With the 2018 season completely in the books and 2019 staring us down just around the corner, it’s time to pause and take stock of the current state of the Pittsburgh Steelers by looking at their roster as it stands now, going position by position.
The new league year officially begins on March 13, and coincides with the start of free agency. Between now and then, the Steelers figure to make a couple more decisions about what the roster will look like, including the signing of a couple more of their pending unrestricted free agents. There are a few other loose ends to tie up before then as well.
Position: Tight End
Total Positional Figure: 7
Vance McDonald: It might have taken six seasons into his career, but McDonald, a former second-round pick of the 49ers, is finally living up to his potential, and that started with being healthy—despite missing the first game. He posted career-highs in 2018 with 50 receptions for 610 yards and four touchdowns, but that was on just 75 targets.
Jesse James: James is coming off easily his best and most consistent season, which was important in terms of his blocking, but the biggest thing he showed was his nuanced rapport with Ben Roethlisberger that allowed the pair to take advantage of plays breaking down for big gains. Kevin Colbert expressed confidence in bringing him back as he hits free agency.
Xavier Grimble: A restricted free agent, Grimble almost assuredly isn’t going to be tagged, but he could be brought back at a lower rate. He has a niche run-blocking role and is capable of contributing in the passing game. As your number three tight end, you can do a lot worse.
Bucky Hodges: Brought in during training camp last year, Hodges showed some potential as both a receiver and blocker. He spent the year on the practice squad and perhaps will compete for a roster spot in 2019.
Jake McGee: As will McGee, who was basically the Hodges of 2017. He was probably close to making the roster that year, but instead spent the year on the practice squad. He suffered a season-ending injury in the spring and missed all of last year. An exclusive rights free agent, I assume the team will bring him back when he’s fully healthy.
Christian Scotland-Williamson: The team’s international player which Colbert already said they’ll hold on do, Scotland-Williamson is a big man but doesn’t know the game of football, coming from a rugby background. It will be interesting to see what kind of growth he can show in his second year.
Kevin Rader: A Pittsburgh native, Rader was an undrafted free agent of the Packers in 2018. He failed to record any statistics during the preseason. Signed to a futures contract in January.
Offseason Strategy: Re-sign James and Grimble, look for value in draft
A lot of you might not be in love with this idea, but the group of McDonald, James, Grimble, and perhaps McGee and Hodges is a pretty solid one at tight end. The majority of them can be considered two-way tight ends that can block and also contribute in the passing game, with McDonald being the real receiving threat of the bunch.
In other words, they can continue to get by with what they have. But if they have the opportunity in the draft to add a real talent, like a Mark Andrews in the third round, they should strongly consider doing it to add to the flexibility of the post-Antonio Brown offense.