There is a process that takes place during every draft offseason in which it takes a while for the media to catch up with the actual scouts and draft analysts when it comes to coherently talking about who and where players and positions stack up against one another. Something more closely approximating the truth only emerges at long last in the weeks leading up to the draft.
This also applies to NFL teams themselves, as Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert alluded to in a comment during the team’s pre-draft press conference held on Monday.
When asked when he would like to hold the draft, his answer was right after the season ends. He cited the desire not to drag out the process, but he also noted that it gives other teams a chance to catch up with the rest of those who have already done their homework.
I think perhaps one of the positions of interest that have undergone the greatest shift in the offseason discussion might be the tight end position, where it now appears likely that there will not be one drafted in the first round.
Early on, more than a few mock drafts, for example, had the Steelers selecting Maxx Williams in the first round, which by now is safely regarded as a reach relative to the talent available at that spot. Others argued, in fact, that Clive Walford would be the best tight end in the class, and that maybe both would go in the first round.
While they may be the top of their class, however, the reality is as Colbert painted it two days ago, which is that the traditional tight end position is becoming more difficult to scout and to draft because the college level is no longer developing them in high quality with the proliferation of spread offenses.
As a result, the tight end class as a whole, while it has some depth, is not very inspiring in terms of pedigree, and is mostly full of mid- to late-round talents.
The Steelers, for their part, have scoured the hierarchy available at the position, from having spoken to the likes of Walford and Jeff Heuerman to the fringe players such as Cameron Clear and C.J. Uzomah.
There is a wealth of middle ground between those two ends, with players such as Tyler Kroft, Blake Bell, Nick O’Leary, and Jesse James figuring to be available at the heart of day three that can add youth and depth for the Steelers.
But is there really a viable replacement for Heath Miller in this group? Of course, as Colbert recently pointed out in reference to Troy Polamalu, you are wasting your time if your goal is to replace a specific player.
But generally speaking, it seems uncertain, barring perhaps the first few names on the list of tight ends, that there is a future starter available in this draft class. And with the way the college game is evolving—the way the high school game is evolving—I can’t help but wonder how much longer the Heath Miller-type tight end has left.