a player but his blocking must get better before he can be counted on.
Significant Question(s): Will a tight end be added to this roster during the preseason? If there are any injuries to anyone on this unit or if anyone fails to perform then yes, I do see the Steelers looking for tight ends released by other teams who may have more than enough guys at the position.
Is James a true number one or is he there by default? I think this is a combination of both. While I don’t see him as a true number one tight end in the NFL, I do believe he’s going to be given every opportunity to prove he is. James is a good, not great athlete who must become Ben Roethlisberger’s go-to security blanket much in the way Miller used to be. This is the year where that will be determined.
Final Roster Prediction (3): Jesse James, David Johnson, Xavier Grimble