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: Xavier Grimble will play over 400 snaps on offense in 2019.
Explanation: The fourth-year tight end has never played as many as 200 snaps during the regular season in one year before, but typically plays over 150 snaps as the number three tight end. With Jesse James gone, there are a lot of snaps to fill. That could come from another tight end, or more wide receivers.
Based on the current roster construction, that seems abundantly likely. He is the number two tight end right now behind Vance McDonald, and James played over 550 snaps in 2018. He logged nearly 500 snaps even if you factor out the season opener, in which he started while McDonald was still recovering from an injury.
Taking that came out as an outlier, James typically saw about 35 or so snaps per game, which is usually pretty close to half the snaps. Those snaps this year are going to have to come from somewhere, and presumably a lot of them are going to come from the tight end position. Grimble already played fairly close to 200 snaps on offense last year, so doing a little more than doubling it isn’t exactly a huge gamble.
At the same time, we can’t assume that with James gone, another tight end is simply going to slide into that role. This is a big caveat, but if McDonald remains healthy, he is going to see an even bigger share of the tight end snaps than he did last year, now that he has proven himself in the offense, with less rotating with James. James logged a lot of those snaps not because of two-tight end sets, but because of rotations.
It’s fair to guess that a lot of those snaps are also going to go toward the team’s expanded usage of four-receiver sets, which were a fairly prominent presence already last year and even expanded into five-receiver sets late in the year. Even without Antonio Brown, they have plenty of wide receivers they would like to get on the field.