With the 2017 NFL Draft now over and the bulk of the heavy lifting done with regard to the roster building process now out of the way, it is easier to begin to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand at certain positions, and what the implications might be of a variety of moves for certain players.
And take stock is what we shall do, as every move has ramifications up and down the roster, so now we will take a look at some specific players and see how the team’s moves during the course of the offseason thus far, and more specifically since the draft, have sent their stock rising, falling, or breaking even.
Player: TE Jesse James
Stock Value: Up
This is, of course, the predictable result stemming from the Steelers’ decision earlier this week to release tight end Ladarius Green with a failed physical designation, but it goes without saying that the stock value of third-year tight end Jesse James has just gone up fairly significantly.
While the team does seem to have three players at the position that they like—joining James is David Johnson and Xavier Grimble—the Penn State product is really right now the only one that is approximating the completeness of skill set and consistency of performance that would warrant the designation of starter.
That does not by any means indicate that he is going to excel functioning as the Steelers’ top tight end. One of the major problems that he has exhibited through his first two seasons is the fact that he really struggles to pick up additional yards after a reception. He needs to be able to work through contact to pick up those extra yards. His yards per reception last season was lower than the worst year Heath Miller ever had, and his numbers dipped a lot in his later years.
But he does have a lot to work with, and he should have plenty of opportunity to improve. In a way, this is really his second year, paired with the expected jump in performance. James was an underclassman when he came out of the draft and the Steelers were largely looking at his rookie season as a redshirt year, though he did work into some playing time in the second half of the season.
He is not particularly fast, but he has reasonably solid—not excellent—hands, and he has made strides as a blocker both in pass protection and against the run. It will be important for him to continue to develop in these areas in order for the offense to succeed.
Otherwise he will find himself losing out on playing time to Johnson and Grimble, which at different points of last season occurred relatively often. Johnson drew a lot of blocking assignments, while Grimble was used in hurry-up situations. But a lot more can be written about that aspect of the conversation on another day.