Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
The Pittsburgh Steelers have numerous holes on their roster to fill during the upcoming offseason. Although some holes might garner large amounts of media attention (offensive tackle, cornerback, etc.), Pittsburgh’s brass will probably be looking for an upgrade in the form of a tight end prospect during the 2014 NFL Draft.
Despite the fact that the Steelers have a two-time “Pro Bowler” on their roster in the form of Heath Miller, this franchise will face some serious depth issues at the position over the next two seasons.
The current contracts of the soon to be 31 year old Miller and the soon to be 30 year old Matt Spaeth will both expire after the 2014 regular season. Although Miller could be re-signed to a cheaper deal ($6 million base salary scheduled for 2014), Spaeth could very well be released before he even sees the field for the Steelers.
Pittsburgh’s backup tight end has yet to participate in regular season play this fall, and will probably not make his debut until later this month due to the Lisfranc injury he suffered during training camp. More of a blocking threat than anything else, the Steelers might be better served to move on from Spaeth next fall.
Of course, Pittsburgh does not currently have much in terms of effective depth behind Spaeth and Miller at the tight end position.
Although David Johnson has fought his way back from injury, he is best used in a fullback/H-back role in Pittsburgh’s offense as opposed to a full-time, in-line blocker. In addition, Johnson will be a UFA after this season and could go elsewhere if he is offered a more lucrative contract.
In addition to Johnson, second-year tight end David Paulson has been nothing short of an immense disappointment this fall. An extremely poor run-blocker, Paulson did not inspire much faith during Miller’s absence that he could step up as the team’s number two tight end earlier this year. Until he can display better ball-security and prove to be an adequate in-line blocker though, Paulson could find himself at the very bottom of Pittsburgh’s depth chart or even cut by the time his rookie contract expires after the 2015 campaign.
Upgrading the Tight End Position
Likely to hold a top seven pick in a draft class littered with terrific left tackle prospects, I honestly have a hard time believing that the Steelers would select a tight end on the first evening of “Draft Weekend.” Day two or early on day three could be prime spots for Pittsburgh’s brass to take a tight end to compliment Miller in the present, and hopefully take over for the Pro Bowl tight end in the future.
Guys like C.J. Fiedorowicz of Iowa, Arthur Lynch of Georgia, and Ted Bolser of Indiana could be the types of in-line tight ends who can do damage as run-blockers but contribute a solid amount in the passing game, particularly in the red zone.
If the Steelers are looking for some more explosive play-makers at tight end, underclassmen Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer of Southern Cal could be options. In addition, Pittsburgh’s brass might keep their eyes on some explosive prospects like Colt Lyerla of Oregon and Jace Amaro of Texas Tech if they tumble down the draft board due to off-field issues (here and here).
Regardless of whom they decide to target, the Steelers must find some prospects to help upgrade the team’s depth at the tight end position next spring.
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