Steelers Can’t Afford To Not Draft A Tight End This Year

The Pittsburgh Steelers have two strange decisions to make at quarterback and tight end, and they aren’t too dissimilar.

At quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger has made us realize that he’s 35 years old, and is naturally starting to think about life after football. There is a sense that the search to find heir to Roethlisberger is about to start – even if there is no obvious way to find the next quarterback. Fortunately, Roethlisberger should be back for next year at least.

At tight end, there are similar question marks. Big free agent signing Ladarius Green should be back next season, so to go find his replacement may be premature. But there is more to it than that. Green is still young, and shouldn’t be near the end of his career. But his concussion history changes things.

We don’t know if Green will be able to recover from his fourth concussion in the pro game, or if he does, whether he’ll his career will be able to survive the next one.

As a rugby fan, I’ve had a different exposure to the concussion. Rugby is a sport that prides itself on big collisions between huge men that don’t wear pads. Unfortunately, it means that concussions are a common occurrence. Rugby is changing its laws in attempt to reduce the risk – by cracking down on tackles above the shoulder, and implementing in-game concussion tests.

From the moment former England international Shontayne Hape described the horror of trying to live after a career cut short through multiple concussions, the watching public has taken the subject a lot more seriously. Hape described an incident that lead to what he guessed was close to his fifth concussion in a year “One of the boys just ran a decoy line and bumped into me and I was knocked out. When you are getting knocked out and no one is even touching your head you realize things have got pretty bad.”

Those at the biggest risk of concussion are players who have been concussed most recently, and most often. It’s led to players who are diagnosed with four concussions in a 12-month period to take a mandatory three-month break.

This is why Green’s case needs to be taken with more seriousness. Green took two big hits against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 15 and after there was some hope initially that he’d play again after being a full participant in practice prior to a playoff game, symptoms remained and he ultimately wouldn’t play another snap the remainder of the season.

It’s perhaps not surprising then that various draftniks have since mocked tight ends to the Steelers in early rounds. Unlike at quarterback, this tight end class is deep on the surface.

There will be options for the Steelers in almost every round this year, and every one of them would be an asset to pair with Jesse James, and even Green if he can make it back. Whether the likes of O.J. Howard or David Njoku in the first round, or Bucky Hodges, Evan Engram, or Jake Butt on day two, or even Michael Roberts, Jonnu Smith, Pharaoh Brown, or Eric Saubert in the later rounds.

The Steelers need to come out of April’s draft with a tight end as we might never know when another class at that position will be as bountiful as this one looks to be. With question marks surrounding the Steelers tight end depth – this draft is a perfectly timed one for Pittsburgh.

  • Paddy

    Yes a TE is integral to success in the NFL and right now they have question marks

  • PaeperCup

    Hear Hear. I’m seriously concerned for Green, he needs to consider his health moving forward. One more hit could be his last.

    What about Adam Shaheen. Small school guy, with a HUGE frame and seemingly blazing speed.

    Playing devils advocate though, Patriots seem to do just fine without a big TE target (yeah there’s Bennet, but he wasn’t used like Gronk)

  • blackandgoldBullion

    When the draft is deep at one particular position group, we should expect the Steelers to not jump into the mix as teams often pick the top guys way to early. They will bide their time and if they feel they need one they will probably pick a guy in the 3rd or 4th round. I love that strategy.

  • WeWantDaTruth

    If we can sign a FA edge rusher such as Nick Perry or Melvin Ingram, then I have no issue taking a TE early.

  • The Chin

    Cole Hikutini would be a great choice

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    I wanted to take a TE last year (I noted that Austin Hooper from Stanford played for the Falcons last night) but obviously we didn’t need to since we signed Green – or so we thought.
    I would be in board with Howard in the first, don’t really know much if the other guys yet.
    We could always get our OLB in rd2 and still get a quality player given how deep the pass-rushing crop is.

  • Steve Johnson

    The Patriots are fortunate to have a QB named Tom Brady. Oh by the way, they also have a no nonsense coach by the name of Bill Belicheat.

  • Steve Johnson

    If the Front Office goes into next Season banking on LeDarius Green and Senquez Golson, then they shall reap what they sowed.

  • PaeperCup

    Barf….But their offensive system is very effective without the TE. These quick 9 yard slants just chip away chip away chip away.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    The Pats do fine without Gronk, but they are explosive offensively WITH him in the lineup.

