The Optimist’s Take – The Tight End Position In 2014

By Matthew Marczi

For a team facing so much adversity in the past season and heading into the next with a litany of questions to address, it’s natural to consider the issues and how they can either go right or wrong, as well as how they will affect  the broader dynamics and future success of the team, both heading into this season and into the future.

Though not statistically true, it is technically true that every team enters the offseason with the potential to finish the year as the league champion or as the first team on the clock in the next draft.

Some teams have a wider realistic range than others, and I think the Pittsburgh Steelers are one of those teams. Think of them as Schrödinger’s franchise; in February, they are both future champions and future owners of the top draft pick.

In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the optimistic side of the coin.

Question: Do the Steelers have enough at tight end to get by through the 2014 season?

With three tight ends currently on the roster, and one of those being David Paulson, the position could be said to be a bit thin. On the other hand, David Johnson should be an easy player to re-sign, given his recent injury history and the fact that he’s simply not a very desirable talent.

There is also the possibility of re-signing Michael Palmer, who was a late offseason addition after the position was hampered by injuries and played well enough to stick around for the entire season as the Steelers carried four tight ends. That is an oddity, though of course Palmer was mainly used on special teams.

The top two tight ends, of course, are Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth. And quite frankly, the Steelers didn’t get the best out of either last season, which only plays in favor of the idea that the team is fine at the position in terms of what they need on the field to get by in 2014.

Miller, obviously, tore his ACL at the end of the 2012 season and wasn’t ready to go to start last year, missing the first two games. Surprisingly, his first couple of games back were some of his best in terms of blocking, particularly run blocking, as he struggled often in these areas as the season progressed.

While he put up some of the better receiving numbers of his career in terms of receptions and yardage, he managed just one touchdown and his yards per catch dropped as well. He struggles more than ever to gain separation, but it wasn’t completely detrimental to his game, and it could improve somewhat this year, being further removed from the knee injury.

Spaeth, too, dealt with significant injury, as he suffered a Lisfranc tear in his foot late into the offseason and ended up missing the first three quarters of the season. When Johnson also went down, it really put the team in a bind at tight end until the final stretch of games.

Though he too had some growing pains coming back, there were many times where he displayed his blocking prowess that made the Steelers bring him back on a three-year deal. He is an excellent secondary blocking tight end, though nobody will ever mistake him for a quality starting tight end. He does force defenses to account for him as a receiver, as his nice touchdown grab attests.

With Miller and Spaeth further removed from their previous injuries, and some combination of Johnson, Paulson, and Palmer serving backup, I believe the Steelers have more than sufficient talent to succeed in 2014. By no means does this mean that they shouldn’t approach the position, even aggressively, in the draft, however, because Miller in particular isn’t getting any younger.

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

    I think we’re fine in 2014 with Miller and Spaeth, the problem arises if someone gets injured. D.Johnson cant stay healthy, Paulson cant block and Palmer has just avg ability. It would be great to, as mentioned, aggressively approach the position in THIS draft, so the rookie can play under Miller and Spaeth this season with a eye toward a predominant role in 2015

  • ATL96STEELER

    If the current players come back (namely Miller, Spaeth, D. Johnson, D. Paulson)…I would say PIT will be adequate at the position, but not much more than that unless Paulson becomes a RZ target.

    I would love to have a playmaker such as Ebron to add more versatility to the OFC…I don’t see that happening though.

  • ATL96STEELER

    Not sure if Haley has a role for a pass catching type TE, and that really hurts Paulson imo…we’re never going to get his best trying to make him into a “good” blocker.

  • Callentown

    It feels like Marczi answers his own question with this line:

    ‘The top two tight ends, of course, are Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth. And quite frankly, the Steelers didn’t get the best out of either last season, which only plays in favor of the idea that the team is fine at the position in terms of what they need on the field to get by in 2014.’

    I do not understand that reasoning, but I agree with the first part of the statement and to me that means we need someone soon to help in this area.

  • Chad H

    Not having our 3rd rd pick hurts us here. Joe Don Duncan in the 3rd would be nice. I believe we will be ok at TE but if not addressed this year it has to be addressed in 2015. I’m leaning towards moving back in the first to gain picks in the 2nd and 3rd to address needs.

