Todd Haley: Jesse James ‘Did Nothing But Make Progress’ Last Season

If there is one starter on the offensive side of the ball who is facing the most pressure to grow and improve, I think that I would place my money on third-year Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James, who is entering his first season in which he is the clear starter, rather than the backup or the injury-replacement starter.

Drafted in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft as an underclassman, it was never, I think, intended that he would be put in a position to be asked to be ‘the guy’ at tight end, but based on the circumstances as they have unfolded over the past three seasons, he has earned the opportunity to demonstrate whether or not he is capable of delivering.

And that seems to be the plan based on all available evidence. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley recently spoke about the Penn Stat alumnus, calling him “a big guy” who “did nothing but make progress” during his first season of extensive work, per that article by Mike Prisuta.

Not that a reminder was needed, but the Steelers signed Ladarius Green in free agency following the retirement of Heath Miller to function as the team’s top tight end. But he missed the first half of the season while recovering from an ankle injury and his season ended early—perhaps his career—with a concussion.

Due to Green’s circumstances, the onus was on James to step up, and he didn’t always manage to do so, to be quite honest. But it also didn’t phase him.

“The most encouraging thing with Jesse was he went through a rough patch last year and he rebounded”, Haley said about his young tight end. “He didn’t go in the tank, so to speak. He kept battling and working hard on the practice field and he got some opportunities. He ended up helping us down the stretch”.

Including the postseason, in the five games after Green’s concussion, James caught 17 passes for 202 yards. That isn’t exactly All-Pro numbers, but it does prorate to a nifty 55-catch, 646-yard season, with the most notable growth coming in the form of yards per reception. He averaged just 8.7 yards per reception for the year in 2016.

“The more you’re here as a skill-position player with a quarterback the better you’re going to get as long as you’re working hard and doing what you’re supposed to do because you’re developing chemistry”, Haley said about James, and his opportunities to work with Ben Roethlisberger.

The two have now had a full year, give or take, of working together and establishing a rhythm, and Haley believes that “there is and has been some chemistry developing between” the quarterback and his new starting tight end.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • Charles Mullins

    Living the dream. Badass. LG was definitely a better tight end but Hopefully JJ keeps getting better.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    And he better show a lot more progress at camp this year.

  • H.K. northern cali

    Outlaw will be on my fansty team.

  • Conserv_58

    8.7 YPC is rather pedestrian. His league’s worst YAC numbers are measured in millimeters. Hopefully Jessie finds more speed.

  • Charles Mullins

    Have you checked out his YAC. I am pretty sure that is his issue with his YPC. He learned the catch and fall down a little too well from old man heath.

  • pittfan

    I thought he made some big contributions down the stretch and in the playoffs. Tooo bad we don’t have green but JJ will at least be serviceable

  • Boots

    JJ just turned 23 two weeks ago. He’s just now starting to really grow into his body, and that’s not saying he’s going to turn into Green, but I think he’s going to improve just from a natural physical maturation standpoint. He doesn’t have to be an all pro in this offense, he just has to do his job and I think he’s capable of that. There is some potential at TE with him and Grimble, and even the undrafted kids, and it might be a sneaky good group this year.

  • dany

    I really think we’ll be sitting here in 2020 talking about James in the same vein as Foster and Gay, overachieving guys you try yet don’t quiet manage to replace

  • RickM

    It was definitely an encouraging year and hopefully the progress will continue.

  • Jacob

    Is it ironic that if the Steelers play the Dolphins in the playoffs, Jesse James will be running from the Law (Dog)?

  • Rinell Vincent

    I’m not saying he’s AB but the Steelers sure didn’t draft him in the 6th round thinking he was going to be “the guy” either. Not sure why everyone doesn’t give this kid a chance. Like you mentioned he was a 20 yr old underclassman 3 yrs ago.

  • john bennett

    Come on Outlaw, go help this team win some games and bring home that Lombardi Trophy.

  • john bennett

    A 6th round All Pro WR and a 5th round All Pro TE would be really something.

  • Conserv_58

    That’s an unfair and unjustified statement regarding Heath. You do realize that Heath owns most of the team’s records for a TE, don’t you?

  • Charles Mullins

    I do and While JJ was on the team (when he would have had time to learn from him) I am pretty sure heaths YAC was yack worthy. Just checked 3.58 Avg YAC in 2015 for Heath. JJ had 3.05 Avg YAC in 2016.

  • CP72

    He was huge in the Ravens game.

  • CP72


  • pittfan

    He was. I watched the replay last night in fact. Big catches down the stretch