By: Zach Metkler, The Burgh Blog Writer
The other day, I took a look at the wide receiver depth chart and gave my analysis of how the roster will likely turn out by the end of the season. Now, I will continue my breakdown series by looking at the tight ends.
Players on Roster:
-#80 Ladarius Green (6’6″, 240 lbs.; 25 years old; 5 years experience; Louisiana-Lafayette)
-#89 Matt Spaeth (6’7″, 262 lbs.; 32 years old; 10 years experience; Minnesota)
-#81 Jesse James (6’7″, 261 lbs.; 21 years old; 2 years experience; Penn State)
-David Johnson (6’2”, 260 lbs.; 28 years old; 7 years experience; Arkansas State)
-#85 Xavier Grimble (6’4”, 261 lbs.; 23 years old; 1 year experience; USC)
Undrafted Free Agents/Tryouts:
-#48 Jay Rome (6’6″, 250 lbs.; 23 years old; rookie; Georgia)
The Steelers tight end group with have quite a different look to it next season, as long-time starter Heath Miller retired at the end of the season. While the move appeared to be abrupt, it should not be a surprise considering he had been contemplating the move for some time and wanted to step away from the game before his play really started to show regression (which, as much as we don’t want to admit it, he was beginning to show his age). With Big Ben’s most trusted target off the roster, the Steelers were left with a huge hole to fill. They quickly snatched up a huge, young, athletic playmaker in Ladarius Green, who spent his 4 years with the San Diego Chargers behind all-time great Antonio Gates and almost looks like an oversized wide receiver. The signing of Green gives the Steelers a vertical threat at tight end with breakaway speed and athleticism that is far superior to Miller. Although he isn’t nearly as strong of a run blocker as Miller, Green adds another dimension to the Steelers offense to make them an even more exciting unit.
After Green, Matt Spaeth will return and likely serve in his usual role as a glorified lineman for the Steeler, as he ranks among the best blocking tight ends in the league. Beyond that, he offers little to the offense as a pass-catcher and will probably not be on the field in clear passing situations. Those duties will likely fall upon second year player Jesse James, who has uncanny length and showed much promise during his rookie season. If James can continue his development from last season, he has the potential to be the ying to Green’s yang. Even though he has a very lanky body, James has shown the ability to be a good run blocker and if he can continue his development there as well, the Steelers will likely use some 2 tight end sets with Green out in the slot with James serving as an inline player. The options are limitless, really.Yesterday, the Steelers announced the signing of former 7th round pick David Johnson, who played with the team from 2009-2013 before playing for the Chargers last season (that’s right, we took the Chargers two backup tight ends this offseason). Johnson is a little bit different from the other tight ends due to his versatility. He was a special teams ace during his previous time with the Steelers, as well as serving as an H-Back and tight end. This role might sound familiar, as it was the role Will Johnson was in for the past two seasons before leaving to join the Giants during free agency this year. The Steelers love employing these utility players and while he will likely see very no time at tight end this season, he still has much to offer to the team.
After these top four players, there are two unknowns in Xavier Grimble and Jay Rome. Grimble has bounced around the NFL since going undrafted in 2014, but spend the past two seasons with the New England Patriots practice squad. Due to the depth ahead of him, he likely won’t have a shot at making the final roster cuts. Rome, on the other hand, has an interesting back story that has led him to this point. As the #5 tight end in the country coming out of high school, he attended Georgia and showed immense potential during his freshman season as the #2 tight end on the roster. During his remaining time in Athens, injuries, new players, and scheme changes halted his development. This was extremely apparent at Georgia’s Pro Day, where Rome ran a 4.92 40 yard dash and only benched 14 reps at 225 lbs. What is enticing about Rome is his huge frame (6’6″, 250 lbs.) and his flashes of playmaking ability. While the odds are greatly stacked against him, it will be interesting to see if he can show enough potential to land a spot on the Steelers practice squad.
Expected Depth Chart:
- Ladarius Green (Starter)
- Matt Spaeth
- Jesse James
- David Johnson
Unless the unexpected occurs, Green will be the Steelers first new starting tight end since 2005 and should be an exciting player to watch. Beyond him, Spaeth and James will be interchangeable depending on the situation on the field, as Spaeth is a far superior run blocker. If James can develop like the Steelers expect him to, he will likely jump the aging Spaeth on the depth chart. While Johnson is the #4 tight end on the depth chart, he will likely see little time on the field there, primarily serving with Roosevelt Nix as an H-Back/fullback and special teams ace. After that, Grimble and Rome offer very little potential to make the final 53-man roster and will probably be roster cut casualties, with Rome having the potential of making the practice squad after the preseason.
Coming up next: Offensive Line. Stay tuned!