The Story On David Paulson Part 2: The Big League

By Christopher DiMarino

David Paulson SteelersThe Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Oregon tight end David Paulson in the seventh round of the 2012 NFL draft and he will certainly have the odds against him making the 53 man roster. Paulson will not be able to roll up to training camp and be given anything but a chance to earn a roster spot. Many don\’t know his name and many will write him off, but if he comes to Latrobe with a willingness to work hard and the drive to succeed, I think he can become a functioning member of the Steelers 53 man roster.

If we quickly take a look at the list of possible tight ends, it\’s a gloomy picture. Luckily Heath Miller is at the top of that list and he will be the work horse again at the position. I\’m going to assume two more tight ends will make the 53 man roster and another could be put on the practice squad. The guys fighting for these spots are Leonard Pope, Weslye Saunders, David Johnson, Will Johnson, Jamie McCoy, Wes Lyons and of course Paulson. That is a lot of names that were on the Steelers roster before they selected Paulson in the seventh round. The question then becomes, how much do the Steelers really value those players if they decided to spend a 7th rounder on another tight end to throw into the mix?

I\’m going to assume that David Johnson will live or die roster wise as a fullback, if one is needed. Pope is a little older, and while he knows Todd Haley and his system well, I don\’t think he is anything more than a temporary replacement for Saunders, who will miss the first four games of the season due to his suspension. Will Johnson might can replace David Johnson as the blocker in running situations and still be an option as a receiver. McCoy and Lyons are too unknown for me to really know if they have anything going for them. If the Steelers felt good about either, then Paulson probably wouldn’t have been drafted.

There are a few nuances that are working in Paulson\’s favor. Firstly, Will Johnson has a lot to prove and is in the same boat as Paulson right now. If Paulson loses a roster spot to Will Johnson then he has no one to blame but himself. There is a possibility that he might ride the practice squad in that case, but how many late option tight ends do the Steelers need? Secondly, Saunders suspension could ultimately get him booted off the roster. I think the drafting of Mike Adams shows that the Steelers are not short on giving second chances, however, he failed to really shine in his first year on the roster and doesn\’t have much more promise than Paulson right now.

These may not be concrete points, but they are questions marks. Question marks are the foundation for doubt that new players can ride to a roster spot. I imagine that Will Johnson will make the 53 man roster. If they don\’t pick him, then they might keep David Johnson as a dual purpose H back. That leaves one spot for Paulson to fight for with Pope and Saunders. Pope will be the Haley ambassador and will help this stable of tight ends learn the new offense quickly. Outside of that, he is an aging, one dimensional tight end. If they keep Pope, they want a second tight end that is a receiving option. If that\’s the case than Saunders is just like Pope and will likely be wanted over him when available.

Paulson has two lifelines that he can pursue to get on the 53 man roster this year. He can either replace Pope or Saunders as the receiving tight end or replace Will Johnson or David Johnson as the blocking alternative. While mastering either trait completely is not a necessity initially, I think he will need to show something in camp to be considered. He had the activity in college to suggest that he can catch passes in the pros. He also has the solid frame and underwhelming height that can support possible success as a blocking tight end. This will be a harder sell for him, but he doesn\’t need to show massive blocking skills, just enough that he\’s capable and warrants more development time.

Showing either of those traits in camp will lead him to the practice squad if not the roster. Unfortunately for him, there are others around him that Mike Tomlin will have to make a judgment call on. If he likes Will Johnson and feels comfortable with the extra year Saunders has, Paulson might get sent packing. With lower end options galore, I thought that they would draft a higher profile tight end. The fact that they didn\’t isn\’t too surprising seeing as it is a need that will only have a low, fixed number of reps per game. The fact that they drafted a tight end in the 7th round does however point to wavering belief in their current options behind Miller. Paulson might not have the guarantees of a high round tight end, but he does have a good opportunity to make the roster and contribute in his rookie year, even if it ends up being on special teams.

  • PoKey21

    I look at it like this. Its a battler for 1 roster spot between Pope and Saunders. Its a battle for the other roster spot between Will and David Johnson. Then its a battle between Paulson, McCoy, and Lyons for the practice squad spot. He could win that battle.

  • Eric87

    so by this logic the steelers will be keeping 3 te’s and no fb? Or will 1 of the Johnsons play both roles. Do the Steelers keep 4 hb’s? This is going to be an interesting camp battle. I like Miller, Saunders, and Lyons at te if Lyons still has decent speed since changing positions. Big red-zone threat. So Paulson could make the opening day roster until Saunders suspension is over, and then go to the practice squad.

  • Eric87

    too many scenarios though, will be alot of position battles in camp this year.

