Heading into the start of free agency the Pittsburgh Steelers two biggest areas of need were universally considered to be the inside linebacker and cornerback positions. Some individuals were still holding out hope that the suddenly strained relationship between Antonio Brown and the Steelers could somehow be mended, but it turned out Brown was never going to let that happen. It wasn't part of his master plan. Immediately the need for another experienced receiver moved toward the top of the Steelers list of needs.
Kevin Colbert and the Pittsburgh Steelers had an impressively effective and uncommonly busy foray into free agency. The Steelers addressed all three positions with proven commodities, taking some of the pressure off any drafted players to be immediate starters. Asking rookies to be immediate contributors is one thing, instant starters is another.
Seemingly lost amongst all the positive additions was a unavoidable loss. Anytime another NFL franchise is willing to pay your backup tight end, a solid but far from spectacular player, starters money you will find yourself with a roster spot needing to be filled.
That description fits former Steelers TE Jesse James to a tee. Words like solid, reliable, durable, and likable immediately come to mind. All these characteristics have value and merit, but only at the right price. The Detroit Lions were able to make an offer James couldn't refuse and the Steelers would never have been able to match. The Outlaw's on field production shouldn't be that hard to duplicate. However, his underappreciated intangibles may prove harder to replace.
Jesse James was a type of insurance for the Steelers. Insurance can seem like an unnecessary expense, until it turns out you need it. Starting TE Vance McDonald remained relatively healthy last season, something that had eluded him previously during his career. McDonald had his finest season and had some spectacular moments that bore witness to just how special a player he could turn out to be. McDonald's bruising playing style has lent itself to a variety of nagging injuries through the years. Gambling on Vance's ability to stay healthy is kinda like juggling with dynamite. Hard to feel comfortable with those odds. Jesse's reliability offered the Steelers a real security blanket. That attribute will be sorely missed.
The Steelers signed their third string TE Xavier Grimble to a new contract prior to free agency, but Grimble's biggest claim to fame thus far in his career was a touchdown turned fumble against Denver last season that helped pull defeat from the jaws of victory for the Steelers. Grimble was far from the only culprit that game, but it was a glaring miscue by a seldom used player. It is in nobody's best interest for the X-man to be the TE2 next season. Grimble would always be a play away from being the Steelers starting TE, which would undoubtedly prove problematic.
After McDonald and Grimble, the Steelers depth chart is presently constructed with journeyman and unproven players. The Steelers have yet to address the position in free agency, but it seems more than likely they will select another TE in the upcoming draft, but questions still remain.
What prospects should the Steelers be targeting and how early a selection would be considered too early? Seeing how the position has yet to be addressed thus far in free agency, and the other pressing areas of need have been, is the idea of too early even relevant at this point? If the BPA just happens to be a tight end with a first round grade when the Steelers selection rolls around, the decision would appear obvious.
Most mock drafts have the Steelers coveted ILB prospects already off the board when the team's first round selection comes up. Some mocks are projecting Iowa TE TJ Hockenson to be the Steelers first round selection. That scenario conjures a very positive reaction from the majority of commenters here at BTSC. Hockenson is one of two tight end prospects to receive a first round grade this season. Incredibly the other prospect just so happens to also be a former Iowa Hawkeye, Noah Fant. I can't recall the last time the top two draft prospects at a position were both from the same college program.
TJ Hockenson is considered the total package, while Noah Fant has rare athleticism for the position. Either player could be the first tight end selected, it will really come down to who is a better fit with the first team willing to pull the trigger.
After the Iowa connection, the remaining TE prospects in this year's draft class is a hodgepodge of individuals destined to be TE2. Not a particularly poor group, but a group with more questions than answers. Most remaining prospects carry a mid round or later grade due to concerns over size, strength, or overall athleticism.
So I submit this question for the BTSC family. Is there a diamond in the rough with this group? A player that is more than the sum of his parts, who would be a perfect fit for the Pittsburgh Steelers. My sleeper pick is WVU TE Trevon Wesco. Wesco would offer excellent value as a later round selection. Wesco has good hands, excellent strength, and underrated movement skills. He also has fullback and special teams experience. Well rounded player and individual.
Please share your overlooked sleeper picks in the comments below. Go Steelers!