The Pittsburgh Steelers used their fifth-round draft pick in order to draft the 20-year-old tight end Jesse James out of Penn State, whom the scouting department identified as one of the few in the class that can actually fill the role that the Steelers look for in their tight ends as in-line blockers.
The 6’7”, 261-pound junior served primarily as a blocking tight end over the course of his final two seasons, relative to his total workload. For his career there, he caught 78 catches for 1005 yards and 11 touchdowns.
He was added in order to provide valuable depth to an already solid but quickly aging group of tight ends behind Heath Miller, who will turn 33 this season, and Matt Spaeth, who will be turning 32 at around the same time.
In all, he figures to be the eventual heir apparent, perhaps, to Spaeth, who has established himself as a very good run-blocking tight end over the length of his career, although James offers the potential to see a higher upside as a pass catcher on the professional level.
So why, then, do so many people seem to be unable to mention the name Maxx Williams when discussing him, in the vein of “he’s not Maxx Williams, but…”?
Jesse James was not drafted to be the same time of tight end as Maxx Williams, who is three inches shorter and a bit lighter. While Williams was viewed as the top of his draft class—and is admittedly only a few months older than James—the second-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens is seen as more of a receiving threat than a blocker at this stage of his career.
Had it not been for the Steelers’ reported interest in drafting Williams in the second round, which the team suggested was inaccurate, in references to speculation that they wanted to trade up to take him, I don’t suspect so many post-draft evaluations would have spoken of James in this way.
And frankly, it’s doing him a disservice. Had the Steelers selected Williams, after all, he would have immediately been under heavy scrutiny as the presumptive heir apparent to Miller, who figures to have one or two years left in him.
James, a fifth-round draft selection, projects more as a long-term complementary run-blocking tight end, but if he has as much promise as a receiver as some think he might have, then who is to say that he can’t fulfill that starting role competently in time?
Williams played in an offense that featured him as a receiving threat, setting school records in doing so to the tune of 569 yards and eight touchdowns, the best at his position for Minnesota. In contrast, James’ receiving opportunities declined as the years ticked on.
Perhaps that is why he decided to declare for the draft as a junior rather than play his senior season, believing that he wouldn’t be given the requisite opportunity to showcase his talents that could raise his draft stock.
Be that as it may, the Steelers were able to add a young and physically imposing tight end that they have a chance to develop, and they found him in the fifth round. He’s not Williams, but he wasn’t drafted to be Williams, so it makes little sense to invoke the comparison to a pick that went 105 spots earlier every time his name is brought up.