I don’t think there was anybody happier about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ decision during the 2018 NFL Draft to shy away from the tight end position than third-year tight end Xavier Grimble, who figures once again to be the favorite to hold onto the third and likely final spot on the depth chart.
That became a virtual certainty following first-year tight end Jake McGee’s injury during OTAs last week. Had he not suffered a torn Achilles, he was expected to make a legitimate run at a roster spot. The former undrafted free agent was originally signed by the Steelers during training camp last year and impressed with his blocking in the preseason, ultimately spending the year on the practice squad.
That is a familiar path for Grimble, who sustained himself on practice squad salaries for his first couple of seasons before making the jump to the Steelers’ 53-man roster in 2016, where he has remained since. Not that he wasn’t challenged. He just edged out David Johnson for the third spot at tight end after the team traded for Vance McDonald.
But he is used to the adversity, and looking back on from how far he has come, it fuels him with confidence. “It’s crazy when I think about it like that, the way I did it and having to be undrafted, be the journeyman and play the practice squad and actually work my way up”, he told Chris Adamski.
“I think that kind of gives me confidence to see where I came from, where I started, nothing handed to me. I worked for everything I’ve got”, he went on. “I just want to continue to do that, continue to prove people wrong and show them that they made a mistake at draft time”.
While he has been the Steelers’ third tight end for the past two seasons, he has not received a significant amount of playing time, logging perhaps a few hundred snaps in both years combined. He does contribute both as a receiver and as a blocker.
In fact, during the 2016 season, he was beginning to be used more and more while Ladarius Green was still on the Physically Unable to Perform List toward the middle of the season. But an injury of his own set him back, and by the time he recovered, Green was active.
Late in the season, the team did create a package for him in which he was used as the blocking tight end over Jesse James, paired either with a fullback or an extra lineman, almost always in running circumstances. He also saw that role some in 2017 when McDonald was injured.
It’s hard to imagine him seeing a significant increase in playing time in 2018 with McDonald and James still in front of him, but you never know. The wide receivers are less deep, or at least less proven, than a year ago with Martavis Bryant and Eli Rogers gone. That could open up some more snaps for multiple-tight end sets.