Another in a position-by-position series in advance of the start of free agency on March 9:
TIGHT ENDS – (5)
(Free Agent Scorecard: None)
After being a seventh-round draft pick from Massachusetts in 2014, Blanchflower spent that season on the practice squad, and he was waived-injured on Aug. 6, 2015 and spent this past season on injured reserve. For now, he's got a spot on the offseason roster, which doesn't mean a whole lot at a time of year when there's still snow on the ground.
At 6-foot-4, 261-pounds, Grimble is a prime candidate to be the player who becomes something of an obsession for the faction of Steelers Nation that likes to hunt for sleepers during the offseason. During his college career at USC, Grimble was a bit of an underachiever, and then he made a curious decision to skip his senior season and enter the 2014 draft. He wasn't drafted and has bounced around on practice squads since. He has enough size and athletic ability and hands to be considered a worthwhile gamble as a developmental prospect, hence the sleeper designation.
Last year's fifth-round pick from Penn State, James is not the second-coming of Ben Roethlisberger, and those who consider him to be that are doing him a disservice by creating expectations he won't be able to fulfill. In his first NFL action – in the Hall of Fame Game last August in Canton against the Vikings – James looked like he didn't belong in the NFL after dropping some passes and having Coach Mike Tomlin say he would tell him to "knuckle up. This is Sunday ball. This is not Saturday ball." But James rebounded to the degree he was active for the final eight games of the regular season and two in the playoffs. He's still a project, but at least now he seems to belong in the NFL and therefore looks to be a worthwhile project. The next Heath Miller? Not so fast.
With one year remaining on his current contract, and with his 34th birthday set for Oct. 22, it's a safe assumption Miller is staring at the end of a career that will finish with him as the top tight end in franchise history. It's very reasonable to make the contention that Miller wore down as 2015 wore on, but there's also no question that he remains the team's best tight end and one of its best 53 overall players, regardless of position. Finding a replacement for Miller is a legitimate endeavor, but is it necessary to expect that player to come via a high draft choice? With the group of wide receivers the Steelers have, maybe not. And maybe finding Miller's replacement isn't worth pursuing at all this offseason, because it would give the team another season to get a better idea of what it has in Jesse James.
Almost exactly 13 months younger than Miller, Spaeth is a blocking tight end, and that statement is backed up by the fact he has six catches in 32 games over three seasons since coming back to the Steelers after a two-year stint in Chicago with the Bears. That is true, and so is this: the Steelers haven't had anyone to give them what Spaeth has been giving them over the past two-and-a-half seasons as an in-line blocker. That's not necessarily an easy job, nor is it one where replacements are plentiful.