2011 NFL Predictions: Jerricho Cotchery Gets Pittsburgh Steelers Tight End Spot
The Pittsburgh Steelers have made use of two-tight-end sets a lot over the past few years.
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has an obvious affection for the formation that specializes in balancing team's attacks. It's a sensible formation for the Steelers to use, as they have strong runners and good receivers. A balanced offense is the goal of every coordinator in the league, and the Steelers are lucky to be able to run one.
However, the loss of Matt Spaeth—while a cause for rejoicing among many Steelers fans—has opened up a position on the roster to be won.
John Gilmore and Weslye Saunders appear to be the favorites to land the second tight end job, but neither player is really going to offer much this coming season.
Gilmore is a veteran tight end who has 52 receptions in nine seasons. He will offer the team a blocking option, but realistically won't be as valuable to the offense as David Johnson.
Saunders is an undrafted rookie that many onlookers are high on, but he is coming off an injury, and will need to prove a lot over the preseason to even be considered for the final roster.
While Matt Spaeth was the second choice tight end, I would imagine David Johnson will ultimately fill that role after being the fullback/tight end for the past two seasons. This would mean that the team is essentially deciding between Gilmore and Saunders to be their third choice at tight end.
Neither option is overly appealing.
This is where Jerricho Cotchery comes in.
There is no doubt that Jerricho Cotchery cannot play tight end. There's the obvious fact that Cotchery's seven year career has been spent at wide receiver, as well as the fact that there are not many 6'1", 200-pound tight ends in the league today.
While I don't propose that Cotchery becomes the team's third tight end, I do think he would be a better option to fill that roster spot than either Gilmore or Saunders.
When you consider that the Steelers were already stacked at receiver before signing Cotchery, he will become the team's fifth-choice receiver.
Mike Wallace and Hines Ward should be the team's starters. Emmanuel Sanders may be injured right now, but will be the third choice once he returns. Antonio Brown gives the team a spark as the fourth choice, as he proved last season that he can make big plays in big games.
With these five receivers, the Steelers could still run two-tight-end sets with Johnson and Heath Miller while Doug Legursky fills in at fullback in heavy sets.
This is a much more promising lineup than one that would feature either Gilmore or Saunders, in my mind, and it will also allow the team to have more versatility in its playbook.
While Heath Miller coming off the field is never a good idea, having Cotchery on the team would allow the team to spread the field with five legitimate wide receiver threats.
The Steelers probably would have carried five receivers on the roster either way, but keeping Cotchery and only two tight ends would allow them to also keep Arnaz Battle for his important play on special teams.
Cotchery, for me, is much better than a fifth-choice receiver. He was criminally underused in New York and is a fantastic possession receiver. In fact, he is probably a better player than the man who replaced him—Derrick Mason—at this point in their respective careers.
Cotchery could easily be a third-choice receiver on many teams, and it's not guaranteed that he doesn't force his way up the depth chart in Pittsburgh either, despite how impressive Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders appear to be.
Depth is vital in the NFL, and while the team would be sacrificing tight end depth for a longer list of receivers, Cotchery's talent advantage over either John Gilmore or Weslye Saunders would make that a smart decision.
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