With the 2014 NFL Draft coming up in a bit, and having finished taking stock of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, it’s now time to look back and see how the team assembled the roster they currently have through the draft.
It would be most simple to set a dividing line at 2007, the year Mike Tomlin took over at head coach, so we will revisit the past seven drafts, encompassing 59 selections, to see how the team treated each position, and look into why that is.
The next position we’ll revisit is tight end. Looking at the list below, it becomes quite evident that the Steelers haven’t done much at tight end in the draft since Tomlin’s arrival.
Having drafted a franchise tight end in 2005, of course, has a lot to do with that, of course, but seeing them selecting just three tight ends in seven drafts—with two coming as compensatory seventh-round draft picks—certainly has me thinking about tight ends in this draft.
2007 – Matt Spaeth – 3rd round (77)
Matt Spaeth was Heath Miller’s tag team partner for four seasons before departing in free agency after the 2010 season. By then, he’d begun growing into a reliable blocking tight end, a craft that he’d hone with the Chicago Bears. He re-signed with the team last season on a two-year contract, but he spent most of year one injured.
When he returned in the final quarter of the regular season, he helped give the offense a boost, improving the running game and opening things up for Miller in the passing game. He even caught a touchdown pass of his own—his only reception of the year. He’s a reliable one-two punch with Miller, but how much longer do either have left?
2009 – David Johnson – 7th round (241)
Admittedly, David Johnson spent much of his time with the Steelers at fullback. He struggled initially when the team tried to make him more of an in-line blocker, but he did grow into the role before injuries began to plague his last two seasons. A serious ACL injury to begin the 2012 preseason lingered into 2013, and though he rebounded and was able to play well for a few games, a wrist injury ended his season. He left in free agency this offseason.
2012 – David Paulson – 7th round (240)
Though still on the roster, David Paulson’s job is certainly not safe. He may already be the fourth tight end on the depth chart behind Michael Palmer, which could be enough to knock him off the roster, but with the certain possibility that the tight end position could be addressed as early as the first round, it’s likely that he’ll have quite an uphill battle to keep his job for another season.
To do so, he’ll need to show significant improvement as a blocker. He doesn’t have great size for a tight end, and it’s certainly hurt him. While he can have some success on the move, he’s a poor straight-ahead blocker. And his receiving ability has been nothing special up to this point, which isn’t even particularly relevant for an at best third-string tight end.