One of the biggest things that we have learned about ourselves as a sub-section of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ fan base over the course of the past year is that opinions are pretty split about how we view third-year tight end Jesse James.
A former fifth-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, coming out of Penn State as an underclassman, James is found to be in a position that the Steelers likely did not envision when they drafted him; that is, a starter.
That wasn’t the plan. They drafted Ladarius Green to a four-year, $20 million contract last March. He was supposed to be the starter. But we all know by now how that worked out. The Steelers released him earlier this offseason with a failed physical after he missed the last several weeks of the 2016 season due to a concussion.
Not that it means all that much for James, who spent all of last season functioning as the de facto starting tight end because Green was on the sideline not only all through the summer, but also for the first half of the regular season.
The only thing that is different for him now, other than the extensive amount of experience gained, is the distinction of being the starter de jure. “Nothing at all” has changed, he told Chris Adamski for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
“This is the same place I was at last year starting [last] season and the offseason. Nothing is going to change for me. I’m ready to go, all the tight ends are ready to go. We’re all ready to step up and make the plays we’re asked to make”.
As I noted at the end of last season, the Steelers’ tight end group as a collective was actually reasonably productive. Their piecemeal unit compiled a group-wide stat line of 76 receptions for 840 yards and six touchdowns. That is a pretty solid season for even the elite tight ends.
Of course, that is the cumulative work of four different players, and it should be pointed out that Green, no longer with the team, accounted for a significant percentage of that work. While he only he one touchdown, his 18 receptions in six games were over 21 percent of the total, while his 340 receiving yards accounted for over 36 percent of that figure.
When James says that nothing has changed, of course, he is talking about the way that he is approaching the upcoming season. He was already preparing as a starter last year because he was practicing as a starter.
Now, he has experienced a season essentially as the starter, and what he needs to do to be able to do that more effectively. So while nothing may have changed in one sense, in other terms, there is a world of difference that has taken place in the past year.