I have over the course of the past several seasons turned to a series of articles around this time of year in which I looked to explore the issues and questions facing the Pittsburgh Steelers during the upcoming season and trying to identify the range of possibilities in which any given scenario can end.
I started out with a dual series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take and switched last season to the Devil’s Advocate series. In an attempt to find a more streamlined solution with a title more suited to the actual endeavor, we are introducing a simple Buy Or Sell segment exploring whether the position statement is likely to be worth investing in as an idea.
The range of topics will be wide, from the specific to the general, exploring broad long-term possibilities to the immediate future of particular players. I will make an argument for why a concept should be bought into as well as one that can be sold, and you can share your thoughts on which is the more compelling case while offering your own.
Topic Statement: Jesse James will play less than half of the Steelers’ snaps in 2018.
Clarification: James has played nearly 2000 snaps, about 80 percent of the team’s total, over the past two seasons. That has largely been because nobody else was there to take them.
The answer is obviously buy on this one. Jesse James was effectively the Steelers’ top tight end in 2016 and 2017. He will be the team’s number two tight end in 2018, and number two tight ends, even in Pittsburgh, do not play 500 snaps. At least not anymore. The last time Matt Spaeth even nearly half the team’s snaps was in 2008, and that was because Heath Miller missed a couple of games.
Put simply, James isn’t going to see half the team’s snaps because there will be too many wide receivers on the field, and Vance McDonald is going to be the tight end that accompanies them. He’s a much bigger threat in the passing game and a better blocker, and his injury luck is bound to change, especially after adjusting to being in a new city on a new team with new teammates.
The Steelers could even use Xavier Grimble more. They have used him over James previously in specific run-blocking situations.
James wasn’t supposed to play half the snaps in 2016. He wasn’t supposed to play half the snaps in 2017. Instead he played the vast majority of them. Why? Because he works hard and takes care of himself, and when he does get injured, he’s the grin and bear it type. McDonald has too much of a history of wearing sweatpants to bet on it not continuing.
And even assuming McDonald becomes the primary tight end, that doesn’t mean he’s going to be the Heath Miller every-down guy. He may play 65-70 percent of the snaps, with James playing the rest, plus whatever snaps they play with multiple tight ends.