Dating back to the start of last season, David Johnson is the best blocker that the Pittsburgh Steelers have available to them at the tight end position. The inevitable questions that must follow come next: should he be? Is he enough?
Leaving aside the case that could be made for the development of third-year tight end Jesse James as a ‘blocking tight end’, in which aspects he has admittedly made strides, the truth of the matter is that, today, he is the best blocker on the team, and unless something changes, he will remain the best blocker during the season, which will dictate how and when the Steelers use select personnel.
That could change during the draft, as we are seeing one of the best crops of tight ends that we have seen in the past decade or so. Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert has been pretty critical of the pool of talent coming out of college at the position over the course of the past couple of years, so this may be a rare opportunity to find a contributor.
And there are some notable ‘blocking tight ends’ among them, with George Kittle becoming a seemingly universal favorite, an easy read if you watch clips of his aggressive blocking, demonstrating the ability and willingness to drive opponents into the turf.
But he is not the only tight end in this class that offers high upside as a blocker, as well as versatility. James may have his fair share of supporters—perhaps more than his fair share—but on the surface, this is a tight end group in which anybody could be upgraded, even their $20 million man, on whose status we are still awaiting some sort of update, which should hopefully come soon.
By the end of last season, the Steelers were using specific packages out of either the 21 or 12 personnel sets in which they took James off the field and replaced him with Johnson as the primary tight end. He was supplemented by either a fullback or a tackle-eligible.
This was not a random or one-off event, but in fact a specific package that was used dozens of times late in the year, because it was a product of the staff’s recognition of the relative skills of the players that they had available to them. They knew that Johnson, who should ostensibly be third on the depth chart, offered them the most in that particular role.
But is that a problem? That is really the question that needs to be answered—not by us, of course, and I’m sure plenty of us already have an opinion on that one way or another, but by the coaching staff and the decision-makers as the draft looms.
It should probably go without saying that they will have already weighed these issues over the course of their draft preparation, but it is difficult to predict exactly how it will unfold, and where, when, how, or even if, they are able to address the position.