The Steelers tight end position has become the new blind spot for general manager Kevin Colbert. There was a time when edge rusher was the position he most struggled filling through the draft. Colbert put that stigma to rest after the home run selections of Bud Dupree and TJ Watt. Now tight end has taken over as his most challenging position to fill, but for entirely different reasons.
While Colbert took lots of swings at the edge position during the draft, he has almost completely ignored tight end. Since drafting Heath Miller in the first round in 2015 draft, Colbert has used a top three pick only once on a tight end. That was two years later when he drafted Matt Speath in the third round of the 2007 draft. Thirteen years, and very little investment in the position. Here is the uninspiring list of drafted free agents since 2006:
2006 – Charles Davis: Round 6
2007 – Matt Spaeth: Round 3
2009 – David Johnson: Round 7
2012 – David Paulson: Round 7
2014 – Rob Blanchflower: Round 7
2015 – Jesse James: Round 5
2019 – Zach Gentry: Round 5
Kevin Colbert has made two significant free agent tight end signings in the last ten years. Those two being Ladarius Green and Eric Ebron. Ironically these players are the polar opposites of his most successful tight end acquisition Heath Miller. Both of these players were attempts at getting Ben Roethlisberger a “move” tight end. Rather than sticking to the prototype that worked, Colbert tried to add a more mobile, pass catching tight end to the offense.
The Ladarius Green signing showed signs of working early on. Unfortunately his propensity for concussions only got worse in his one and only season in Pittsburgh. Green only played in six total games before being forced to retire due to his repeated head injuries.
Eric Ebron is another attempt at giving Ben Roethlisberger a pass catching tight end. Ebron’s first season reaffirmed everything said about him coming in. He is an above average receiver, but a huge liability as a blocker. His reputation for having the drops from time to time also held true in 2020. In a vacuum, this is not a terrible signing by Colbert. It would be even better if the Steelers had a run-blocking tight end to pare with Ebron. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh has no such player on the roster at this time.
For one short season it seemed as if Kevin Colbert had pulled off a major coup by trading for Vance McDonald. In 2018 McDonald had 50 catches for 610 yards, and looked well on his way to becoming the next Heath Miller. At his best, McDonald was a mauling run blocker who could also be a major threat in the passing game. Unfortunately this was short lived because of the various injuries he suffered. Vance McDonald never played a full season in four years with the Steelers. He suffered a rapid decline after that 2018 season, and was never the same player after that.
We hesitate to even mention the Nick Vannett acquisition on account of how bad it was. Colbert dealt a fifth round pick to the Seahawks, and got close to nothing in return. Vannett even went as far as ripping the organization on his way out the door one year later. This is one we are sure Kevin Colbert would like to forget.
In an ordinary year, this would be a lock to use a first round pick to fill the Steelers tight end position. This is anything but an ordinary year however. Pittsburgh has so many holes elsewhere on this roster it is hard to see them investing that high in the draft for a tight end.
Kevin Colbert will have to become creative this off-season to acquire the tight end of the future. Something along the lines of this move we proposed last year….. Steelers should trade their second round pick for OJ Howard
However Kevin Colbert does it, finally finding a tight end to fill this position once and for all will be a priority. He will have to work some magic in the mid rounds of the draft, or uncover an underpriced free agent with upside. This team can not go another season piecing together a group of misfits at tight end. It hurt them in 2020, and will again unless the position is improved.