For the third time in Mike Tomlin’s tenure as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the organization drafted a tight end in the 2014 NFL Draft. All three times, however, it has been with a seventh-round pick.
One of those former seventh-round picks left in free agency this offseason, while the other two may find themselves competing for one roster spot that, conceivably, they could both lose out on.
The Steelers were forced to acquire additional talent at tight end last summer because their top three tight ends—Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, and David Johnson—were all dealing with some type of injury or another.
Miller, who tore his ACL late in the season last year, was not done recovering, and had to miss the first two games of the year. Johnson was still recovering from an ACL tear from August 2012, but he was ready for the season. Spaeth, meanwhile, injured his foot in training camp, which required surgery and caused him to miss 12 games.
The Steelers signed free agent tight end Michael Palmer, seemingly as a practice body, but he proved his worth, including on special teams, which helped encourage the Steelers to carry four tight ends on the roster.
Meanwhile, Miller and Spaeth are back up to full health. We got a glimpse toward the end of last season of how much their playing together could improve the offense, and they figure to be more on their game this season.
Add to that another season of maturation, and hopefully strength training, for third-year David Paulson, and promising rookie Rob Blanchflower, and suddenly the Steelers find themselves with a deep roster of tight ends, not unlike the wide receiver position.
As is the case there, the Steelers could well find themselves cutting a player at the tight end position that is worthy of playing in this league.
Or two. Last season, the impetus for carrying four tight ends was driven by the injuries to their top tight ends. I can’t recall another time in recent memory when they carried four true tight ends into the regular season, so it’s reasonable to expect that the roster will revert back to the more traditional three tight ends.
Miller and Spaeth are locks to make the roster. That means that Paulson, Palmer, and Blanchflower may all be competing for a single roster spot. Blanchflower, as a rookie, has practice squad eligibility, which plays in his favor of staying with the organization, but doesn’t necessarily help his chances of making the 53-man roster.
Meanwhile, Paulson and Palmer seemed to alternate who would serve as the third tight end as the season progressed. There seems to be a certain affinity for Paulson and his receiving abilities, but Palmer is a more all-around tight end.
It’s a fortunate dilemma for the Steelers, who will hopefully never have to ask Mike Adams to run another route. The usage of tackle eligibles as tight ends last season was more out of necessity than creativity, but they certainly have the bodies and talent to avoid that situation again this season.