The calendar has now flipped over to July and that means the Pittsburgh Steelers annual training camp will be getting underway in Latrobe later this month. As usual, we have several series planned to get you ready for this year’s training camp and mine will center around preview profiles of 50 players over the course of the next 25 days. Most of these profiles will be on players who were under contract with the team in 2016.
Up third in this series is a 2017 preview profile of tight end Jesse James.
Intro: James enters his third season in the league as the Steelers No. 1 tight end following the release of Ladarius Green several weeks ago with the failed physical designation. With Green sidelined for all but six regular season games last season, James registered 39 catches for 338 yards and three touchdowns on 60 targets. The Penn State product also improved some as a blocker during his second season in the league. The 6-7 tight end turned 23 in June.
Current Strengths: James has yet to develop into a well-rounded NFL tight end and while he’ll likely never fully fit that mold, he did make improvements last season as a blocker in both the running and passing game. These improvements were very noticeable based on what he displayed during his rookie season and he’ll hopefully improve that area of his game even more in 2017. James has shown to be reliable red zone target during his first two seasons as he’s caught 8 of 13 passes thrown his way in that area of the field for 50 yards and four touchdowns.
Current Weaknesses: While James’ blocking did improve last season, there’s still room for improvement and especially when it comes to his leverage and angles as a run blocker either on the move or stationery on the end of the line. He’s not quite Matt Spaeth yet, but has the ability to achieve that distinction in 2017. While James has been reliable in the red zone so far during his career, the same can’t be said about him on third downs. He’s only caught four of 12 third down targets thus far during his career with a few drops. Of his four third down receptions during regular season play, only two resulted in first downs.
2017 Outlook: James isn’t flashy and certainly won’t be confused for Rob Gronkowski or any other better than average flex tight ends currently playing in the league. James is more of a traditional tight end and functions best on the end of the line. He understands the offense fully and should improve even more as a blocker. As for James’ receiving ability, 40 catches in 2017 with four or five red zone scores will be a great target for him to achieve. The Steelers offense is flush with receiving weapons right now so don’t expect much more than that out of him. It would be nice to see if his third down contributions and reliability can improve in 2017 just the same.
2017 Base Salary: $615,000
2017 Health Status: No known ailments exiting offseason program
2016 Health Status: Zero games missed last season
2016 Regular Season Snaps Played: 855 of 1,083
2016 Stat That Matters: 22 of his 39 receptions last season came on first downs.
|Ben Roethlisberger||Cameron Heyward|