The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Bucky Hodges will make the 53-man roster in 2019.
Explanation: With number two tight end Jesse James signing elsewhere in free agency, there is an opening at the position, with Vance McDonald and Xavier Grimble as the 2018 carryovers. Grimble was previously in Hodges’ situation, having made the jump from practice squad to active roster.
There will be three types of people who fall into the ‘buy’ section: 1) people who don’t think the team will address tight end in the draft significantly; 2) people who think Hodges is better than Grimble; and 3) people who think the team will carry four tight ends, which is not uncommon.
All three are plausible arguments to make. The Steelers have been flirting with tight end for a while now but haven’t drafted one higher than the fifth round since 2007. There’s no guarantee that they draft one in the first two days, and you can’t lock a fourth-round pick or later into a definite roster spot.
As for Hodges, he does have some legitimate pedigree, and Grimble not exactly an elite player, even if the team likes him, and his contract is not guaranteed for anything until the season starts. Add in the fact that McDonald has an injury history and the position is in a bit of transition, and you have the argument that they carry four tight ends, which they did most recently with James, Grimble, Ladarius Green, and David Johnson.
The last time the Steelers had to reshuffle the position, they did so significantly, though they didn’t use the draft. With Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth gone, they signed Green and brought Johnson back and carried all four.
They didn’t bring anybody in yet, but losing one of their top two players at the position, who played a lot of snaps, with a starter who has an injury history, it’s hard to believe that they are not going to address tight end in the draft with one of their 10 picks.
Grimble also has three years of experience on the roster and four in the system. If they only keep three and he’s not one of them, they will only have one player with any kind of meaningful experience, and that’s rarely the approach the Steelers take, so it’s hard to give Hodges an edge over Grimble, who actually has a package the team uses in which he is the lone tight end on the field (or paired with a tackle-eligible).
He’s also a better blocker than Hodges and plays on special teams. Hodges got work on special teams in the preseason, but it’s one thing to be given that role then and in the regular season. Look at Olasunkanmi Adeniyi and Marcus Allen.