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2016 Midseason Review: Tight Ends

We still have some time to kill before the Pittsburgh Steelers get back on the field, and their bye week happens to have fallen at a pretty appropriate time, so over the course of this week, we are going to bring you a sort of quick-hitter review of how the team has performed on a positional basis.

Position: Tight Ends/Fullbacks

Jesse James: It wasn’t the plan when the Steelers drafted him in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft as an underclassman out of Penn State, but second-year tight end Jesse James has spent the first half of this season as a starter, logging starter snaps.

This may draw the ire of some, perhaps many, but the results have shown that he is not ready for the role—at least in terms of being a difference-making player, rather than a replacement-level substitute and an occasional liability.

Through seven games, he has caught 22 passes for 159 yards, averaging barely over seven yards per reception, but three of those receptions have been touchdowns. That, combined with his displayed toughness holding onto the ball through impact, have been his greatest attributes thus far, but his virtually non-existent yards after the catch, combined with his inconsistencies as a blocker in all phases, means this position is ripe for an upgrade.

Xavier Grimble: Xavier Grimble likely made this roster as somewhere between the 51st and 53rd player, but since then, he has established a role for himself, and played over 40 snaps in the team’s last game, including a large number as the lone tight end. He has shown some encouraging pass-catching ability, but, like James, has also been inconsistent all around. Grimble has the greater potential to make plays and is a more physical and mobile blocker, but he has worse hands and discipline.

David Johnson: Then there is David Johnson, who does a little bit of everything reasonably well, but nothing overly exciting. His best attribute in his return to Pittsburgh has been his ability to block on mobile plays, but he can block on the line as well. He has shown limited receiving ability in limited opportunities, but his position flexibility is also a plus.

Roosevelt Nix: The team’s fullback, Roosevelt Nix, has been persona non-grata this season, missing the first five games due to a back injury. He has seen five or six snaps in his two games back. Perhaps his role expands with more recovery time from his injury on the opposite side of the bye week.

Notes: There is, of course, a major, major caveat when it comes to discussing the tight end position, with free agent big-money acquisition Ladarius Green having spent the first seven games of the season on the PUP List.

Green returned to practice last week and received some early positive reviews, but at the moment, his eventual return is still theoretical—not just for this week, but for this season. He labored a bit through a padded practice. The rest of this week, and perhaps next week, will tell the tale. He has to be activated after that, or he will remain on the PUP List.

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