The Pittsburgh Steelers weathered the storm of their all-time greatest tight end retiring by going out and signing a receiving tight end in free agency in Ladarius Green. But he missed the first half of the season while recovering with an ankle injury.
When he finally did get on the field, he really got going and had some impactful games, including a 100-yard game, which has been an extreme rarity from the tight end position in Steelers history. Heath Miller, in case you were wondering, only did that four times throughout his entire career.
But while he was in the process of making yet another big play for the Steelers, Green took a blow to the head following a 26-yard catch that secured a new set of downs on third down against the Bengals in an important late-season victory that helped get them where they are now.
The hit, and his subsequent impact with the ground, caused the fifth-year tight end to suffer a concussion, which he has been dealing with for five or so weeks now. He has missed the past four games, and it is unclear if he will attempt to resume practicing this week after sitting out last week.
Of course, as we all know, the primary recipient of the first-team reps at tight end in the $20 million-dollar man’s absence has been second-year man Jesse James, and on Sunday, he delivered in the biggest way he ever has up to this point in his career as a pass-catcher.
Prior to the Divisional Round, the biggest day that James had ever had as a receiver game in Week 10 against the Cowboys, which just so happened to be the first game for which Green was active—almost as though he felt the pressure and was looking to keep in his role. That day, he caught four passes for 59 yards, including a 24-yard pass, which was the longest reception of his career.
He bettered those numbers in his fourth-career playoff game against the Chiefs, catching five passes on the day for 83 yards. That, a week after he was limited to just one catch for six yards, though it was an impressive one due to the fact that he had to snare it out of the air after it was nearly intercepted.
In that game in Kansas City, however, it did at times almost look like the Steelers were using James as though he were Miller, hitting him on those quick pop passes using play-action, or at least a run look, from a run-pass option scenario, and one of those led to a 26-yard gain, is new career-long.
James’ production as a receiver fell by the wayside for the most part during the Steelers’ winning streak prior to Sunday’s game, in large part because the team was focusing more on the running game, but that only served to strengthen him as a blocker, and he had perhaps the best blocking day of his career a week ago.
I know the young man has a lot of people in his corner pleading his case for his ability to be a legitimate all-around number one tight end on a championship offense. I’m still not fully sold, by any means, but I still don’t know what his ceiling is. I just know that he is still getting better, and for now, I will gladly take it.