With the Pittsburgh Steelers having completed the first portion of their season, now would be as good a time as any to take a look back on what’s transpired this year and give out some midseason player evaluations.
The team has had a rocky but ultimately successful season to date, coming out of the first six games with a winning record despite being 1-2-1 just two weeks ago. Coming off of consecutive strong victories with improve play from both sides of the ball, things are looking up.
The offense has done its part for the most part, but has taken some long vacations. Their disappearing acts in the second half was perplexing, but that has improved. Defensively, the secondary is seemingly becoming a bit more stable after being nothing short of terrible previously, but there are absolutely some real concerns remaining.
Player: Jesse James, TE
Jesse James is certainly an interesting personality on the team—such that he has a personality, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s less about himself, of course, than in the responses that he elicits. There are some who are convinced that he is capable of being Heath Miller, and others who believe he can only hope to aspire to a poor man’s Matt Spaeth, or a rich man’s David Paulson.
I will admit that I have for long been in the camp that believes he is not suited to be a team’s number one tight end. I still believe that he is best paired with another talented tight end, but James has also proven himself this season in ways he has never had before.
It should not be a huge shock, of course, that a young player who came out of college as an underclassman could still be developing and trending upward in his fourth season, and that is something that I addressed before the regular season began. But it’s one thing to allow for it and another to actually see it happen.
Outside of an ugly drop in the season opener that resulted in an interception, he has been a very reliable target this year, making some tough catches and, more impressively, getting himself into the spots that Ben Roethlisberger wants him to be in when plays break down. He has been able to translate that into several explosive plays this year, something that he and his 8.7 yards per catch prior to this season did not see much until now.
While he has lost a lot of playing time to Vance McDonald, he has been far from forgotten, still seeing about half of the team’s snaps or so. The Steelers have also been running more two tight end sets in recent weeks.
James has upped his game all around this year, including as a blocker, at least to date. He will be an unrestricted free agent in 2019, and it will be interesting to see if he draws any kind of market from other teams that the Steelers will have to compete with.