We continue on with our post draft look at the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers by looking at the depth chart of the tight end and fullback positions. This is the fifth positional breakdown of the roster we have done after already looking at the offensive line, defensive line, running backs and wide receivers thus far.
Heath Miller – Miller quietly put up his second best season as a pro in 2011 by catching 51 passes for 631 yards to go along with 2 touchdowns. He also continued to be one of the best blocking tight ends in the league as he played nearly 1050 offensive snaps last season. New offensive coordinator Todd Haley knows the importance of Miller in the offense and mentioned him by name during his introductory press conference. With the talent that the Steelers currently have at the wide receiver position, it should provide plenty of room for Miller in the seam of the field as well as some good mismatch opportunities against slower linebackers in addition in the passing game. The Steelers must try to find a few ways to spell Miller more than they have in the past in the coming seasons as to not wear him down so much, but that is easier said than done. Miller is perhaps the most underrated complete tight end in the NFL right now and another 50 catch season could very well be in his future in 2012.
Leonard Pope – Pope was signed as an unrestricted free agent just before the draft and has played for Haley when both were with the Arizona Cardinals and the Kansas City Chiefs. The contribution that Pope will make immediately to the team will be during the offseason as he his likely well versed in the offense that Haley will be implementing now with the Steelers and he can help teach it to other members of the offense. Despite his 6 foot, 8 inch size, Pope is not regarded as good run blocker, in fact he is pretty less than average in that category. He also is not a huge threat in the passing game either and he recorded just 24 receptions with the Chiefs last season, a career best for him. With Weslye Saunders slated to start the season on the suspended list for the first four games of the 2012 season, Pope could be regarded as insurance until he returns. Keep in mind that the base salary of Pope should be guaranteed if on the roster week 1 and this will make him hard to release after that point. The Steelers likely hope the younger talent on the roster can make him expendable after the preseason, but Pope will be hard to bump thanks to his presumed knowledge of the offense.
Weslye Saunders – Saunders was used predominantly as a blocker in three tight end sets his rookie season and he must miss the first four games of 2012 after testing positive for a banned substance as I stated above. Saunders was just thrown to 7 times in total last season and he caught just 4 passes. He only saw less than 250 snaps on offense and thus his potential value is still untapped heading into his second season. Some speculate that the positive test has him in hot water with the Steelers organization, but I do not see them cutting bait with him over his stupid mistake to take Aderall. The Steelers are very thin at the tight end spot and I guess they will at least carry Saunders on the suspended list for the first four games and decide their need for him at that point. A full offseason of OTA sessions and mini-camps should help his development as he missed that last year thanks to the lockout.
David Johnson – Johnson is listed as a tight end on the roster, but is one of two players attending the fullback meetings according to running back Jonathan Dwyer. Although he has played on the line as a tight end quite a bit since being drafted, he is better served as a lead blocker than he is as an inline tight end. He offers very little in the passing game and has shown to be pretty one dimensional since being drafted. His special teams contributions are also hard to find, so despite him signing a one-year tender this offseason, he is in no way considered a roster lock. His stiffest competition could likely come from free agent Will Johnson or Jamie McCoy, who ended the season on the Steelers practice squad.
David Paulson – Paulson was drafted in the seventh round out of Oregon and is a move type of tight end with good hands. Paulson is nowhere close to being considered an inline tight end as he is not accomplished in the blocking department. Paulson must prove that he can separate from linebackers at the next level and he must show he has some potential as a blocker in camp to claim a roster spot. He must also prove he is worthy of that spot by contributing on special teams first and foremost as a number three tight end on the Steelers is required to contribute in that capacity. Paulson is surrounded by equal talent on the roster and that will make it tough for him to win a roster spot. His worse case scenario could very well be that he earns a practice squad spot initially and work towards 2013 instead.
Will Johnson – The WVU product could be the dark horse to watch in camp. Like David Johnson, Will is attending the fullback meetings thus far this offseason according to Dwyer. While we only have his college tape to go on, the converted wide receiver certainly looks smooth out of the backfield as a receiver. The biggest question will be his ability to lead block if used as a fullback and how he handles the occasional use as an inline blocker. All we can do is speculate heading into the preseason, but this Johnson could very well steal the roster spot of the other Johnson. Watch him closely during preseason games as to how early he gets into the games and how he is used is well.
Jamie McCoy – McCoy showed a few bright spots last preseason as a lead blocker and impressed enough that the Steelers had him around as a member of the practice squad last season. McCoy will have plenty of competition again this year and he figures to be used as a tight end/h-back player much like Paulson this year in the preseason. McCoy will truly have his work cut out for him to win a roster spot.
Wes Lyons – Lyons certainly seems to have quite the fan club for a player that could not even do enough to make the practice squad as a tall wide receiver last season. Lyons has now bulked up and made the move to tight end, but that likely will not change the end result for him. Lyons is big for sure, but he was never known as a run blocker at WVU and he only had 42 receptions as a wide receiver there in addition. With a log jam ahead of him at the tight end position, Lyons must stick out above the competition like he does when standing in the huddle. It would be a pretty big surprise if he does enough to make the practice squad and it would be a minor miracle if he made the 53 man roster.
Post Draft Prediction 53 Man Roster Tight Ends & Fullbacks
Weslye Saunders – Suspended