The Pittsburgh Steelers have not had much luck at the tight end position since Heath Miller retired. The two starting tight ends that they acquired in 2016 and 2017, respectively, either were or continue to be plagued with injuries that prevented them from being regular contributors to the offense.
The more recent of the two, Vance McDonald, remains with the team but is sidelined with a foot injury. Meanwhile, Xavier Grimble is recovering from surgery on his finger. Last year’s practice squad darling, Jake McGee, was lost to injury in OTAs, and his roster replacement, Ryan Malleck, followed suit in training camp.
He was eventually replaced by Bucky Hodges, a 2017 sixth-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings, but he never spent time on the 53-man roster after being waived/injured in September. He had brief stints on the practice squad or in the offseason with the Carolina Panthers and the New York Jets before landing in Pittsburgh at the beginning of August.
And the athletic receiving tight end made the most of his opportunities in the Steelers’ preseason finale on Thursday night against the Panthers, albeit in fairly limited snaps. He came up with a couple of big receptions for 43 yards, including one that involved a nice adjustment, and also showed progress as a blocker, with one play down the field being of note.
Especially after Pharoah McKever dropped a touchdown pass in the game, Hodges looks to have pretty clearly separated himself from the rest of the back end of the tight end group, and should be the favorite to land a spot on the practice squad, potentially even making the 53-man roster initially due to injuries at the position.
He also landed a spot on Pro Football Focus’ Team of the Week for the final week of preseason games, being awarded that distinction as the flex player on offense. Jace Amaro of the Kansas City Chiefs made the team of the week as the tight end.
The Steelers had at least two players on the site’s team of the week in each of the past two weeks, but Hodges is the lone representative this time around, despite the fact that they had some worthy candidates such as Joshua Dobbs at quarterback and Matthew Thomas or Olasunkanmi Adeniyi on the defensive side of the ball.
The Steelers have developed the tight end position from the practice squad before. That is where they got Grimble in the first place. He was originally undrafted and kicked around on practice squads for a couple of years before signing to Pittsburgh’s in 2015. He made the team a year later and has remained there since.