  • I agree with you for the most part. While I think it could be a battle between Pope and Saunders, I think Saunders has a leg up. Many say he didn’t show much last year, but we didn’t see much last year from any of the tight ends, Miller included. Why? They were too busy blocking due to the poor line play. He’s also massive for a tight end at 6’5″ 270.

    I do think Will has a good chance to win the battle of the Johnsons. David has not shown anything spectacular and is currently signed to a relatively low one year deal, which often signifies someone who is hanging on to a roster spot by a thread. If their productivity is similar, I think they go with Will. He will be the cheaper of the two and has more upside. On the other hand, Will could be placed on the practice squad, while David can’t. I’m not sure how much of a factor that would be, however.

    I can’t say I know all that much about the remaining three, short of Lyons being tall enough to serve drinks to the nosebleeds from the sidelines. I heard he put on a few pounds, so I’d like to see what he can do this year.

  • Kingmagyar

    I think the team likes the future upside of Weslye Saunders 6’5″ 270 enough to keep him, but
    Leonard Pope’s salary would be guaranteed for the full year if he makes the team, so cutting him when Saunders is ready wouldn’t really be an option. Paulson at least on tape looks like a pass catching tight end and not really a guy ready to block like an H-back. He will need time. Will Johnson looks like a beast and has a lot of drive right now to make it as the new H-back. We will see. It should be exciting.

    Will Johnson

  • PoKey21

    Yes, you keep 3 TEs and when its goal line or short yardage one of the Johnsons can line up at FB. Lets be realistic FB is not a position that is used all that much in the NFL anymore. And really what does it matter if someone is listed as TE or FB? Just a roster, doesnt mean it cant change on the field given the circumstances. Both Johnsons have the ability to block like a FB when needed and play TE, thats why we keep 1. Poe and Suander are more receiving TEs thats 1 more roster spot. 1 of the remaining 3 fill the practice squad. The steelers could and should keep 4 RBs. If only 3 one of them can fill the practice squad until needed.

  • LouPGH

    I might be wrong about this, but didn’t Heath – despite catching fewer passes – have his best season w/r/t YPC?

    I’m with you on Will > David.

  • LouPGH

    Saunders tweets more than the rest of them, so this isn’t a comparative analysis, but between the suspension and some of the aforementioned tweets, I have to wonder a bit where his head is at. I think he sticks on talent and size, but I’d be pretty surprised if they’re anywhere close to “sold” on him.

  • Jec3179

    I really like the look of Will Johnson I think he has a legit shot to push David Johnson off the roster more ability to catch passes and an overall better athlete. I think we will have Miller, Pope, Saunders, W. Johnson. Paulson to the practice squad.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Until Saunders had his problem going into his senior year he was considered to be a possible 1st round guy. He has emense talent and is needed time to develop…by him getting playing time in the shortened preseason…I think he did well…Paulson doesnt have the upside Saunders does…McCoy was a guy getting looks last year and has a chance on making the squad…Paulson isnt really good at much but has the ability like was said on doing something…I just think he is destined for the PS unless he really stinks it up. At this point I see it as Miller, Saunders, Johnson, McCoy and Pope is only here till Saunders gets back.

  • SteelerDave

    Saunders and Will Johnson have the most potential to be something special. David Johnson had his chance and is most likely to be released. Pope I also expect to be released, or normally would, however because Saunders is out 4 games, I will guess that Paulson makes the roster and is then sent to the practice squad once Saunders is ready.

  • Grw1960

    One thing that throw a small hitch in your article. Is that on the Steelers web site. Will Johnson is the only one listed solely as a FB all the others are listed as TEs.

  • SteelersDepot

    You should watch the tape on Will Johnson then tell me if you think he is just a FB.

  • Asmitty56

    Paulson seems very similar to Miller. Great hands, hard worker, can find the soft spot in the middle of the field and come down with the ball. He isn’t going to scare defenses but seems like a reliable target to move the chains. The problem is Paulson is a bit smaller than Miller, and while he is an effort blocker he simply needs to get stronger to fend off elite bullrushes. The Problem is Saunders is nearly a lock for the team and has all those attributes as well, except he is huge, strong, and has the advantage of blocking. Pope and McCoy has those attributes as well. We have a lot of the same type of TEs, I think that 3rd TE should be able to stand out from the rest as a real receiving threat (Hernandez, Davis, Graham), or has significant value as a HB/FB that can catch the ball as well.

  • Jamie Starr

    “Paulson” is the real deal and shouldn’t have stayed on the board anywhere close to that long. If you did your homework and watched this guy at Oregon, then you know if its a TE you need, and if given a proper chance, this guy will make a splash! Not many college TE’s impress me. But this guy is real.