Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Tight End

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

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Tanner Blackman

    C.J. Fiedorwicz TE Iowa would be a great 3-4 round pick.

  • Brian Tollini

    I would be fine with drafting a tight end as early as round 3, as long as we draft a CB and WR first and preferably in that order.

  • DrakePirate

    You dont think TE is more of a need than WR ?

  • cp72

    Watching the senior bowl he made a few tackles on special teams. That’s always a bonus.

  • falconsaftey43

    I think WR is definitely more of a need than TE at the moment. Unless the TE drafted is an absolute stud, he’s probably the 3rd TE at best and seeing very little time. WR could very easily be the starter opposite AB. Of course that’d depend on Manny or Cotchery coming back and Wheaton showing ability to contribute.

  • Brian Tollini

    Funny, I was all for drafting Eifert last year over Jarvis in round 1. This year, I am still a bit unfamiliar with the talent at this position in the draft class. With the depth at WR in this class and the Steelers ability to find talent play WR in later rounds, you can definitely make the argument TE before WR….but not CB. : )

  • DoctorNoah

    I think we grab Ebron in the 1st.

    Heath has a little too much tread on his tires and may never gain that lost step back, DJ is a fair backup but not a beast, and we need red zone targets, whether they be TE or tall WR. As little as Derek Moye and Justin Brown showed during season and pre-season (respectively) they are tall and potential #3-4 receivers and I think Wheaton breaks out next year. I don’t think we’re spending the pick on another tackle, and there’s a lot of corner and LB depth. I think an heir apparent to Heath is truly our biggest need right now.

  • Brian Miller

    Me too…I agree, we must get a solid corner early, and they may need to take another one later if possible. I would love Amaro in the 2nd or 3rd although I doubt he falls that far. Of course, the Colorado St. TE did great yesterday too, so I wonder where he is projected now? What is even more impressive is that he was a late addition midway through the week due to an injury. Which CB do you guys really want? It sounds like there is a lot of hype about Jean-Baptiste from Nebraska, but they say he specializes in press man, and that isn’t what our corners do…

  • Brian Tollini

    My favorite CB by far is Darqueze Dennard fro. Michigan State. He does not have elite speed but he just seems to be such a complete player at the position.

  • Brian Miller

    Well that Michigan St. defense was awesome this year. I know there are a few mocks with us taking him at 15, would you be happy with that pick? Where do you see McGill and Jean-Baptiste going?

  • Brian Miller

    Matthew…in your opinion, who is a TE that you think the Steelers might take in the 2 – 5 rounds? Do you think it will be more of a dual threat, more of a pass catcher, or some type of clone of Miller? I would love Amaro from Tech but I doubt we take him as high as he will go, but what about the TE from Colorado St.?

  • dgh57

    About this time last year I was saying because of the injury to Heath Miller and him being on the wrong side of 30 they were sure to draft a TE. Turns out they didn’t even bother to draft one and there were some good TEs coming out last year. Will things change with Heath back to being healthy? The fact that he’s even more on the wrong side of 30 suggest there is at least the possibility of a TE being drafted. So the question is is it a the top or even a priority at all? My guess is that it’s not a least a top priority as we have problems on defense with us getting older in the secondary with Taylor, Gay, and most likely the loss of Clark so replacements need to be found starting early in this years draft.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I would be lying if I said I was much of a college ball aficionado, so I can’t throw any names out there. They did bring Spaeth back in order to be the blocking tight end, so I think that at least opens up the possibility that they could take a tight end whose strength leans more toward receiving than blocking, particularly in the later rounds. Hopefully, though, somebody more capable than Paulson. That’s just some off the top of my head speculation though, so take it for what it’s worth.

  • Kevin Gobleck

    Maybe Austin S Jenkins could be their in the 2nd

  • falconsaftey43

    Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma is my favorite. 6’0″ and extremely fast/athletic. He is a playmaking corner that gets his hands on a lot of balls and scores with them. He is also a dangerous kick returner. Dennard is also pretty good, but doesn’t have the physical tools Gilbert does. Think both are top-20 players.

  • Nick Williams

    He is a sleeper for sure can block and catch

  • Matt Manzo

    McGill started the off season a projected 4/6 round pick, and J Baptiste was a 3/4. They are both being talked about as 2nd round picks now. They should both be there for us in 2. Maybe J Baptiste goes early 2nd?
    I think there’s so much talent at CB in the 2nd round that if we don’t get Gilbert in the 1st we can go TE or WR in 1 and load up on D the rest of the way, with grabbing a speedy RB in the late rounds.

