TE James Could Be Next Late Round “Receiver” Find For Colbert

The allure and excitement of participating in an NFL camp as a rookie is obviously a dream come true for all the players involved. This seems to ring especially true for a couple players in this year’s crop of incoming Steelers. Undrafted free agent B.J. Finney is a lifelong Pittsburgh Steelers fan who jumped at the opportunity to sign with Pittsburgh even before the draft was over and he had weighed all his options with other squads.

Another is their fifth round draft choice out of Penn State, massive tight end, Jesse James, a local product who hails from the shadows of Pittsburgh, having went to nearby South Allegheny High School.

“I couldn’t be happier,” he said, according to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I think it’s a great fit. I couldn’t be more excited to get there and go to work.”

He is the third WPIAL (Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League) product the team has drafted since 2009, including another Nittany Lion, A.Q. Shipley in 2009, and Ryan Mundy, in 2008. The Penn State record holder for career touchdowns by a tight end with 11, you would never know it, according to his great-uncle, Nick Grimaldi of East McKeesport.

“Very mannerly,” Grimaldi said, according to Dave Mackall of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “He’d be the last guy you’d ever hear saying that he broke records at Penn State.”

James has an NFL-ready frame already with his imposing 6-foot-7 and 261 pound size. And although he wasn’t necessarily used exclusively as a receiver at Penn State, the Steelers coaching staff believes he can turn into just that, especially down in the red area where he can use his height and bulk to box out smaller defenders on jump balls.

For two years of his career at Penn State, James played under the tutelage of coach Bill O’Brien, in a pro-style offense that’s very tight end-friendly. Coming from the pro ranks having coached up guys like Aaron Hernandez and All-Pro Rob Gronkowski, James looked to be the next big thing for O’Brien. Coming from a Patriots’ offense with a prolific combo like those two, the experience and expertise O’Brien gave James had to have been invaluable.

It’s also important to look at the trend that the NFL seems to be going towards, and that’s teams possessing a larger, more-athletic tight end than ones such as former Steeler Mark Bruener, basically a glorified tackle and wall of granite as far as blocking was concerned. Vastly under-utilized as a receiver during his time in Happy Valley, James could flourish with a franchise quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger throwing him the football.

Steelers tight ends coach, James Daniels, definitely feels his receiving capabilities haven’t fully been brought to the surface, and refused to put a ceiling on him.

“The evaluation I did on him you see him catching balls, and he made a couple of tough catches,” Daniels said. “You don’t see anything that says he’s not going to be a good receiver. He has enough talent to be good in all phases of the game.”

James killed it at the NFL Combine, posting 26 bench reps, a 10-foot-1 inch broad jump, which by the way is better than both All-Pros Jimmy Graham and Gronkowski posted, and an explosive 37.5-inch vertical. At 6-foot-7 going up 37.5 inches, that equates to an enormous catch radius. Now I’m not saying James is the next Graham or Gronk, but there are some similarities. Especially the fact that Graham is listed at 6-foot-7, 265 pounds, basically spot-on to that of James.

He’s a freak, athletically, talent-wise, there’s not another tight end in the country better than him, for sure,” PSU strength coach Dwight Galt gushed about his tight end, according to Josh Moyer, ESPN Penn State/Big ten reporter. “He’s got speed, he’s got strength, he’s got agility, he’s got size. He’s got everything.”

As of yesterday, the ink had already dried on James’ new four-year contract with the team so now all that awaits him is hard work. He’s in a very good position as far as the future goes, as the team’s top two tight ends in Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth, are both on the wrong side of 30, at 33 and 32, respectively.

According to his high school teammate, running back Keaton McClelland, he saw big things on the horizon for James even back then.

I’d be running the ball and everyone would be focused on me,” McClelland said, according to Mackall. “But Jesse was clearing somebody out of the way with another block, and you wouldn’t really notice. That’s how he was. He didn’t care if anyone noticed him. He just played.”

Seems like your typical hard hat, lunch pail kind of Steeler to me.

  • steeltown

    Nice write-up. Some have questioned his speed with the 4.83 at the combine, but he later ran a 4.66 and 4.71 at his pro day. I really think getting an athlete like him in the 5th Rd is really good value. Now, can the Outlaw put it all together, that is the question.

