Steelers Jesse James the heir to Heath Miller?


It’s no secret that Heath Miller is getting up there in age. He’s still performing well but he’s older and he can’t play forever. So the Steelers brought in Jesse James in this years draft. Is James the person to play tight end for the Steelers whenever Miller retires? Or ever before for a bit, do a two tight end type of deal? Well that remains to be seen but we can speculate anyway.

The Steelers have been trying to find a young third tight end for a while now, likely thinking ahead to the time when Miller is no longer with us. They drafted David Paulson in 2012 and Rob Branchflower in 2014, both in the seventh round. They also tried out several UDFA over this time. The Steelers were ready to invest a little more draft into the tight end spot this year though.

Many anticipated the Steelers would select Maxx Williams out of Minnesota in the second round and they may have but, you know, draft happens. So the Steelers ended up getting Senquez Golson in the second round and picking up Jesse James in the 5th round.

Jesse James came in as a big tight end. He’s 6’7″ and 261 lbs. He has a big frame and a long wingspan. His speed and quickness were fine. They were middle of the road. Where he stands out is in strength and jumping when we’re talking combine numbers. He was a project and young but he’s got upside and there’s reason to believe in it.

First, his college stats. In only 3 years at Penn State he set a school record for the tight end position with 11 touchdown catches. He finished with 78 receptions and 1,005 yards as well. He demonstrated ability to run routes, block proficiently, and make tough catches. He was considered somewhat of an underachiever despite all that.

Second, is his circumstances in college. James performed well in college despite many difficult circumstances. His college stats should be considered in context. In those three years he played with two new head coaches. He performed well as a true freshman under Bill O’Brien. He continued to produce under James Franklin who was not known for using tight ends in the receiving game.

On top of that, one of those years was with a quarterback who started his college career as a walk on, Matt McGloin. And another of those years was with a true freshman quarterback, Christian Hackenberg.

On top of all that was all the other distractions going at Penn State during his time. So one could assume that given the performance under these conditions he might do even better under the legendary stability in Pittsburgh.

Third, his age. Like I mentioned, he’s only been able to buy beer for almost half a year. There’s plenty for him to learn. He’s raw. There’s a lot to work with in terms of raw skills and how he was able to develop during his time in school and even as a true freshman play well.

And finally, a reason to believe in the upside of James is what he’s already done as a Steeler. This season’s stats seem like a good place to start. He’s played in two games so far this season, the last game against the Browns and the one before against the Raiders. He’s got 3 catches and 13 yards so far, with a touchdown too. These aren’t pro bowl numbers but not bad for the first two games of your career.

More from Steelers News

Ideally, that touchdown catch is going to be relived over and over again with increasing frequency. Or at least that’s the Steelers aim. He just jogs into the end zone. Stands there being tall. And Ben puts it in the air. Touchdown. Ok, it’ll be more complicated than that, but probably not a whole lot.

Another reason to root for James is he’s a hometown boy. He grew up in McKeesport, PA near Pittsburgh. He played his college ball at Penn State just a few hours east and a few years later he packed up and moved back to Pittsburgh to play for the Steelers. He’s played a lifetime of football in one state … in one half of one state.

There’s something else about James brief performance that showed promise. That game against the Raiders where Martavis Bryant took the screen for a touchdown, James had Raiders safety Larry Asante locked up, like for a long time, Asante could just not escape.

Then he somehow also blocked linebacker Nieron Ball on the play too, and also cornerback DJ Hayden. Cause if you want to be the heir to Miller you have to be able to block.

Matt Spaeth is getting up there in age too. We could seen some two tight end passing threat type addition to an offense already loaded with weapons.

Tight ends coach James Daniel said, according to Teresa Varley of, “He has put in the time and a lot of work. He has done a good job as a blocker. Some of those plays he has made, we have seen him make those in practice before he got the opportunity to do it in a game. He has been challenged to wait for the opportunity and then has taken advantage of the opportunity when it came because that is what this business is all about. The challenges that we have confronted him with, he has met them and he is trying to be good in all areas as a player.”

High praise. But what’s the downside? Why wasn’t he the number one pick? Well, as I mentioned, his speed is nothing to run home about and though his hands are good they’re good for a tight end.

The other thing is he could use fire under him, or something like that. At Penn State he looked good out there, which would make you wonder why his stats weren’t higher. Penn State was stacked at tight end during his time, not unlike wide receiver at Clemson during Martavis Bryant’s time there.

But that’s not the only reason. And not just the quarterbacks or the coaches either. He’s just kind of been an underachiever.

Next: Steelers stay put in week 12 NFL power rankings

The Steelers seem to be impressed with him and if he continues to learn and evolve he could be a valuable part of the Steelers for years to come.