The Pittsburgh Steelers have a lot of thinking to do when it comes to figuring out in which direction they want to go with their tight ends. Even as recently as mid-August, they expressed such concern with the quality of the group that they felt it necessary to make a trade to acquire a talent in Vance McDonald, who has the high-end ceiling of being an above-average starter—if he could stay healthy.
And they also have to figure out if third-year player Xavier Grimble, who has been on the 53-man roster for the past two seasons, is going to be a part of that equation. Last season, he seemed to only narrowly edge out long-time veteran David Johnson for the third and final spot on the roster for the tight end position.
As a former undrafted free agent, Grimble kicked around on practice squads for a few years, including the Steelers’ in 2015, before making it onto the roster, at the time due to in injury to Ladarius Green, as the tight end position was in transition from Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth.
That year, in 2016, he didn’t play a lot, but he still managed to catch 11 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns. His playing time decreased significantly from one year to the next, even though he was healthier and played in more games, catching just five passes for 32 yards, adding a third touchdown.
When he was used last year, though, it was pretty frequently as the blocking option to either McDonald or Jesse James, rarely seeing time as the lone tight end on the field. Still, there is some regard for his potential to make plays.
Even though he knows that he has to earn his spot every year, even every game—late during this past season, he was stuck on to various different roles on special teams that he had not previously played, in order to help him continue to see a helmet—he is looking forward to the future and remaining ambitious.
“I think I’m at a good place”, he told Chris Adamski. “I think for me just more playing experience really and then more playmaking opportunities, so I can really develop my playmaking ability. The more I am able to get into games in real time and get put in those situations, I will develop into an even better playmaker than I am now”.
Those are pretty lofty goals for somebody who averages one reception roughly every two games, but of course, that is the best way to actually earn more playing time. He came into last offseason very determined to make the best of it after getting a taste of a full NFL season the year before, training harder. And he still has his goals to improve.
“I want to be faster. I want to be bigger, a little bit stronger, so I will never stop trying to get that”, he said. “But technically, you can never have too much technique. I feel like I can work more on my blocking technique”. He wants to work on “getting open more and running routes and catching balls”.
If he can do that, then maybe they don’t need to draft another tight end. But he won’t have the time to prove it between now and the draft. He may well have another dogfight on his hands for a job come September.