Steelers Draft Picks in the 21st Century: Tight End
This year the NFL Draft will take place April 23-25 in fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada.
On Sunday we looked at every running back selected by the Steelers since the turn of the century.
Today, we’re moving onto an offensive position that has completely changed since the early 2000s, the tight end.
The Steelers were lucky enough to have a franchise rock at the position — Heath Miller — for much of Kevin Colbert’s tenure with the team and have use their draft capital sparingly on the position in the past 20 years.
2000-2004: The Steelers starting tight end had been Mark Breuner since drafting him in 1995. Primarily used as a blocker, Bruener left the team after the 2003 season to join the Washington Redskins.
2000: 6th round, Jason Gavadza, Kent State
2004: 6th round, Matt Kranchick, Penn State
2005: 1st round, Heath Miller, Virginia
For the 4th time in the Steelers history, the team spent a first round pick on a tight end (Bennie Cunningham, Eric Green, Mark Breuner). Miller would be the rock upon which the team would rely on for three Super Bowl appearances and two wins. Productive throughout his 11 year career, Miller would end up with 592 receptions, 6569 yards and 45 touchdowns. One of the best blocking tight ends in the league, the Virginia product was also a two-time Pro Bowl selection.
2006-2015: Despite the presence of Heath Miller, the Steelers selected Charles Davis in the 5th and then Matt Spaeth in the 3rd round in the years following. Spaeth was a solid blocker and number two for four years before leaving for the Bears in free agency. Spaeth would return in 2013 and spend three more years with the team.
2006: 5th round, Charles Davis, Purdue
2007: 3rd round, Matt Spaeth, Minnesota
2009: 7th round, David Johnson, Arkansas State
2012: 7th round, David Paulson, Oregon
2014: 7th round, Rob Blanchflower, UMass
2015: 5th round, Jesse James, Penn State
With Miller and Spaeth both nearing the end of their careers, the Steelers picked Jesse James in the 5th round, the first time they used a pick in the first five rounds on a tight end since Spaeth in 2007. James was a serviceable tight end from 2015 until 2018 when he left the Steelers in free agency.
2016-2019: After drafting James, the Steelers turned to different methods to procure their tight ends, free agency and trades. The Steelers signed Ladarius Green to a 4-year deal in 2016, but injuries limited him to only six games with the team. With Green not working out, the next season the Steelers traded for Vance McDonald from the 49ers. Although McDonald has dealt with his own injuries, he’s been the starter when healthy since arriving. In 2019 the Steelers traded for Nick Vannett from the Seahawks after McDonald was injured.
2019: 5th round, Zach Gentry, Michigan
2000-2020 draft tight end breakdown
Total selections: 10
Selections by round:
1st round: 1
2nd round: 0
3rd round: 1
4th round: 0
5th round: 3
6th round: 2
7th round: 3
Selections by conference:
Big 12: 0
Big 10: 5
PAC 10: 1
Power 5: 7
Group of 5: 3
The Steelers have shown a penchant for Big 10 tight ends, spending half of their 10 selections on players from that conference. … Zach Gentry is currently the only drafted tight end on the Steelers’ roster. … Christian Scotland-Williamson and Kevin Rader were undrafted pickups.