Jesse James: ‘Doesn’t Matter’ How Big Role Is As Long As We’re Productive

Pittsburgh Steelers third-year tight end Jesse James has not been a big statistics guy, and frankly, he never is going to be. Through the halfway point of the year, for example, he has 20 catches for 193 yards and two touchdowns, both of which came all the way back in the first game of the season.

That only puts him on pace to have 40 catches for under 400 receiving yards and four touchdowns, not exactly world-beating numbers at the tight end position in today’s NFL. And yet it would be slightly better than what he put up last season, with a stat line of 39 catches for 338 yards and three touchdowns.

Thanks primarily to his big 32-yard catch-and-run on Sunday on a pass delivered in a tight window that was able to get him in space, James has at least been able to approach a reasonable 10 yards per reception. Without that, his average his closer to 8.5 yards.

But he isn’t overly worried about his numbers, or his role; at least that is what he told Jacob Klinger this week following their victory over the Lions.

As long as we’re productive on offense, catching balls or not, as long as we’re being productive it doesn’t matter to me”, he told the reporter, though he was also referring to the tight end position as a whole in an offense that is heavily showcasing its wide receivers and, of course, its All-Pro running back.

“Whatever they’re asking us to do we’ve done a good job, we’ve been productive”, he argued. “We’ve had a couple bumps in the road, but whatever the team’s asking us to do that week we’ve been productive, so whatever it takes to get a win”.

I’m not sure quite frankly that I would agree with his assessment that the tight end position as a whole has been productive—certainly not consistently—but nevertheless, I digress. “That’s all the tight end unit — that’s all we care about”, he continued. “We’re selfless for the team”.

The elephant in the room—the medical room—is Vance McDonald, the tight end that the Steelers acquired via trade in August. He had been in recent weeks quickly ascending the depth chart until a knee injury set things back, causing him to sit out on Sunday.

As a result, we are now halfway through the year and the tight end position is really not really solidified. Is James the guy? Is McDonald the guy? Do they not have ‘the guy’, but rather just a bunch of guys? Surely they will try to sort this out during the break, but it will ultimately have to be answered on the field.

About the Author

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

    Since MB’s personal expression on social media the Steelers have since implanted an electro-chip in the brain on how best to answer the media from now on. Winning is all that matters…Winning is all that matters…Winning is all that matters…

  • Steeler Nation!

    OR, maybe JJ gets what MB does not. Maybe he understands that there ARE a lot of ways to help the team succeed without having the ball in his hands. MB was helping the team win too, with his improved blocking. And by keeping a safety over the top of him-which by nature will limit his deep balls but help the run game and WRs on the other half of the field. He just doesn’t seem to care about that. Even though things would normally balance out over time-single high safety looks to stop run, or rolling coverage to Brown. I want mines, and I want it now. Instant gratification BS. I’m glad we have some role players who understand if they help the team win, everyone prospers.

  • EdJHJr

    Need to see the stats. How often do we throw to the TE

  • falconsaftey43

    James is doing better than last year. Among all TEs he is 25th in targets, 23rd in receptions, 28th in yards. His 3rd down % is much improved, and his yards/target and yards/rec are better this year. That all said, he’s still pretty pedestrian as a blocker and doesn’t really get open much. He’s on the field 83% of the time, so he’s out there a ton. For a guy who doesn’t block very well, and isn’t a significant factor in the passing game, that’s a lot of snaps. I think they need a heavier rotation at TE. James isn’t much better (if at all) than McDonald or Grimble to be dominating the snaps like that IMO.

  • The Big Cheese

    The problem is they’re not productive on offense….

  • Av232

    At the tight end position, the Steelers have… potential.

  • francesco

    Put yourself in MB’s shoes. If he doesn’t get his yards and his contract is not renewed by the Steelers how much will he get on the market? Not much right? As for JJ…he’s a team guy for sure but since he is not a good blocker it will be difficult for the Steelers to keep him on the team as a back up option when renewal time comes up. Therefore in both cases MB (not a team guy) and JJ (team guy) their window to produce and get value is limited if everything continues “as is”. MB chose to express his concern. Players are up against time while they are young and in their prime. Owners are into delaying your payday or not wishing to pay you at all.

