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Breaking Down the Steelers Team Needs: Part 7, Tight End

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Part 7 of the series on targets the Steelers might target in the 2019 NFL Draft. What about a pass catcher who does not play Wide Receiver?

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Moving on with the series:

Here is the current roster:

  • TE Vance McDonald. An amazing talent who seems to spend half of every year on the injury list. Six years into his career we have to assume that pattern will continue.
  • TE Jesse James. He’s still making some incremental improvements as both a receiver and a blocker but the ceiling has become pretty clear: a solid #2. A free agent that most people expect the team to sign.
  • Xavier Grimble. A receiving weapon who’s never quite clicked. Fans may focus on an unfortunate fumble or two but it should be remembered that they were ‘unfortunate’ because they came at the end of some really big plays. Another free agent that most people expect the team to sign.

So what is my hot take as a self avowed lover of between-the-hashes weaponry and defense? I don’t see Tight End as a hole that’s begging for attention, especially if the team commits to both the Outlaw and the X-Man. But I do see the other side. Just imagine the possibilities if Pittsburgh could pair McDonald with another freaky athlete at TE! It could only help to emphasize the running game that Steeler Nation so enjoys, and it would be a neat, sideways approach to covering the weaponry gap if AB ends up departing. Especially with more picks than the team has needs, and the fact that this WR class is deep enough to offer real bargains on Day 3.

Thus we have to view the position as a real enough ‘want’ that the F.O. could, should and would pull the trigger if a BPA bargain falls far enough in the draft. Who could that be? Here is a list from the initial BTSC Big Board that Nick Farabaugh and I have been compiling: [fn]

  • 1:25 TE Noah Fant, Iowa. 6’4”, 232 lbs. The unanimous #1 TE in the draft and “one of the most freakish athletes in all of college football,” Noah Fant may be that rare offensive talent who could tempt the well armed Steelers to spend a Round 1 pick on that side of the ball - especially if McDonald’s problems are more severe than we know. It might take 19 straight picks on the defensive side by the teams who pick before us, but it’s not impossible.
  • 2:01 TE T.J. Hockenson, Iowa. 6’5”. 243 lbs. A complete TE that some consider better than his teammate Noah Fant. Hockenson is the type of TE that can block Linebackers out of the house and still wreak havoc in the passing game. Here is a great breakdown by Kyle Crabbs.
  • 2:01 TE Irv Smith Jr., Alabama. 6’4”, 241 lbs. An exceptional athlete and natural receiver who significantly improved his blocking in 2018. Both his father and his uncle played TE in the NFL, albeit with limited distinction.
  • 2:24 TE Josh Oliver, San Jose St. 6’5”, 255 lbs. A brilliant athlete who wins in college by “being bigger and faster than everyone at his current competition level,” but is desperately raw and will need at least a year of coaching before those assets will show up against NFL defenders.
  • 2:24 TE Kaden Smith, Stanford. 6’5”, 250 lbs. A good all-around TE prospect who only lacks some bit of physical genius to hang his hat on. Doing almost anything great at the Combine could shoot him up a lot of boards.
  • 3:01 TE Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M. 6’4”, 250 lbs. “Physical tools are tantalizing, both as a blocker and receiver,” but he is also quite raw and will need a year or two before he makes any impact as a receiving weapon. Steeler Nation would probably appreciate him more than most because he reputedly has a proper TE’s tough-guy attitude and actually likes to block. He needs some work in that area too but it starts with the ‘wanna’.
  • 3:01 TE Caleb Wilson, UCLA. 6’4”, 235 lbs. A fine and shifty receiver who was Josh Rosen’s favorite weapon in 2017 before injuring a foot, and continued that success in 2018. But can he block?
  • 3:12 TE Keenan Brown, Texas State. 6’3”, 250 lbs. Brown is the definition of a rock solid TE who would challenge Jesse James for the #2 spot, with the potential to become even more. Here is a good article on how he was recruited to be a star “big WR” at Oklahoma State and ended up outgrowing the position and moving to a school closer to home. Brown has never lost his ability to run routes and catch the ball; he is still nimble enough to break the occasional play; and unlike JJ he would come to the NFL as a superb in-line blocker. His stock will go way up if the Steelers move on from Jesse James.
  • 3:12 TE Dawson Knox, Ole Miss. 6’4”, 250 lbs. One of the most athletic TE’s in the draft, Knox was underutilized in college but shined as a capable receiver when he got the chance. Not a great blocker though he has the size.
  • 4:01 TE Dax Raymond, Utah St. 6’5”, 250 lbs. A good receiving TE with the build but not the skill to play in-line and good but not exceptional athletic skills. Sounds a lot like Jesse James Mark II.
  • 4:16 TE Alize Mack, Notre Dame. 6’5”, 247 lbs. A catch-point monster and one of the best route running TE’s in the draft, he’s flashed quite often but has red flags for injury concerns and “team rule violations”. Here is a good highlight of him by Brad Kelly and a New Year’s follow up by the Draft Network staff.
  • 4:16 TE Ravien Pierce, Syracuse. 6’3”, 244 lbs. Good but not great in almost every way except the overall athleticism (superior) and the size (not so much).
  • 5:01 TE Kendall Blanton, Missouri {Meeting at the Shrine Game}. 6’6”, 260 lbs. A size XL, box-out receiving threat who became a good blocker in 2018. Projects as a multipurpose TE2 to compete with or replace Jesse James.
  • 5:01 TE/WR Donald Parham, Stetson. 6’8’, 240 lbs. A massively oversized receiver and mismatch weapon, this January scouting profile describes a very raw prospect from a tiny school with great hands, potentially coachable issues across the line with route running, good but not great speed, and no future at all as an in-line blocker. That said, he did dominate his competition for his entire tenure at Stetson to the point where he received a Senior Bowl invite. Looks like a boom-or-bust prospect with extreme potential on both ends.
  • 5:16 TE Isaac Nauta, Georgia. 6’4”, 245 lbs. Projects as an NFL quality TE2 if he can clean things up. Nauta has a fairly well rounded game and proved in 2018 that he can both block at a college level and also find the holes in a zone defense. But does he have anything special to add that could make you view him as a potential TE1?
  • 6:01 TE Foster Moreau, LSU. 6’5”, 255 lbs. A good blocker but not the in-space athlete who’d give the Steelers another potential weapon. Tough and gritty enough to earn the #18 uniform for “player who exemplifies LSU football,” he should be able to stick in the league if he can find the right team - but that probably won’t be Pittsburgh.
  • 6:01 TE Tommy Sweeney, Boston Coll. 6’5”, 255 lbs. A rare, well rounded TE with a complete game. Would rank much higher if he’d shown the physical genius to be more than a solid contributor.

It isn’t a particularly good class but there are a few players who’d be true BPA bargains if they fall to the right spot. Don’t write it off.

[FN] For those who don’t know, we organize the BTSC Big Board by a grade called “Highest Value”. An HV of 1:20 means the player is a reach for the Steelers at any point before Pick # 20 overall but good value at any point from the end of the 1st on. Getting that player in the early 2nd would be fine, while getting him at 2:12 would almost be a steal. Yes, this system results in a certain amount of grade inflation for positions of need because we are talking about the “highest” grade rather than where a player is expected to go; but it’s balanced by never, ever pushing a grade up because of need. Players with the same HV# are more-or-less equivalent and organized alphabetically.