The Pittsburgh Steelers and the rest of the league completed their drafts heading into the 2017 NFL season yesterday evening, adding eight new players through the draft and nine more through the undrafted free agency process. Only one of them, an undrafted player, was a tight end, and that has to make you wonder what, if anything, that says about their feelings on their tight end group, and about Ladarius Green specifically.
I already shared my thoughts yesterday about their decision to pass up the likes of George Kittle, Jordan Leggett, Jeremy Sprinkle, and the injured Jake Butt in the fourth round in favor of a quarterback that they evidently project as a backup, but that’s neither here nor there. What can we infer about the team’s feelings on the tight end position?
Heading into the draft, on Monday during their pre-draft press conference, the Steelers claimed that they had no health updates on any of their injured players, including Green, whose season ended after just six games in the middle of December when he suffered a concussion, missing the team’s final five games.
I don’t know that we can assume the Steelers know any more now than they did then. Here’s the thing: until we get into training camp, everything is voluntary. That means that players are not obligated to report for physicals and things like that. So it’s pretty realistic that they could not know a great deal about where he is right now.
But they also seem to be relatively content with what they already have, and, realistically, they spent most of the year already functioning with Jesse James as their top tight end, though his role diminished as the season progressed and David Johnson got more time as the lone tight end.
They are returning both of them though, as well as Xavier Grimble, who has flashed some, but he ended the year banged up so didn’t contribute much at all late in the season. I doubt strongly that they didn’t believe they could upgrade their tight end position. But perhaps they didn’t think it was as important as adding a running back or a quarterback.
Here’s another thing to consider though. At the end of the regular season I compared the production numbers from the tight end group in 2016 and compared them to the numbers from the 2015 group. Last year’s group offered more overall in the passing game.
In 215, the Steelers got 72 catches for 617 yards and three touchdowns from their tight ends. Last year, they got 76 receptions for 840 yards and six touchdowns. We do have to keep in mind that a big chunk of that yardage total came from Green’s six games, so his health is a big part of the equation.
Pittsburgh showed last year that they can scrape by with this group of tight ends even with Green not contributing. Bolstering their wide receiver this year will further enable them to do that.
But I don’t believe for a second that they’re fully content with what they have in a vacuum, and Green is on borrowed time even if he is healthy right now. With his concussion history, he is Austin Collie, and that is scary.