  • Max

    JJ is a backup calibre player. Which is fine, backups are needed, but he ideally wouldn’t be starting.

  • Stairway7

    There is nothing wrong with MB expressing his concern as he has a valid point. It’s “how” he did it that bothered me. Social media, talking about other team members…those tactics didn’t get him what he wanted (more targets). I wish he would have asked to have a sit down with Haley, Tomlin and Ben instead (private meeting).

  • The Tony

    The difference between James and Bryant is that before Bryant decided to get suspended, he had the talent and the potential for numbers that would warrant big time money. James albeit a nice player would never come close to the potential contract Bryant is trying to get. I do get where Bryant is coming from for wanting the ball. More catches= more money. Obviously Bryant went about making his voice heard in quite possibly the worst way possible

  • The Tony

    I would rather have the backup calibre of Matt Spaeth than a guy like JJ who is okay at a few things

  • The Tony

    Any word on what Ladarius Green is doing these days? Asking for a friend

  • francesco

    Yes we all agree that that was not the right way to get attention. MB must have been at his wits end to have responded through social media as he did. Where is wits end? When you feel that there is no light at the end of the tunnel am I right?
    AB is the #1 WR. JuJu is Tomlin’s favorite new acquisition. (Btw…Tomlin kissed his forehead after the 97 yard td!). Ben is not what he is or was. MB talks to the receivers coach and nothing changes. MB was at wits end.

  • Stairway7

    He admitted he didn’t speak up except in passing to the receiver’s coach. Like I said the mature thing to do would have been to request a meeting with Tomlin, Haley and Ben to voice his concerns. He admitted he kept it inside until it boiled over.

  • francesco

    Ok so we got that cleared and out of the way…now i would like to get your take in going forward. Do you think anything will change now that it’s in the open and Tomlin Haley and Ben are now all aware of MB’s concern? It won’t change Tomlin as he’s got two thumbs up for his pet project in JuJu. It won’t change Ben as he is more worried about his throwing accuracy. Will it change Haley and his play calling? Haley is as stubborn as it gets and so I venture to say no to maybe (just to be nice).

  • AndyR34

    At the moment, they just have a bunch of guys…none particularly good.

  • Gizmosteel


  • Steeler Nation!

    While I agree with the big stats=big payday part, I still think he should understand that the Bengals respected his deep threat ability enough to take it away. He needs to work on his underneath routes and his attitude. There are very few ABs and Julio Jones in the league. But if he can stay clean and be a good teammate, there are still a lot of jobs to be had. Any more flare ups may have the same result as failed drug tests.

  • David Shoff

    It seems like James is just trying to get in the way of tacklers instead of really blocking them. He needs to get more aggressive when blocking. I wish the Steelers would try to get grimble more involved in the passing game, I still think he can be good. I wonder if he is still too inconsistent in practice.

  • Stairway7

    I’ll preface my response by saying I don’t know what they will do since I’m not on the coaching staff. I will say that Ben shouldn’t be focused on one receiver (AB, JuJu or MB) but there is the element of trust (i.e. will this guy fight for a 50-50 ball?). I will also say that MB has pheonominal physical skills and Haley should figure out a way to make the best use of his talent. I was excited at the prospect of having AB,MB and LB all on the field at the same time. So, I’m disappointed that Haley hasn’t figured out a way to make use of all his offensive weapons.

  • HiVul

    I think we really missed Marcus Gilbert and Vance McDonald in the running game this week

  • nutty32

    Lions seemed to be really stacking the box to stop Lev, which is rare for them to do as they don’t usually sell out. That was the time for Ben to shine, but we got mixed results and Todd stayed with running into the teeth of the Lions D.

  • SfSteeler

    dude, you just got yourself a second contract! while i really feel this is the greater mood of this team…it would be nice if this team first perspective could rub off on some of our stars, but, ya know, we do not all have the same motivations…

  • colingrant

    Spoken just like you’d expect a journeyman to speak. Not a rip though. A few selfless journeyman are needed to win a championship. He along with Hubbard and other key, plug-n-play subs are sometime difference makers rarely seen as such.