2015 NFL Draft: Steelers Select TE Jesse James


The Pittsburgh Steelers have selected Penn State TE Jesse James with the 160th pick overall in the 5th round of the 2015 NFL draft. This is another pick addressing a need, though not one as urgent as the outside linebacker and defensive back. Its obviously an attempt to expand the offense with possible two TE sets in the short term and in the long term finding an heir to Heath Miller.

What jumps out about Jesse James, besides his familiar sounding name, for both those familiar and unfamiliar is his size. James stand 6’7″ and weighs 261 pounds, which is Gronkowskiesque size. He’s got a long frame and despite his solid weight still has room to pack on more.

In terms of drills he ran an unspectacular 4.83 in the 40 at the combine, though on his pro-day he was able to run at 4.66. Although speed is not a glaring weakness for James, its not one of his weapons either. Quickness as well is not terrible but isn’t what the Steelers saw in him.

His speed and quickness can best be described as functional while strength and jumping is really where he stood out. Unsurprisingly with his height and weight he performed well in the vertical and broad jump as well on the bench press. I wouldn’t describe James as an athletic tight end but as athletic for his size.

James had solid college stats. He broke out as a true freshman when Bill O’Brien took over at Penn State and made the tight ends a big part of the passing game. In only 3 years at Penn State he set school records for tight end with 11 touchdown catches. He finished with 78 receptions and 1,005 yards as well.

Despite his solid numbers he kind of underachieved in college. This was mostly due to consistency. Occasionally James was underutilized and at other times he would just disappear for stretches.

He is capable of making the occasional great catch and has solid hands, but sometimes does not fight for the ball enough. He’s capable of running through players due to his size but too often attempts to shake or run by defensive backs after the catch. He can go up and get the ball and runs sound routes but struggles to get separation due to his speed and lumbering steps. He’s a solid run blocker but doesn’t have that nasty streak.

James will probably make the roster as a 3rd tight end and will immediately improve the Steelers offense by giving them a two TE receiving threat. It doesn’t just add a good young player, it stretches the play book and gives Todd Haley yet another threat to utilize.

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James can also run block. If James can maintain his ability to go up and get the ball, use good blocking principles, consistently catch the ball, and run good routes he could make Matt Spaeth unnecessary within a year or two.

If James can be more consistent, more fluid, play more to his size, add a little more size, and get a fire under him, he can absolutely takeover for Heath Miller at some point down the road.

There’s good reason to believe in his upside as well. James is young. He never had a red shirt year and left Penn State as a junior. His stats become more impressive when you consider that those short three years were played with two new head coaches. He continued to produce under James Franklin who was not known for using tight ends in the receiving game.

One of those years was with a quarterback who started as a walk on. Another of those years was with a true freshman quarterback. On top of all that was all the other distractions going at Penn State during his time. Its really no wonder he, despite his solid numbers, was considered to have underachieved.

This really suggests that the notoriously stable Steelers could really by a good environment for the young tight end. He’ll also have two solid veterans to mentor him in all aspects of the game in Miller and Speath.

Jesse James is a good pick and a good fit for the Steelers because he adds to the team immediately and potentially much more in the future. He expands the play book and adds a second receiving tight end to the roster right off the bat. In the future he could very well be the often spoken of replacement for Heath Miller, a player with whom he has some similarities actually in terms of play.

In some ways he’s great, where he’s not he’s good enough. If he can be more consistent there’s a bright future for James. There’s good reason to think there will be with his talent and upside.

Grade: A-

Next: Steelers Select Senquez Golson: Instant Reaction

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