There has understandably been a lot of attention paid to the tight end position for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season, and rightfully so when you consider the turnover that we have witnessed from the 2015 season to the present context.
Since last season, the team’s rock at the position for the past decade, former first-round draft pick Heath Miller, retired, and his veteran number two for the bulk of his career, Matt Spaeth, was waived with an injury that will likely result in him seeing the end of his playing days—though a nine-year career is certainly nothing to sneeze at.
For the bulk of the year, 2015’s number three tight end, Jesse James, has been the number one tight end in 2016, and that has not been by design, as they obviously signed Ladarius Green in free agency to serve in that capacity, not knowing of course that he would miss half the season. David Johnson and Xavier Grimble have also played a role.
Now that we are three quarters of the way through the regular season, though, I thought it would be interesting to make a comparison between the receiving production from the tight end position in 2015 versus what we are seeing from the group this year.
When it comes to last season, obviously, it begins, and nearly ends, with what Miller did. In his final season, he caught 60 passes—second-most on the team—for 535 yards, averaging 8.9 yards per reception, which was by far his worst yards per reception rate of his career by nearly half a yard, and more than two yards off his career average. He also caught two touchdowns.
James, in his rookie season, meanwhile, contributed eight receptions for 56 yards and one touchdown, while Spaeth added two receptions for 10 yards. Will Johnson was also limited to two receptions for 16 yards.
In total, the Steelers’ tight ends caught 72 passes on the year for 617 yards, averaging 8.6 yards per reception, and three touchdowns. How does that compare to the output so far in 2016, as well as its end of year projections?
James remains the top target, of course, having caught 32 passes on the year for 284 yards. He has worked up his yards per catch figure up to 8.4. But he has also caught three touchdowns. Green, in the past four games, has caught 11 passes for 207 yards, averaging 18.8 yards per catch, and a touchdown.
Grimble has missed the past few games, but he has caught 10 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown, while David Johnson has also contributed five receptions for 53 yards.
In all, the Steelers’ tight end position on the season has amassed 58 receptions for 642 yards and five touchdowns, which already compares favorably to what we saw last in, in spite of the fact that there is still a full quarter of the year left to play. Green’s explosive dynamic has also raised the average reception up to more than 11 yards.