The 2016 season is unfortunately over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now embarking upon their latest offseason journey, heading back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the postseason is now behind us, there is plenty left to discuss.
And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the offseason as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: What is the absolute talent ceiling for third-year tight end Jesse James?
This question was spurred on by the article that I posted yesterday regarding Willie Colon’s comments about the Steelers, and specifically about tight end Jesse James, whom he said that he said as a top-five player at his position. But it’s also a question with obvious implications about the team this season and in the future.
Exactly how good of a player can the former fifth-round draft pick become for the Steelers, and, as a secondary considering, how good to they need him to be? Because it certainly seems as though they have every intention of moving on with him as their top tight end after they tried and failed to find a starter in free agency last year.
James came out of Penn State as an underclassman in 2015 and he was inactive for the first half of his rookie season, but began to contribute in the second half of the year, with some games logging more snaps than others.
Due to injury, he opened last season as the starter and served in that role for most of the year. While he showed improvement over the course of the season, he still has shown no long-term high-quality traits as a blocker or as a pass-catcher, but he has shown the potential that they could develop in the near future.
Entering his second season playing a significant role, the still-23-year-old will have the opportunity to answer this question during the 2017 season. If he can show more consistency as a blocker and pass-catcher, it could go a long way toward stabilizing the tight end position for years, potentially.
I would imagine that the biggest concern about him right now is his ability to produce with the ball in his hands. He struggled to pick up yards after the catch last season, which is a necessary trait for big-bodied tight ends who frequently are targeted with short and intermediate passes.
The Steelers certainly don’t need James to make it to the Pro Bowl in order to function as an offense, but there’s no doubt they would like to get more out of him, especially in terms of play-to-play consistency, than they’ve seen, and there is reason for optimism in that regard.
But he is not a top-five tight end…come on, Willie.