<
>

Countdown to Combine: Pittsburgh Steelers TEs

A closer look at the areas the Pittsburgh Steelers could address in the draft. We’ll get started with a look at the tight end position, with prospects scheduled to work out Friday in Indianapolis.

Position of need: Tight end is the lone position on offense where the Steelers have both short-term and long-term needs. Starter Heath Miller is the only tight end on the roster who has NFL experience and is signed for 2015. And the 10th-year veteran isn’t getting any younger -- Miller will turn 33 during the 2015 season. Backups Matt Spaeth and Michael Palmer are primarily blockers. Even if one or both return in 2015, the Steelers need to add youth and athleticism at tight end.

Three tight ends the Steelers could target in the draft:

Maxx Williams, Minnesota: Williams is intriguing as both a future successor to Miller and a player who could probably help the Steelers right away. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Williams arguably is the most complete tight end in the draft. He's a good blocker and also led the Golden Gophers in catches (36), receiving yards (569) and touchdowns (eight) last season. Williams played just two seasons – he redshirted his first year – and the Steelers love drafting underclassmen who still have plenty of room for growth. They would probably have to take Williams at No. 22 overall -- or trade down from there and select him -- because he should be long gone by the time the Steelers pick in the second round.

Clive Walford, Miami: The 6-4, 254-pound Walford could be the second tight end drafted and might even challenge Williams for the top spot. Walford caught 44 passes last season, seven of which scored touchdowns, and he led the Hurricanes with 676 receiving yards. Walford needs some polish as a route runner, but he has a chance to be an outstanding receiver at the next level. Walford, who played just one season of high school football before going to Miami, has made strides as a blocker and has the tools to be an asset in the running game at the next level.

Jesse James, Penn State: James is a local kid, having played at South Allegheny High School, outside of Pittsburgh, before spending three seasons at Penn State. The 6-foot-7, 254-pound James has tantalizing size with a frame that can easily hold more muscle. James set Penn State’s record for most career touchdown receptions (11) by a tight end but needs to improve as a blocker. James is a bit of a project, but he has a lot of upside. He should be available later in the draft if the Steelers opt to address defense with their first couple of picks.