By Matthew Marczi
Ask any Pittsburgh Steelers fan now and he’ll tell you that the offseason began way too early for their team, which even according to team president Art Rooney II should have been in the playoffs.
If you asked that same fan at the Bye Week for their mock draft, however, they might have already had written up as the Steelers faced a seemingly unthinkable winless September to start the year.
There’s always somebody ready to start talking about the offseason, no matter how early on it is in the process. And in the middle of January, it’s still quite early to start talking about the draft—not that there’s nothing wrong with that. Here’s a pre-free agency, pre-salary cap purging look at the Steelers’ draft needs, position by position.
As I study the 2014 tight end depth chart, and pencil in a free agent or two, I’m actually relatively content with what I see for the year. The problem, however, is that there are no building blocks for the future, and that is where the Steelers could use a new body in the upcoming draft. But for now, this is what they have to work with.
Heath Miller: A workhorse tight end if there ever was one, Heath Miller hardly missed a single snap following his first game back after sitting out the first two weeks of the season. He certainly appeared to be affected some by that surgically repaired knee, and one generally expects age to catch up with everybody, but I think he can do better in that area in 2014. Where his game has taken the greatest hit is his ability to gain any kind of separation that doesn’t involve a body block, and I don’t think he’ll be getting that back.
Matt Spaeth: The Steelers were really missing Matt Spaeth’s blocking ability for much of the season, especially when it came to the point where David Paulson and Michael Palmer were their only alternatives to Miller, other than using an extra lineman. He came back for the final month of the season and helped the running game put up some of its best yards per carry numbers. He even added a touchdown reception on his lone catch of the year, matching Miller’s points total.
David Paulson: Paulson was supposed to step up and help the Steelers ease Miller back into the offense. He fell woefully short of that ‘lofty’ goal as he proved to be a rather ‘below the line’ blocker whose only hints of success came on the move in some form or fashion. His receiving ability—the go-to asset that was keeping him on the roster—even failed him at times, although he did come up with a big 30-yarder on a fake punt from Mat McBriar.
Draft Strategy: I fully expect the Steelers to re-sign David Johnson, who after recovering from his own ACL injury strung together a couple of nice games in the run blocking department, and even showed up a bit in the passing game—albeit largely due to the defense not respecting his receiving ability—before suffering a season-ending wrist injury against the New York Jets.
The lineup of Miller, Spaeth, and Johnson is a pretty decent stable of tight ends for the 2014 season, provided that they can all stay healthy. All of them have very significant recent injury histories, however, so that’s no guarantee.
In addition, while Johnson caught a few balls, it’s by no means his forte, and while Spaeth is capable of bringing in a pass every now and then, he’s not a player you design two-tight receiving packages around.
Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Steelers end up bringing in a mid-round talent that has the potential to be a three-down contributor in both the running game and the passing game when draft time rolls around. Perhaps a second-day pick could even be in play, though I would be awfully surprised if there’s any movement in the first round on a tight end just yet.
Previous Articles In This Series
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Quarterback
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Running Back
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Wide Receiver