There are more questions than answers heading into the 2019 season for the Pittsburgh Steelers at the tight end position.
- Will the tight end position be more heavily involved than it was in 2018 due to the loss of Antonio Brown?
- How will the 562 snaps and 39 targets that left Pittsburgh with the departure of Jesse James be dealt with?
- Can Vance McDonald remain healthy for the first season and can he improve on a career year from 2018?
- Xavier Grimble is set to take over as the #2 tight end, what will his role and level of effectiveness be?
- Tight end Zach Gentry was viewed by draft “experts” with having lots of red flags, will he be able to surpass expectations and have a role in 2019 and prove those “experts” wrong?
- Will any of the other tight ends on the roster be hidden gems and make the roster?
- Will the Steelers feel backed into a corner because of the tight end position and bring in another tight end via trade or free agency?
The 2019 regular season is quickly approaching and will start in around six weeks. The above questions have serious ramifications and have to be answered favorably to ease apprehensive fans.
In 2018, McDonald set career highs in both yards (610) and receptions (50) even though he continued his streak of missing games because of health issues remained intact. Drops were not as prevalent as yours past but four is still high for 72 targets over a career-high 564 snaps. McDonald will need to remain healthy if the Steelers will count on him to be the clear cut #1 tight end and elevate the position to take the pressure off of other positions. McDonald will need to put up the monster share of tight end snaps and keep those drops to a minimum to keep other less talented tight ends off the field.
The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly expects Steelers TE Xavier Grimble’s snaps to “at least triple” in 2019.
With Jesse James out of the picture, Grimble is in the driver’s seat for the No. 2 tight end job behind Vance McDonald. Grimble played just over 16% of the downs a season ago but could look at more after James was in on 50% of the plays in 2018. Many have high hopes for McDonald as a breakout candidate because of James’ absence, but it could be Grimble stepping into that role. McDonald should still see more targets with Antonio Brown gone.
The above is a blurb from Rotoworld regarding an article that Kaboly wrote on the Athletic website (Subscription needed.) and sends shivers down fan’s spines. After the Denver Broncos blunder last season, do fans really want to see Grimble on the field for 500 snaps and generating up to 50 plus targets or more? An extended injury to McDonald would skyrocket those numbers. Grimble has 11 receptions over the past two seasons which equaled his total from 2016. The former USC Trojans has the opportunity to flourish but will he be worth the $2 million that he will make in 2019, or have fans shaking their heads in frustration?
Rookie fifth-rounder Gentry heads into training camp third on the depth chart which is concerning. His spot on the chart is not because of his stuffed stat sheet from college or being a SPARQ athlete. The position is because the players behind him are uninspiring. The former Michigan product has an impressive 16.7 yards per reception in two years in college but that was only on 49 receptions. The former quarterback lacks strength (12 bench reps), long speed (4.9 40 time), quick cutting (7.4 3-cone drill.), and experience. His hands are also questionable with a 13.5% drop rate. He would benefit from a year on the practice squad instead of possible playing time.
There are realistically only two other tight ends on the roster as Trevor Wood is not in camp as a tight end but a long snapper. Christian Scotland-Williamson is a beast of a man at 6’9 but is a former professional rugby player and besides last season does not have football experience. Kevin Rader is the last tight end on the roster. At 6’4 and 240-pounds, he went undrafted in 2018 but latched on with the Green Bay Packers during the offseason but spent the regular season out of the league. At Youngstown State, he snagged 41 reception for a 14.7 average but like Gentry; he is not fast with a 4.92 40 time and 17 reps on the bench at his pro day.
Fans worry with so many offensive snaps and stats that departed from 2018 with AB and James and with the injury history with McDonald. McDonald can put up a monster season, but can he and will he flourish? The rest of the tight end group is raw or nondescript. Who besides McDonald would you want to see play 500-700 snaps in 2019? Most fans would probably answer none of the above.
Unfortunately for the Steelers, the list of free-agent tight ends is atrocious. Those players are without a job when around 2,900 players do. So that leaves the team picking over other teams rosters waiting for cuts or an opportunity for a trade. Trading for a player can alleviate the anxiety that Steelers fans have.
TE1 — Vance McDonald
TE2 — Xavier Grimble
A player who is not currently on the roster and Gentry heads to the practice squad. This yet to be determined tight end could even push Grimble for No. 2.