The Pittsburgh Steelers have a predicament on their hands when the team comes out of the bye week and starts preparing for the Baltimore Ravens in Week 9. Some might think the predicament is whether Ladarius Green is ready to be activated to the 53-man roster yet, a task they have 21 days to officially do, but the real question is not if, but when, Green is activated, who becomes the odd man out at the tight end position?
The current tight end depth chart reads as follows (in no particular order):
There is no debate about Jesse James. The 2015 5th round draft pick has been the main man at the tight end position, routinely playing more than 90-percent of the Steelers' offensive snaps. Although he is no Heath Miller yet, he has acquitted himself well in just his second season in the NFL.
With James a lock to remain on the team when the Steelers activate Green, it comes down to Johnson and Grimble for the final spot. Yes, the Steelers could keep all four tight ends, but with their depth very thin at other positions, it is highly unlikely. There could be a case made for both Johnson and Grimble to be the player to stay, and few would debate your argument. Johnson is the superior blocker, but Grimble brings more athleticism and play making ability to the lineup.
To try and find a statistical difference, outside of receptions, yardage and touchdowns, I looked at the season-long snap totals for both Johnson and Grimble. There is a stark difference in how the tandem starts, compared to how they enter the bye week.
Take a look at the snap totals per player:
Week 1 - 17
Week 2 - 26
Week 3 - 7
Week 4 - 24
Week 5 - 11
Week 6 - 7
Week 7 - 17
Week 1 - 16
Week 2 - 17
Week 3 - 6
Week 4 - 20
Week 5 - 13
Week 6 - 13
Week 7 - 42
Look at the numbers closely. Not only can you see a trend for games where the Steelers used multiple tight end sets frequently in a game, like last week's game against the New England Patriots, the usage of the players nearly flip flops throughout 7 weeks of play. Early in the season Johnson was the second tight end on the field, but by Week 6 it was Grimble who was seeing more playing time.
Maybe Johnson was nursing an injury which didn't have him on the injury report, or maybe Grimble is finally getting acclimated to the Steelers' system and his improvement is difficult to keep him off the field. Either way, the snap totals show the trend points to Grimble being the current favorite to win the job whenever Green is activated, assuming the team doesn't decide to keep 4 tight ends.