Pittsburgh Steelers: Possible Tight End Draft Prospects
Possible Tight End Draft Prospects
Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers have officially matched an offer to retain wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, there still is a need to add another weapon to their offensive arsenal. We all know that wide receiver Mike Wallace is gone, and grabbing a receiver in either round one or two is almost certain. However, tight end is another position that needs to be tended to.
The timetable for the return of tight end Heath Miller is still uncertain. Miller, who tore his ACL late in the 2012 season, could miss some time in the beginning of this upcoming season, which will leave the Steelers with few options at the position.
Pittsburgh really doesn’t have any proven tight ends that are currently on the roster. David Paulson had very little playing time last season, and David Johnson is returning after last year’s season-ending knee injury. In addition to Paulson and Johnson, Matt Spaeth is back in the Steel City for a second tour of duty.
Neither one of these players will pose as big a threat in the passing game as Miller does. Paulson is still unproven while Johnson and Spaeth are more known for their contributions in the running game.
The Steelers will greatly miss Miller’s presence on the field. Miller led the team in receptions and touchdowns in 2012, and was Ben Roethlisberger’s primary target all of last season. Drafting a tight end that is capable of being that safety blanket for Roethlisberger will definitely help Pittsburgh’s offense in both the passing and running games.
I’m still sticking to my guns by predicting that the Steelers will grab a pass rusher in the first round, followed by a wide receiver in the second. Once Pittsburgh is on the clock with their 79th overall pick in the third round, I believe that they will set their sights on a tight end.
Here are the players I think are the five best tight end prospects that the Steelers could possibly get in the third round.
Vance McDonald-Rice (6’4”, 267 lbs.)
Vance McDonald is a tight end that can play not only on the line, but also in the slot and split out wide. McDonald has the size to be a big threat in the red zone, and could give the Steelers a great advantage when lined up against smaller nickel backs. The blocking ability of McDonald, which was praised while participating in the Senior Bowl, could help Pittsburgh’s running game, which struggled last season.
In addition to his versatility on offense, McDonald also displayed skills on special teams as a long snapper during his final season at Rice University.
Travis Kelce-Cincinnati (6’5”, 255 lbs.)
Originally recruited as a quarterback, Travis Kelce just might be the tight end that the Steelers end up drafting. Kelce will probably be the best tight end with both blocking and receiving abilities during the third-round point of the draft. Even with limited experience as a tight end, the First-Team All Big East selection has proven to be a physical blocker, as well as a talented pass catcher who can stretch the field.
The only red flag on Kelce is his 2010 suspension from the University of Cincinnati football program due to violating team rules.
Gavin Escobar-San Diego St. (6’6”, 254 lbs.)
Another tight end that has a great upside is Gavin Escobar. The First-Team All-Mountain West selection was a semi-finalist for the John Mackey Award in 2012, and led his team in receiving with 42 catches, 543 yards and six touchdowns. However, Escobar had a better 2011 season with 51 catches, 780 yards and seven touchdowns.
Unlike McDonald and Kelce, Escobar only shines in one aspect of the game. Escobar’s big frame makes an easy target in the passing game. Furthermore, his ability of running a good seam route and his knack for separating from linebackers and overpowering defensive backs makes Escobar a great asset in the passing game. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about his blocking skills.
Jordan Reed-Florida (6’3”, 236 lbs.)
The University of Florida’s Jordan Reed is another tight end that has experience playing in multiple positions. Reed is a former quarterback that transitioned into the tight end role and has lined up as a wide out and an H-back.
Though considered undersized for a tight end on the professional level, Reed earned First-Team All-SEC honors and finished 2012 with 45 catches, 559 yards and three touchdowns. Reed has even drawn some comparison to tight end Aaron Hernandez (a former Gator). However, there is some skepticism about Reed’s attitude; something that allegedly got him benched during Florida’s most recent bowl game.
Dion Sims-Michigan St. (6’5”, 262 lbs.)
If by some chance the Steelers don’t select a tight end in the third round, then Michigan State University’s Dion Sims should still be on the board for the taking in the fourth. Sims is another big target in the passing game, and has good speed for a player his size. While playing in East Lansing, Sims never put up eye-popping numbers, but did show good hands in the passing game and excellent running power after the catch.
What makes Sims a bit unattractive is his inconsistent blocking skills and his inability to stay healthy.
Clyde A. Speller is an NFL writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @ClydeASpeller, or add him to your network on Google