Steelers Have Extended History Of Carrying 4 Tight Ends

I put out my ‘final’ 53-man roster prediction yesterday, but the truth is that I’m not going to claw at my eyes in agony if the Pittsburgh Steelers decide to go in minutely different directions, because the truth is that, more often than not, the final handful of spots on the roster are not going to make all that much of a difference.

One area in which the team can diverge from my plans is the possibility of them carrying four tight ends, which, despite the fact that they just traded for a tight end because they were not satisfied with their current group, has its own logical plausibility.

For starters, all of them were on the roster last year, and were in fact the primary contributors at the position. For another, they were all the ones presumed to be making the roster before the trade was made. And finally, they have a deep recent history of carrying four tight ends.

Let’s just start with last season. There were extenuating circumstances due to the PUP stint from Ladarius Green, but he spent about half the season on the 53-man roster—plus the playoffs, even though he didn’t play—and he did so with a roster that also included Jesse James, David Johnson, and Xavier Grimble.

The year before that, the team still had Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth, with James as a rookie. They also, you may remember, still had Will Johnson, who by then had already become a player who was primarily a tight end rather than h-back in the way he was used. Roosevelt Nix made sure to put the final nail in that coffin.

So we already have two years’ worth of data on them keeping four tight ends, let’s keep going. In 2014, they still had Miller and Spaeth, and Will Johnson was by then already primarily playing a tight end role. Don’t believe me? I wrote about it last year. That season, 152 of his 219 snaps came in that role, with another 17 as a ‘victory back’ in the victory formation. He was a tight end.

And who else was there? Michael Palmer. Remember him? He spent two years with the Steelers as their fourth tight end, in 2014 and in 2013. In the latter season, he was paired with Miller, Spaeth, Johnson, and David Paulson. But Johnson went on IR early in the season and Spaeth spent most of the season on IR before returning, so they didn’t overlap.

That’s four consecutive seasons now in which the Steelers carried four ‘true’ tight ends, and you’ll notice that I didn’t include Will Johnson in 2013, because he was being used as a fullback at that time. David Johnson, however, with Will there, was moved back to tight end.

And it could have been five consecutive years had David Johnson not suffered a torn ACL during the 2012 preseason. Had he been healthy, the team was likely to carry Miller, Paulson, Leonard Pope, and Johnson. Will Johnson was already on board as the fullback at this time as well.

So don’t be surprised at all if the team finishes up the final 53-man roster tomorrow and there are four tight ends on it. It could even still be Jake McGee, earning that Michael Palmer-like fourth tight end spot via his special teams contributions. They were feeding him those snaps for a reason.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • JohnB

    Man, this is like the story of the Tight-Ends that never were! *Sigh* I miss Heath..

  • John Pennington

    Vance and Jake would be a real good 2 tightend set.

  • RickM

    I think this year that a 4th TE won’t be of the same value as say an additional player in the secondary. I hope they go with 3 as per your prediction yesterday.

  • Phil Brenneman II

    Man Matthew, I understand the argument but it doesn’t make sense with the current roster construction to keep 4. You have Nix who could essentially call a 4th TE already and you have the fact that they use Hubbard as a 6th linemen at time for blocking as well. So the idea of 4 actual TE’s starts to seem very redundant.

  • Rob

    Don’t think a fourth is necessary this year though. Hubbard and Nix fill the extra “TE” roll if necessary. Hoping they don’t make that mistake and waste a roster spot.

  • Michael Conrad

    Well here is what I think and you may be right . How many play on ST all of them or two.

    Second the steelers were in 11 personal 65 percent of the time last year without a good TE and MB ,Hunter ,Coats. for most of the year . JJSS. Rogers was raw. Putting AB,MB,Rogers or another WR ,Bell and Van should be you best formation with some four wides . I know they will mix in two and three TE’s sets for running.

    Why play around and let Haley think he is going to run three TE’s and bubble screens.

  • AndyR34

    Unlike others…I don’t think this is necessarily wrong…especially considering your last scenario. None of the others, McDonald, James, X-man play much ST. I can see them keeping McGee for that reason. Hubbard plays in-line TE, but not ST…Nix is an FB not a TE and is already on ST. I won’t be surprised anymore with anything they do with the TE room…except maybe if they cut McDonald. LOL!

  • Rob H

    This makes about as much sense as keeping six defensive linemen, even though the sixth would be inactive every week, and would have virtually zero chance of being poached off of the practice squad, just because “that’s what they usually do.”
    If anything this last week should have ended that kind of backwards rationalizing for making poor choices, or not making exceptions to old rules.

  • Smitty 6788

    I hope common sense prevails and we only keep 3 TE’s.

  • steeltown

    Think McGee was released via Fowler

  • Melly

    Bye David Johnson. The Pitt FO must be watching the Depot?! They traded Coates and released DJ like I asked!!!!

  • Matthew Marczi

    Unlike defensive linemen, tight ends usually play on special teams. James, Johnson, and Grimble all did. And in the above examples all these tight ends were active most of the time when healthy.

  • Matthew Marczi

    So it’s your fault…I think I hate you a bit now, haha. I’m hoping that they bring Johnson back and that this was a wink-wink release with the idea that he is re-signed while they temporarily need his roster spot (for example, to move Sutton to short-term IR).

  • Melly

    Ha! I know DJ blocks, but they can use Nix in that role! I just dont think he is worthy of a spot. He is slow, and his 8-10 catches a year are irrelevant in this high powered Offense.
    I’m guessing they move Sutton to PUP and then Bell signs?!
    Just read they are 1 of 3 teams interested in TJ Ward!!

  • Matthew Marczi

    Honestly I always thought Johnson could contribute more if they just used him more. He might be in the best shape of his career right now and has shown better for example on pulls. I would have kept him over Grimble, though Grimble obviously has more long-term upside.

    I’m assuming that’s their plan with Sutton. Either way something has to happen before Bell signs. With Ward though I would be pretty surprised if he were open to signing to play a backup role, and I think he might be out of the Steelers’ price range.

  • Rob H

    I understand that, but my point at the time that I made the post was that it made absolutely no rational sense to expose a potential starter at a position of need and high demand, for someone who was/is doubtful to ever be more than a fourth blocking TE, sixth d-lineman, ninth O-lineman, etc., etc.
    Yet, we constantly saw people here make projections and statements like it somehow made sense, and even quadruple down on it in some cases. It just baffled me.