  • PaeperCup

    yeah, it’s scary ridiculous. I’m so tired of that team.

  • unfurious

    This makes me think, with so many positions potentially lining up with PIT needs and Ben’s window closing, would this be a year to trade future picks for additional picks this year? Who would trade a first next year for an additional 2nd this year?

  • Steelers12

    Bucky Hodges needs to fall to the 4th round so we can nag him

  • Steelers12

    interesting prospect

  • CP72

    Evan Engram in the 2nd…..sign me up.

  • PaeperCup

    So many choices. Howard, Njoku, Hodges, Butt, Shaheen, Hikutini…All of these guys have big potential.

    Lots of TE hungry teams though. Steelers, Giants, Raiders, Cardinals, Saints, Bears, Rams, Niners, Broncos.

  • WeWantDaTruth

    And they don’t arrogantly throw bombs on 3rd & 1 like the Steelers do. Instead, they just do a simple play to get the first down and move the chains. Huh, imagine that.

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    ???

  • WeWantDaTruth

    A rookie OLB will likely not make an immediate impact. Hopefully, we can someone get a Nick Perry/Melvin Ingram type player who can come in and make an immediate impact…Ben’s window is closing.

  • walter

    If the steelers keep paying Green, he will keep taking the money.

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    No issue with that at all – maybe this is the year that we get splashy in FA!

  • Matt Manzo

    Maybe. If it’s a really high 2nd rounder!

  • Matt Manzo

    I could see the Giants taking OJ off the board.

  • PaeperCup

    Me too, that seems the most likely scenario. I’m wondering where Njoku will fall though. I’ve seen mocks where he’s been higher than Howard, but Howard is obviously the higher rated player.

  • stan

    I don’t understand this article at all. Not only can they afford not to draft a tight end, I think it would be downright stupid to draft one before day 3 if Green is back. Green, James and Grimble would be on any NFL roster yet you’d be benching either one of them or the draft pick every week. David Johnson has shown his utility time and again so if you can get him for the minimum you’re set. Obviously you have to plan for Green to get injured even if he’s back so I can see drafting someone late if there’s a good prospect available because if Green does get hurt again the position could be better if its James/ Grimble/ Johnson.

  • stan

    The only problem with that is that the Steelers don’t figure to lose many players this offseason, so now is not the time to fill up on lower picks. Really we only figure to maybe lose Timmons and Green and neither of those is a guarantee. All of the depth players who matter are back. Maybe if we can pick up future draft picks? Otherwise, let’s get some more playmakers for what should be a great 2017 season.

  • Brian Miller

    That’s what we said about rookie CBs and safeties before Burns and Davis played so much this year. Times they are a changin’.

  • Brian Miller

    Me too, although I have seen reports stating that Denver is very interested in him as well.

  • Brian Miller

    Don’t forget my draft crush Jordan Leggett, he is a beast! Just ask Alabama…

  • unfurious

    I don’t normally go for the bs crazy option but…you need impact players and then need to develop during Ben’s window. This draft seems to be full of talent where we need it. While hate selling the future at half price for the present, we don’t how long the future has a QB. I think that selling out for the end of Ben’s career can make sense.

  • unfurious

    I understand where you are coming from. But if they can get an extra in the 2nd, they have a legitimate shot at getting 3 potential impact player at 2 or 3 positions of need and they’ll have a good chance of making an impact before Ben retires. The only reason I consider this an option is because of the time factors and the perceived strengths of this draft at what are usually thin positions.

  • Jeff Burton

    The Steelers DON’T need to draft a Tight End AT ALL in 2017. Jesse James is a way above average starting caliber NFL TE and he’s improving on a weekly basis. James has great hands can find the weak spot in coverage, can run all the routes Heath could and more, can catch on the run and is an ABOVE average blocker no matter what people are saying about him. With David Johnson as blocking TE and reserve and Xavier Grimble as a 3r stringer they are better set than half the league at that position. The only player on the board I would consider getting is Evan Engram but I wouldn’t waste a 2nd or 3rd rounder when we need a Wide Receiver and Running Back. And if the Steelers don’t take an Edge Rusher in the 1st Rd they’ve got a whole in their head. James Harrison can fill Jarvis Jones’ roster spot and start for another year while he and Coach Peezy train up the rookie. If the Steelers get an extra 5th Rd (compensatory) pick that might be a place to pick up a TE like Eric Saubert or equal but not before.

