In year’s past, the Steelers draft needs analysis at tight end boiled down to a pretty simple question – do the Steelers need depth behind Heath Miller?
- Heath Miller’s retirement promised to dramatically alter that dynamic in 2016.
But does the Steelers free agent acquisition of Ladarius Green alter that reality? Now it is time to find out.
Steelers Depth Chart @ Tight End Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – the Starter
The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t generally throw a lot of weight around in free agency, but when they do they do it with an audible bang. Such was the case in 2014 when the Steelers moved quickly to bring in Michael Mitchell, and so it was two years later when the Steelers signed Ladarius Green.
Ladarius Green gives the Steelers a vertical threat at tight end, and someone who will benefit from catching passes thrown by a Ben Roethlisberger who is playing against a secondary occupied with covering Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Sammie Coates.
- The knock on Green is that his blocking skills are lacking.
This is no small thing, because the Steelers tight ends, from Bennie Cunningham, to Mike Mularkey, to Eric Green, to Mark Bruener to Heath Miller have been expected to block. However, on Behind the Steel Curtain, Chis Carter’s film breakdown of Ladarius Green’s blocking ability shows that Green has at least some serviceable skills.
Steelers Depth Cart @ Tight End Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – Backups
The main reason why the Steelers targeted tight end in free agency is that their depth chart is pretty thin. Matt Spaeth brings a veteran presence and his return to the Steelers helped pave the way for the success of Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams in both 2014 and 2015.
- However, Speath is showing signs of slowing, and is no longer consider a viable 4 down player.
Behind Spaeth, is Jesse James, a Pittsburgh native whom the Steelers drafted in the 5th round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Jesse James saw action in 8 games and caught 8 of 11 passes thrown his way.
That’s a solid start for the rookie out of Penn State, but clearly not enough for the Steelers to bank on as a starter going into 2016. For comparison’s sake, in 2012 rookie David Paulson caught 7 of 11 passes, but was clearly in over his head as a second tight end in 2013.
The Steelers also have 2015 practice squad player Xavier Grimble whom Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider describes as:
In Xavier Grimble, the Steelers have a player on their futures roster who showed throughout this past practice season that he could become the playmaking tight end this team would appreciate as a complement to Miller.
Wexell speaks highly of Grimble’s growth on the practice squad in 2015, but sometimes practice squad players make that leap in their second year, and sometimes they do not (see Justin Brown.)
Steelers 2016 Draft Need at Tight End
The signing of Ladarius Green dramatically altered the draft board at tight end for the Steelers. Before that signing, the Steelers were probably looking at having to enter the 2016 NFL Draft with tight end as a High or High-Moderate needs status.
But with Green on the roster, Spaeth able to give it a go for one more year, with James and Grimble providing depth, the Steelers depth chart at tight end is pretty healthy.Would it be a mistake to draft a good tight end who remains on the board in later rounds?
Probably not. But the Steelers 2016 draft need at tight end is Moderate Low by any measure.