  • steelster

    I just hope he gets some playing time his rookie year. Third string tight ends don’t play much.

  • Lucas Campbell

    Yeah I love the pick, some had him pegged as high as the 2nd round. The 4.66 at his pro day is noteworthy too, as Gronk ran a 4.68 at his. Although his college production doesn’t jump off the screen, I really believe he was the victim of lackluster QB play and will have a much better pro career. Imagine if the PIT offense had a Graham/Gronk-like threat? Wow

  • steeltown


  • Lucus Rodriguez

    Hackenburg is going to be a top 5 pick next year. I wouldn’t call that lackluster QB play

  • NinjaMountie

    Did you see him play this year? Lets put it this way…if he plays the same way next year he’ll be lucky to be a late round draft pick.
    He was as inaccurate as a QB could be….he made Vick look like Joe Montana.

  • Hard Row

    Hack had a good freshman year but was mainly locked into Allen Robinson. His sophomore season was awful because the OL was so bad and that’s also part of why James didn’t have big numbers. He had to block.

    McGloin was very good but James was just a freshman so he wasn’t starting. He did make many big plays that year and averaged so etching like 18 yards per reception.

  • mike smith

    I think he’s going to be a steal.

    Perfect fit for the problems in the RZ. We don’t have a high point, contested back shoulder throw guy on the roster…and JJ is all those things. And his blocking is better then advertized.

  • John

    I love the article and all of the enthusiasm. The measurables are awesome. The one key issue I would have is why didn’t the Texans draft him given that O’Brien was his college coach. That is the only thing that gives me pause.

  • The Notorious TOM

    Because they spent a 3 on Cj Fiedorowicz from Iowa last year.

  • steeltown

    They also have Garrett Graham and I think they like that Ryan Griffin kids potential as well.

  • The Notorious TOM

    Yup, Graham just netted himself a nice extension last offseason too.

  • steeltown

    The Griffin kid might breakout this year.

  • RMSteeler

    I wasn’t impressed by James pre-draft, mainly because his production didn’t match the 2nd and 3rd round grades being given to him. I thought those were due to the weak TE class. The combine really opened my eyes and mind to reconsider. Combine measurable that don’t match up with production or tape normally make me think that maybe 5th or 6th round if he’s there might be worth it. Now that I see he went through coaching and QB changes that limited his use. A big concern for me about the new breed TE’s is body control. When things get tight in the RZ, especially with double coverage, the QB can’t always make the perfect throw. Body control, vertical and wingspan allow someone like Ben to not be so precise. Does anyone know if he was a good BB player in HS? If so, he may be a perfect fit for the Steelers. Besides, I don’t think the last couple of TE’s drafted by the team COMBINED to do 26 at 225!

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    I think he could be a threat receiving and in the red zone! Honestly think he could be a Greg Olsen type of TE!

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I don’t think his potential can be questioned. If fact, if you look simply at combine numbers….they stack up really well against each other.

    To me, James being a player is all about James’ desire to be a player. Does he want to succeed? If the answer is yes, if he won’t take losing as a solution….he will work out and be a really solid pro.

  • LucasY59

    the reason for the last sentence was the Paulsen could only do 8-10 at most , so Blanchflower had to pick up the slack, but 26 is impressive for a tall guy with longer arms

  • steeltown

    Oh boy, had almost forgotten about Paulson altogether… my whata couple yrs and a couple drafts will do for a depth chart.


    Jesse James and Blanchflower > David Paulson and Michael Palmer

  • Brian Miller

    Very true, he had a couple of good games, but even in those games he threw a few picks and did not look accurate…

  • LucasY59

    If James and Dupree live up to expectations I am happy with this draft (because those two have a ton of potential) if the experiment in the secondary with the ballhawks works as well then they have done a lot with picks they had to improve the team, there are a lot of questions with the team but right now the immediate concerns are answered and we will have to see how the young guys they brought in to answer those questions turn out, right now I am very optomistic