  • stan

    I guess our disconnect is that I’m assuming we wouldn’t be able to get a deal like that given how late our 1st round pick is. The Broncos gave up a third round pick to move up 5 spots to number 26 last year, so maybe something like that? They were pretty desperate to get their QB of the future though.

  • Pricopea

    Oj Howard in the 1st, edge rusher in the second, ILB in the 3rd

  • Dshoff

    I think we should cut Green. Maybe not now but in a month or so. Does anybody think that he will be just fine after that horrendous year?

  • unfurious

    I believe NE has gotten future firsts for the first pick on day2 so there may be precedent but you are absolutely right that it depends on the moods in the rooms on draft day.

  • LucasY59

    I get what you are saying, and I agree this draft looks to have good talent, but I also think a team that made the AFCCG does not have a lot of holes, they will return pretty much every player of importance, and other than OLB and CB I dont see any draft pick getting much time on the field as a rookie (so really keeping the future picks is important since they will need to replenish depth in the future)

    I would hate it if they traded away future picks and then dont have room on the roster to keep them (which is likely if they just keep their original 7 picks) I know late rd guys are usually PS candidates, but when 4th rdrs dont make the team (like Grant) and 6th rdrs get poached from the PS (like Feeney) it is a lost draft pick,

    they dont need extra picks they just need to get quality with the ones they have, so if they are trading it needs to be to collect future picks or combine them to get a earlier pick and more talented player, but again having more than 7 (drafted) rookies probably means some of those draft picks dont make the team

    I like the idea of trades, and hope they keep the phone lines open more than it looks like they do from the outside (last yr it seemed that even though there shouldve been some conversation with the Broncos they rushed the Burns pick to the podium, take the allotted time and make sure they dont miss out on something)

    I would be open to a deal, but most offers are not usually a clear win for one side, especially for the team making the offer/trading for the pick (the team with the pick seems to hold it for hostage and get unbalanced compensation as ransom) If the Steelers can get on the good side of it then I would be happy

    Or if there is a player they think is worthy of the extra investment to move up to get him, like Polomalu, traded a 1st (27th) a 3rd and a 6th, to move up 11 spots and get Troy (16th)

    *just dont make it like the Sepulveda trade, trade away a 4th rd and 6th rd to move 7 spots in the 4th, and then take a punter… (*there have been other bad 4th rd trades like Alameda Ta’amu and Shamarko Thomas as well)

    but I still like the Casey Hampton trade scenarios the best, move 3 spots, still get the player they want, and get an extra 4th and 6th in return

  • LucasY59

    the Cowboys were interested as well, so I was disappointed that Colbert didnt make Jones and Elway outbid each other

  • LucasY59

    and Dupree the yr before

  • Dan

    Bennett is pretty legit, though. He’s no Gronk, but no one else is, either.

  • LucasY59

    with the other Offensive weapons I definitely think the Steelers can AFFORD to pass on a TE this draft (but that doesnt necessarily mean I think they should)

    there are a few options, I think OJ Howard would be in the BPA conversation if he is available in the 1st (it is very RARE to have a talented player that is a good pass catching threat as well as a good blocker, and with the emphasis on the passing game the blocking is a huge rarity) Howard is a guy that should help from day one (and having so much talent that the TE depth chart reads Howard, Green, James, is a good problem to have) and is more of a luxury than a need

    I also like the option of Jake Butt as a 4th rd (or later) value pick, since the team is most likely giving Green a 2nd chance I think any pick other than Howard would be sitting on the bench, so might as well get the value of a 2nd rd talent with a pick that is 2 or more rds later, he needs a yr off to recover from his injury, but the TE depth is good enough that they could afford to wait

    the 3rd option I like is Adam Shaheen from ncaa division II, he is a small school player that is not small (might be the biggest TE in the draft) and it looks like he has some decent speed, athleticism and pass catching ability, there is the knock that most Division 1 (FBS) TEs would be just as dominant as he was against the lower competition, but the good thing about it is that he should not require a early rd pick, I am guessing that he will go sometime on day 3 so using a 4th rd pick or later on a guy that has some (what look to be) elite physical attributes, but needs to develop and adjust to the change in talent level, is a pick I would be willing to make (giving him a yr to transition is similar to the Butt scenario, …in both there is no need for either to contribute in 2017)