  • steeltown

    Pretty sure we’ll get a 3rd for Wallace

  • dgh57

    After seeing us pass not only on the top TEs but any TE at all in last years draft when Heath Miller was working his way back from a serious knee injury doesn’t make me to optimistic about seeing one drafted when he’s healthy and neither do I see being a year older enough to sway them. But PLEASE can we at least find one TE in the later rounds to replace David Paulson on the roster!

  • dkoy85

    Interesting. This draft could go a number of ways- same with free agency. If the Steelers sign a quality safety in free agency then a problem will be solved and an early draft pick saved for other positions. A trade back could land a top TE or a falling Lee or Benjamin or possibly Hegman- while I’d rather the pick be used on offense. The accumulated picks would allow them to address CB in back to back rounds in 2nd and 3rd rounds(IMO the best way to address CB) and assuming we get a 2nd round pick for the trade. Continue the defense trend the remainder of the draft.

    May not be popular but it will promote one heck of a training camp battle, with at least one CB(hopefully) becoming our starter by the end of the year beside Allen and the other contributing in sub packages and special teams.

    CB and S are major needs- addressing safety in free agency with the intentions of immediate replacement for Clark and allow Shark to learn another year behind Polamalu and draft CB twice in the higher rounds with the hopes of some major contribution midway thru the year(Allen, Gay, and Taylor will be adequate in the early portions). Then all of a sudden, wham, bam, thank you ma’am, we have a solid secondary, and a front 7 a year older and an offense with another weapon and depth drafted in rounds 4 thru 7… improving on a team that went 6-2 the end of 2013. How do you like/dislike them apples?

  • Milliken Steeler

    That’s my point I have argued with people about Spaeth. Yes we know he can block however, he can and will catch the ball if you throw it to him and out of a two TE sets in the redzone? At 6′ 7″, he is definitely worth looking at when Ben goes through his reads or scrambles out of pressure.

  • Milliken Steeler

    If we were going to grab a TE this year? I like the kid from Colorado State and I think you could get him in the sixth round. I could see him making the roster.

  • steeltown

    If they don’t go after a TE like Ebron or Seferian-Jenkins in the 1st or 2nd Rd, then yes im all for going after a guy like Gilmore or Duncan in the mid-late Rds, less polished guys but with plenty of upside

  • Milliken Steeler

    Yes that’s his name. Crocket Gilmore. lol How did I forget that name :)

  • Patrick Reid

    If we aren’t gonna go for one of the top TE’s early. Then we also need to consider Arthur Lynch from UGA inthe 3rd or 4th.

  • steeltown

    Very true, very good in-line blocker

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Yup: I have been thinking along the same lines for ages. Every year some stupid team (Like Dallas or others) falls in love with some guy and you can trade down at the last minute to steal an extra pick in the 2nd or 3rd round. I would be taking this trade all day long, especially this year, with all this depth.

    I believe if you do your homework you can find several potential starters. I would however be going with a CB or S in the first round, then the other next round with TE later, and WR in the usual 3rd round. The rest of the way, I would go all defense to find depth. I might even throw in one of those injured guys that will drop 3-4 rounds. That CB that blew up his knee at the Senior Bowl might be a possibility. I have not even looked at any film on him, but supposedly he was a 2nd rounder that might go in the 6th now. They might pick him as their second CB in the same draft, because you could get a gem, even if he would be ready until 2015.

    Just a thought.

    Ok at TE is probably what their thinking the Steelers) but I would be thinking if you draft Ebron, you can easily cut a couple of others, like Paulson and Palmer. And he could be stupendous in a couple of years, if not immediately. Lotys of possibilities.

  • steelster

    This is a position the steelers can wait until 2015. They have too many other needs and heath miller will be a lot healthier in 2014.

  • Chad H

    Wow 3 down votes nice. Don’t think I’m way off with the depth this year and gaining more picks people.

  • Chad H

    Yes we will have a comp pick. But say we slide back somewhere between 22 to 28 in the first. We pick Pryer

  • tim

    Ok so…….our two top TE’s barely played last year, both are getting older and both are coming of injuries… 1 can just block and the other is declining at blocking and had to climbing speed but still has good hands… With that being said we can get the kid from Iowa for the kid from Washington somewhere between the first 3 rounds and we would be good with a big Pass catching tight end that can also block. Anyone thinking that we are fine going into 2014 in the tight end position really needs to rethink their own position. I believe if we get one of those two kids I just mentioned David Paulison will be cut and should be cut!