  • LayDownTheHammer

    His technique and fundamentals leave a lot to be desired. Not NFL ready until he shored these up in a couple seasons.

  • LayDownTheHammer

    I haven’t seen tape on the CSU TE, but he is already better with his Sr Bowl performance than most TEs except Amaro, Ebron, and ASJ.

    For the Steelers’ sake, I hope we do not get rid of David Johnson as I think he is the 3rd best blocking TE we have. In a #3 TE you don’t care whether about catching skills (which is not a concern for DJ), you care about blocking so much more.

  • DrakePirate

    CJ would be a good Heath replacement , but we would still need a big athletic TE to stretch the field and make mismatch problems

  • DrakePirate

    Ya i was actually meaning one of the 3 Top Big athletic TEs that are projected 1st round so of course he wouldnt be a 3rd TE … That is like a WR … And solves one of our issues, but in a perfect world we would get both WR/TE

  • DrakePirate

    I was definitely for Eifert too … And i agree CB is more of a need than both WR/ TE … As we need not just one but 2 before ike leaves …. I just dont see the talent there at CB in the 1st round this year, thats the biggest problem i see

  • DrakePirate

    Jean Baptiste intrigues me … But i dont think there is much hype on him … Hes a 3rd/4th round guy at best … Interesting to see what he does at combine … We do press just not alot … I think we could use that style and press more .. Love what Seattle does, but that does take talent, but even more than talent takes good DB coaching … I was impressed with what that no name Corner did For seattle against SF … I think its good coaching and technique

  • Thomas Rancy

    Man screw johnson lets just draft a good one in the 2nd or 3rd like that guy in the senior bowl with the rams helmet.

  • DrakePirate

    Dont think baptiste goes before 3rd round

  • DrakePirate

    Completely agree

  • Douglas Andrews

    If we can get Ebron i’d be doing backflips. His tape blows you away with his ability to get open and he has great hands. Reminds me of Vernon Davis.

  • Brian Tollini

    I think both Gilbert and Dennard are 1st round talent. Maybe they aren’t shutdown CB’s like Revis but I think they are both instant starters in the league for whoever picks them.

  • Matt Manzo

    That’s just what I’m hearing. I hope he’s there for our 3rd, I wouldn’t be mad if we grabbed 2 CBs in 1st 3 rounds. Being a comp pick at the end if the 3rd is worrying me. We’re gonna see a lot of talent pass us by between or 2nd round pick and 3rd.
    I’m starting to hope we trade down in 1 and pick an extra 2nd and/or 3rd!

  • Tanner Blackman

    We aren’t known for having a TE to stretch the field. Here’s my mock. Trade down and grab an extra 4th rounder. Then…
    1)Kelvin Benjamin WR
    2)Calvin Pryor FS
    3)Pierre Desir CB
    4)Stanley Jean-Baptiste/Keith McGill CB
    4)C.J. Fiedorwicz TE
    5)Daniel McCullers DT
    6)Matt Hall OT (HUGE!!)
    7)Logan Thomas QB (great TE out of high school)

  • Brian Tollini

    Agreed. I see Jean-Baptiste as a mid 3rd- early 4th round pick at this point.

  • Matt Manzo

    That would be the best draft ever!

  • 243546

    The teams need for a TE goes beyond finding Heaths replacement. They also need a Heath compliment. I think it’s safe to assume that the no-huddle is going to be a big part of the offensive strategy next season. Having two TE’s who can run block, and become a legit threat in the passing attack is a great way to maximize the effectiveness of the no-huddle, because almost the entire playbook becomes available from one personnel group, and it gives the QB the best chance to make a play call that creates mismatches against the defense on the field.

  • tricitysteel

    Safarian-Jenkins seems soft and lazy, but thats just me.

  • Sonny Saks

    I know this will be a unpopular post but if you draft a stud te with 1.15 can you release miller to save cap money and use on defense via free agency?

  • Brian Miller

    Why in the world would you want to draft Logan Thomas? He is terrible…

  • DrakePirate

    i just dont see them as nearly as good as guys in the past years thats all !

  • DrakePirate

    I think u are right about the big drop off from our round 2 pick to comp 3rd … I’m all for hoping they trade back in 1st and pick up an extra 2nd or 3rd !