    all that being said I will return to my original point, with Bryant returning, Bell and Brown being Superstars, Rogers a solid slot receiver, and Coates as a depth player, if all they have is James, Grimble and D.Johnson at TE they still have more weapons than they can use, so James actually fills the need very effectively, having Green as another option makes it even more unnecessary to draft a TE this yr, yes there is injury risk with Green (but there is risk with every player on the 53 man roster) I think they could wait until the 2018 draft and get a TE and that would work out just as well as a pick this yr (maybe even better since the Draft picks this yr could be used on more urgent needs)

  • I just can’t get on board with a guy named Butt. If he didn’t pan out for any reason it would feel like the biggest failure of the millennium. We’d be the Butt of every joke. If Butt busts, we busted Butt. And then think of the announcers: “And Roethlisberger is in the shotgun, he takes the snap. Surveying the field, and, incomplete over the middle. He was looking for Butt on the play.” “Butt has become the security blanket Big Ben needed.” I could go on all day, you know. I just don’t feel like hearing it. I know that’s immature but I just don’t care. Plus, I’m a Buckeye fan anyway. Muck Fichigan.

  • Shane Mitchell

    He isnt above average in any aspect of the game, and without a big threat at the position to run the seams I dont care who in the hell they draft at OLB it could be the 2nd coming of LT big deal wouldnt mean a damn thing when we play top teams and our ridiculously over rated offense puts up 6 FGs on the scoreboard. Edge rushers dont get to Brady. , this idea that we will build some awesome defense is a bunch of BS only chance of beating the Patriots is to outscore them and with Jesse James as your #1 TE might as well not even show up.

  • mokhkw

    Shaheen has me greatly intrigued. Atm I have him as the 4th Rd pick in my mock draft but I’m also waiting to see what the medical is on Jake Butts and any progress on Green’s status before I would commit to that. If Butts is going to be there in the 3rd I may be inclined to go in that direction.

  • Steve

    What about Bens replacement? It is mentioned above, but not followed up on? IMHO – QB is a much bigger need than TE!

  • Steve

    Green had over 6 months before being concussed again and will again this year. If Green were smart he would leave the game, but the money he makes, must be too much for him to quit.

  • Steve

    The Pats threw the Bomb vrs the Steelers with Hogan and torched us.

  • Doogie

    What puzzles me about concussions is what is going on as far as technology in helmets etc? You will always get hit in football, you’d think they’d be really pushing tech.

  • unfurious

    The problem is physics. No material in the world can counter the hard stop of the head and the brain bouncing off the inside of the skull. One of the most promising things I’ve seen is a gorge worn around the neck that slightly restrict blood flow in a way that causes more blood to remain in the head and reduce the sloshing effect upon impact. I believe they are trying them out at some highs chools or colleges. But that scares the hell out of me about as much as concussion trauma. Physics is a harsh mistress.

  • unfurious

    Great points. Too many to count. As did Stan, above. I think I’m out of my phase already. I, like many, need to keep my faith that the arrow is still pointing up with most of this team. It’s not something we’ve seen until recently. I would still love to see 3 picks in the first 2 rounds, but I don’t know that mortgaging next year is worth it. Heck, I might even be fine if they traded for future picks, as long as they come away with a pass rusher this year. Keep pushing the pick into the future until they need them.. Meanwhile, the team is still getting better.

  • Jeff Burton

    Oh, yeah and a TE is going to make that problem go away. Try ANOTHER quality wide receiver a RB that doesn’t miss 4 games a season due to his chronic 420 and an Offensive Coordinator that knows his ass from his elbow. The TE position produced 75 catches for 840 yards and 6 TD’s. That’s MORE than we got out of the position in a single season during Heath Miller’s entire career. I will say it AGAIN. The Steeler DON’T NEED TO DRAFT A TE IN 2017.

  • LucasY59

    yeah got a little carried away, I really started to think about trade scenarios after this also

  • Michael Mosgrove

    shaheen shaheen shaheen

  • Michael Mosgrove

    take shaheen in the 4th. release johnson and shaheen can replace green when he is released.

  • Steve Johnson

    That alone should tell you enough; the scheme, coaching, players or a combination of all three needs to be fixed.