    I could see another TE picked next year (early unless James becomes a Heath Miller-like well rounded pass catcher and Blocker, and Blanchflower or Clear are good enough to be the #2 TE with James for the future, need to replace Miller and Spaeth) a LG ciould be an early pick (unless Finney turns out better than expected, but I see him more as a interior depth player to replace Wallace, not a Starter needed to replace Foster) a early/mid CB (unless Cortez bounces back and the two rookies this year turn out better than expected, W. Gay will be at the end of his contract and a couple years over 30) OLB (early if Jones or Dupree dont look to be what the team needs or mid since Harrison will be gone, Jones will need to show he was worth the 1st rd pick, Moats and Chickillo are good depth) mid/late DE or NT (McClendon could get another 2 yr contract if he stays healthy this season, and Walton or the other Developmental guys could turn out to be enough depth behind the starters at DE, but wouldn’t be surprised if there is another pick for depth next year) a mid rd S (Will Allen will most likely be gone and hopefully Thomas and Mitchell will be the Starters needed so another depth guy to go along with the Holliman project will be needed) and a mid/late RB (DeWill probably wont see his 2nd year of the contract, but could do well enough while Bell is suspended and then as #2 to make it till he’s 34, Harris could also do well with a full offseason and year in the system, but another guy for depth behind Bell would be good Archer hardly counts as a RB so he doesn’t count as depth) BPA at any of these position’s could also trump what rd they target or take players also

  • At times, yes, but he was on the run almost the whole year. I have read several pro personnel people state exactly that, and that they still saw 1st round talent in him when he had time. Hackenburg was the victim of his OL, he didn’t really regress.

  • Matt Manzo

    We’ll probably know during the preseason! If he makes a few plays in the preseason, I’d bet we’ll see him in there during the regular season.
    But if he looks raw and slow in the pre season, we won’t see much of him after. I have a feeling he’s gonna impress!

  • Kelly Johnson

    Are you really talking about our needs in next year’s draft already??? LOL Let’s just see how this season pans out first…. 🙂

  • Rinell Vincent

    Yes I agree Hack had a bad year and that some of the fast balls he was throwing even on slants were just too hot and he had some poor judgement but let’s not forget one forgotten fact. He is a prostyle QB, he has the tools of a first rounder and was a perfect fit in Obriens prostyle offense. There is a reason why Franklin is looking for a Dual threat QB. One that can move is becuase the offense he wants to run is more of a rollout run and gun type offense. Not the drop back and them offense. I couldn’t tell you how many times I would cringe when I would see Hack rolling out. It’s not him!! And it wasn’t just Robinson that had a great year. All the TE’s had their best years James, Carter. On another point I’m a diehard PSU fan and Steeler fan and I was stoked when we drafted James but if he doesn’t start playing to his size more he will be more of a Matt speath than the next graham or gronk. I’ve watched him since he signed with PSU, he has the size and the athleticism to be great but too often he would not high point the ball enough and would always brace for the hit than deliver one. I just hope he can be coached up better to reach his true potential. I hope he proves me wrong but I was more disappointed than not with him as a PSU fan. Go Steelers!!

  • Steve Johnson

    I agree, Todd Haley will know how to utilize him for sure. I can envision Miller being used more to block, due to his decline in speed, use this kid more in the passing game.

  • Louis Goetz

    When you say their combine numbers stack up really well against each other, you’re talking about James and who?

  • Louis Goetz

    That’s okay, I asked earlier if CJ Goodwin would be able stay on the practice squad in case the Steelers can’t re-sign Wheaton after the 2016 season.

  • Louis Goetz

    James was the eighth TE taken in this draft class, which many say was the worst draft class for TE’s in recent memory. Last year’s TE class didn’t exactly set the world on fire and many say that Maxx Williams, who was the #1 TE in this class, would have only been the 4th or 5th TE taken out of that class. On top of the lack of pedigree, he didn’t get much support from the coaches. When asked about his receiving ability, his position coach said that nothing shows he can’t catch. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement. I hope he turns into a productive player; I’m just not making any Gronkowski or Graham comparisons quite yet.

  • LucasY59

    It was more looking at the holes they didnt fill with the draft, and also how some of the picks (or Developmental players) can fill those holes but are question marks until they play this season, yes it’s a bit early and this season will need to show us how the players are going to turn out, I was just looking ahead a bit and thinking about what things to look at developmentally