The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season ended a few weeks earlier that they had planned it to, but now that their 2015 campaign has drawn to a conclusion, it’s time to wrap things up and take stock of where they are and how they got there. Part of that process involves holding player exit meetings at the conclusion of each season.
Of course, we’re not privy to the specifics that go on in each of these meetings between head coach and player, and whomever else might be involved in any particular discussion, but if we were conducting them, it might go something like this.
Player: Jesse James
Position: Tight End
Experience: 1 Year
The Steelers went on a broad and wide search during the draft process last year, scouring the earth for the sort of tight end that they like to use in their offense. Knowing that their top end of the depth chart at the position was nearing the end of the road, they wanted to get some youth into the meeting room as soon as possible.
That came in the form of fifth-round draft pick Jesse James, in the middle of a draft that the Steelers admitted they heavily favored defensively. After the draft, they maintained that their two offensive rookie selections represented what they viewed as excellent value in comparison to the defensive players available at the time, so that speaks to what they thought of James.
More importantly, James is a 6’7”, 260-plus pound tight end who put together a body of work as a blocker, and also left college as a true junior. He will not turn 22 years of age until June still. In other words, he still has a lot of room to grow, which is what the Steelers wanted.
Still, he struggled to see the field early—in fact, he totally bombed his first preseason game, but played well later in August—unable to see time ahead of Will Johnson or Roosevelt Nix. It wasn’t until the second half of the season that he even was active for a game.
From that point on, however, he played about 200 snaps over the course of the regular season, averaging about 25 snaps per game, though of course those snaps were not evenly distributed. He also saw some quality snaps in the postseason, particularly in the Wildcard round, moreso than in the Divisional round.
The rookie tight end showed some potential, of course, including snagging one touchdown, as well as a reception on a two-point conversion attempt. He also threw a handful of key blocks that caught the camera’s attention, but it would be off-base to say that that is a fully accurate accounting of his year.
In light of Heath Miller’s retirement, it goes without saying that James is going to experience a major increase in the expectations for the elevation of his game. The chances of course are slim that he can ever replicate Miller’s game, but he can at least contribute to being a part of a broader solution.