Certainly a main question going into the offseason is whether or not Pittsburgh should select a tight end in the upcoming NFL Draft. The team could also pick up someone in free agency by getting a solid veteran player. The Steelers are a very unpredictable team when it comes to drafting players in the first few rounds, but anything is possible. Tight ends are an important factor for a football team, especially in the blocking department.
Last year Pittsburgh drafted TE Jesse James in the fifth-round of the NFL Draft. James had a solid college career with Penn State and in my opinion was a late steal. His 2015 season started off rough dropping a few passes and not producing well enough in the blocking department. As the season went on he improved greatly and was complimented by Todd Haley, Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator. Haley stated: "He's increased his speed and quickness. Just his overall ability to run a bunch of reps, whether it's in practice or in games."
The compliments did not stop there. Head Coach Mike Tomlin also addressed how much James has improved since the start of the season. Tomlin stated "Jesse is doing some nice things. More than anything I like his overall game day demeanor. He is a good guy and a clean guy to communicate with. It's obvious the stage is not too big for him. He made some nice plays for us early. It's good to see early contributions, he didn't have to warm up to play. We're going to keep him on the upswing." As you can see James' development is slowly growing on the field. He is a true leader and produces well in the blocking department. He will only get better as time progresses.
Now let's dive into the main question on whether or not Pittsburgh should draft a tight end. In all likelihood, veteran tight end Heath Miller will play out his final year of his contract. Matt Spaeth and former seventh-round draft pick Rob Blanchflower are both under contract for the 2016 NFL season. Neither are locked to make the 53-man roster this year. This would leave the Steelers with just Jesse James and Heath Miller.
Pittsburgh does not need to draft a tight end in the first round but I can see them looking that way as early as the third round. Nick Vannett, tight end, Ohio State, looks like a very promising player. He truly is an impressive all-around tight end, who is a reliable run blocker and pass catcher. Vannett was mainly used as a run blocker and caught very few passes in his college career. In my opinion, this is great considering he could fill the same role Spaeth did with the team.
There is a possibility that Pittsburgh could pick up a free agent tight end to replace Matt Spaeth, who I just don't believe will be with Pittsburgh this year. Indianapolis Colts tight end Dwayne Allen is a pending free agent who has proved to be a solid player in his four years in the league. While Pittsburgh has the 4th worst salary cap situation heading into 2016, this might not be a good idea to pick up a free agent tight end but rather address the situation where it is most needed, the secondary. Free agency starts in March when the new league year begins.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are very thin, when it comes to the tight end position, and not knowing whether or not Spaeth will be back, and how productive a former seventh-round draft pick in Rob Blanchflower will perform has moved the tight end position into the forefront. Drafting a tight end in the third-round is not a bad idea.