With the Pittsburgh Steelers, 2016 season over we will look towards the off-season and the 2017 season. The tight end position wasn’t as reliable as it was in years past after the retirement of long-time fan favorite Heath Miller. In this edition of the Pittsburgh Steeler Positional Overviews, we will look at the tight end position.
Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 Positional Overview: Tight End
The Steelers played this season with four tight ends on the roster. Ladarius Green, Xavier Grimble, Jesse James, and David Johnson all saw playing time. Jesse James started 13 games and lead the team’s tight ends with 338 yards and three touchdowns. Green only started two games, playing in six, but he had about the same production as James did playing in less games. Xavier Grimble gained 118 yards and scored twice playing nine games, and David Johnson gained 80 yards being a blocking tight end.
As a whole, the Steelers tight end group amassed only 840 yards total and scored six times. Those low group numbers could be attributed to a couple of factors. For starters, long-time security blanket Heath Miller retired so Ben Roethlisberger didn’t have him to throw to to get him out of a jam, he simply didn’t have enough chemistry with the group to be successful. Another factor that goes into the lack of production is injuries. Ladarius Green only played in six games all year and missed 10 because of injury. In the games that he did play he showed that he could be an explosive target for Big Ben to throw to. Roethlisberger’s injury can also be somewhat contributed to the lack of production. Before he got injured he was playing at an MVP level, but after that he was a shell of himself. Green didn’t play with a fully healthy Ben Roethlisberger last year, if they had been healthy at the same time Green could have been one of the better tight ends in football.
The only free agent tight end the Steelers have is David Johnson and he should re-sign for a cheap price. This means the Steelers should return all of their tight ends from 2016. If LadariusGreen can stay healthy he could have a successful season. Jesse James’ development took some nice steps forward last season and if it continues he could be a nice security blanket or even vertical weapon in the passing game. David Johnson figures to continue his role as a primary blocking tight end and Xavier Grimble should only see spot duty barring major injuries.
As noted above, David Johnson is the only free agent tight end the Steelers have. They figure to re-sign him on the cheap. If they have no faith that Ladarius Green can stay healthy, they could release him and either go after an affordable tight end in free agency such as Jack Doyle or Trey Burton. They could also go by the way of the draft. O.J. Howard will most likely be gone by pick 30, but David Njoku out of Miami may still be there for them. Even if they keep Green because he proves he can stay healthy, they still may draft a tight end for depth to compete for a roster spot. Possible mid-to-late round targets to watch for include Evan Engram from Ole Miss, Bucky Hodges from Virginia Tech, Jake Butt from Michigan, or Jordan Leggett out of Clemson. Look for the Steelers to add a tight end in the off-season, whether it be to start next year, or to add depth to one of the worst positions on the team.