Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Jesse James, and Martavis Bryant have all moved on from the Pittsburgh Steelers since the 2017 season. That high octane offense went 13-3 while generating 377 yards per game, has been all but dismantled. Of the skill players who remain, running back James Conner, wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster and tight end Vance McDonald accounted for 1,249 of the 6,201 yards generated during the season. The trio saw a major uptick last season while generating 3,506 yards, looming questions remain with the draft less than two weeks away.
This leads to some enormous question marks that will impact the Steelers draft.
Can Smith-Schuster keep evolving and be productive with additional coverage as the Steelers top wide receiver?
Who will be the #2 wideout, second-year James Washington or newcomer, Donte Moncrief?
Will Washington or Moncrief gel with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in 2019?
Can Conner remain healthy for 16 games and break a thousand yards?
How many games will McDonald miss in 2019? He has never played in all 16 games during his six-year career while missing 21 of a possible 72 games.
I am worried about our offense and filling all that lost productivity in the past two seasons. A case can be made by fans that we need an infusion of talent on defense and I agree but not in the first round.
The position that has the greatest need for an impact player for the 2019 season is at tight end. As I noted in earlier articles, inside linebacker and wide receiver do not have clear paths for playing time. As I pointed out McDonald, just like most of the top tight ends in the NFL, misses games. I have no faith in backup tight end Xavier Grimble being able to be a reliable fill in for McDonald let alone see the substantial snap counts James participated in past years.
Do I want a player on the field for 500 snaps who fails to wrap up the football, who carries the ball in the wrong hand, and tries to showcase his tough guy mentality all on the same play, while failing? Pass.
I want a guy who is technically sound as a receiving tight end and the best blocking tight end in the 2019 draft. TJ Hockenson is that player.
Is Hockenson a SPARQ athlete like fellow Iowa Hawkeyes Noah Fant? He is not. Fant was not asked to block in college which raises a red flag. Just because he was not asked to block in college does not mean he can’t. If he has blocking skills why did Hockenson shoulder such a load?
NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks compare Hockenson to Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, which is a valid comparison. They are both big-bodied tight ends separated by only an inch and about 10 pounds. Both ran a 4.7 forty time at the combine and contribute on the field similarly. That is high praise for Hockenson to be compared to a player fourth on the NFL’s all-time reception list and 21 in receiving yards.
With so much offense lost it will be hard for the Steelers to replace that with their current players. The 1,720 lost yardage from James and AB departing cannot be absorbed by players currently on the roster. A big chunk should and will but not all of it. Hockenson has the ability not only to open holes for Conners but also find holes in defensive secondaries like Heath Miller did for so many years in Pittsburgh.
Hockenson being available at 20 is in doubt so it is up to general manager Kevin Colbert to move up and snag a true difference maker in 2019.
Check out his highlight reel on You Tube.