While we await more detailed word on the status of Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Wesyle Saunders following the report that he has been suspended for the first four games of the 2012 season, it definitely throws the thought into ones head that the tight end position could now end up being a possible need in the upcoming 2012 draft in April.
Four games is of course a quarter of the regular season and that leaves only veteran Heath Miller as the lone reputable tight end under contract right now as David Johnson is slated to be a restricted free agent. While Johnson will more than likely be retained with a low tender, he is regarded as more of a h-back than a true tight end and not a serious weapon in the passing game.
Saunders, who was signed as an undrafted free agent following the lockout last season, had just 4 catches for 29 yards in his rookie season with a touchdown and played in just under 250 snaps on offense while also helping out on special teams. Most of his time on offense was serving as the number three tight end until later in the season when he saw more time in two tight end sets. He was suspended his senior year at South Carolina for violation of team rules due to a NCAA investigation into his contact with a sports agent and it ultimately caused him not to be drafted.
While Miller is the clear number one and an all around great tight end, he will be entering his 8th season and will turn 30 years of age in October. He is not over the hill by any stretch and he has been very durable up until this point, but the Steelers will need quality depth should Saunders indeed be down.
While we do not know fully the direction that new offensive coordinator Todd Haley will take with the offense, you know he will need at least two full fledged tight ends on the roster even if he does not use them heavily in the passing game. It will also be interesting to see how the Steelers handle the news of Saunders if indeed it is a drug offense which it is being speculated now as being. It could of course be something else, we will just have to wait and see.
What certainly looked like a position that was not necessarily needed in the draft, now becomes a position of concern. Hopefully this all shakes out in the favor of Saunders, who looked like he could have a much bigger role in his second season.