Meet the New Steeler: TE Ladarius Green
Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Way back when, I profiled OT Ryan Harris, and promised posts on the other new guys as well. But somehow life, and the draft, intervened, so it is only now I’m continuing the series. Since Green was probably the biggest free agent signing, he’s up next.
From the alacrity with which the Steelers moved when Green became available, and the enthusiasm with which they pursued him (Mike Tomlin even went to visit him personally) it seemed pretty clear that not only did the Steelers want a No. 1-type tight end, they wanted Green in particular.
And a little research revealed that they had been interested in him prior to the 2012 draft. It’s easy to see why—they had to be thinking that Heath couldn’t play forever, and Green had a lot of upside.
I found his NFL.com draft profile, and the numbers jumped out at me, since I had so recently been looking at the profiles for this year’s draft. They assigned Green a rating of 67.5, and said:
Green is a big tight end who understands how to get open and use his frame to be a good option for the quarterback in the short passing game. He has good foot quickness, which he uses along with his frame to work against zone coverage and box out smaller defenders to secure the easy first-down catch. Green has body control that allows him to leap, torque and reach both high and low for poorly thrown balls, making him the type of red-zone option who can have his quarterback throw jump balls.
That number (67.5) was so high compared to what I was seeing for this year’s prospects that I went back and looked at the whole draft tracker for 2012 . It’s evident that NFL.com has amended their ranking system. Obviously they changed from a scale of 1-100 to a scale of 1-10, but it seems safe to assume that they moved the bar down as well. Here are a few numbers for comparison:
- Highest rated player: 2012, Andrew Luck, 97.5; 2016, Laremy Tunsil, 7.6
- Sixth-highest rated player (to get away from the QBs, and for Steelers interest): 2012, David DeCastro, 92.5; 2016, Joey Bosa, 6.7.
Tangent alert: I can’t help being curious about when the rating system changed. It turned out to be in 2014, when the top-rated player was Jadeveon Clowney, who was given a 7.5. The sixth-rated player was Anthony Barr, at 6.5. The 2015 equivalents were No. 1 Leonard Williams (7.5) and No. 6 Vic Beasley (6.6.)
It makes sense to lower the whole scale to make more separation for the case where you have a truly special player. But it does make things harder to compare. Let’s return to the 2012 draft.
As we know, it was the Chargers who got Green, at pick 110 in the fourth round. As it happened, the Steelers had the previous pick (109) and used it on Alameda Ta’amu instead. This seemed like a steal at the time. Ta’amu received a 77.0 rating. He was the No. 88 player in that draft, at least according to the NFL.com rating system, compared to Green at No. 148. If the Steelers’ internal prospect ranking was anything similar to this, I can see they just couldn’t take Green over Ta’amu.
But we all know the sad ending to this story. It is interesting to speculate what would have happened had the Steelers passed up Ta’amu and taken Green in the first place. Here is what the NFL profile went on to say about Green’s weaknesses:
Green is a raw player and likely would be a project at the position. He can struggle getting off the line of scrimmage and can give away his routes quickly when running them. He has a lot of negative aspects to his game, but the skills he lacks could be developed through coaching.
Although Green didn’t put up big-time numbers in San Diego, he was of course stuck behind probable first-ballot Hall of Famer Antonio Gates. This gave Green a chance to learn from the best and develop at an appropriate pace. Given the type of TE he is, it’s at least reasonable to speculate that San Diego was a better place for him than Pittsburgh. As much as I love Heath, he was a very different sort of player.
We’ll never know how it might have played out had Pittsburgh taken him. But despite the limits to his touches, Green did develop, and develop well, in San Diego. Here’s what Mike Tomlin had to say before last season’s game vs. the Chargers:
Ladarius Green is a talented and vertical threat-like tight end. He is an oversized wide receiver. He is adept at getting up the field. He has logged a lot of quality reps here in the first four weeks of the season and he has built a nice rapport with Rivers. I would imagine that would continue even as Gates comes back, and I would imagine their two tight end set is going to be one that we have to contend with.
I think there is a lot to be excited about with Green as a player. I find myself wondering if the Steelers would have been quite so keen to take him rather than look for a more old-school TE with major blocking skills, if such even exist anymore, had they not known the Matavis Bryant suspension was coming. But it was, and they were.
And fortunately for Steeler Nation, Green is not only a very credible receiving threat with a seemingly tremendous amount of upside when given the spotlight, but there are no lurking character concerns. Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette described him as “modest, smiling, and earnest” in his first press conference, which is a great start. I love what Green said as well:
You can’t replace a guy like [Heath]. You can’t replace Antonio [Gates, the gifted tight end he understudied with the San Diego Chargers]. Heath had been doing it for so long and been here the whole time doing it — you can’t replace him, you just have to pick up where he’s leaving it. If I can do half of what he did for this organization, that’s pretty good.
It’s pretty doubtful anyone will be disappointed with what Green will bring to the offense in the post-Miller era because his football story reads like a classical narrative ready to peak.
Collier also noted Green isn’t the first fourth-round pick out of Lousiana-Lafayette who has a chance to make his name in Pittsburgh. And, Collier says, “Unlike Ike [Taylor,] Green can actually catch the ball.”
The modesty of which Collier spoke apparently kept Green from talking about it, though:
Various attempts at getting him to brag on his hands Thursday failed miserably as Green was just too humble, but when Gates, his mentor in San Diego, missed the first four games last season for a performance-enhancing drug suspension, the Chargers weathered that turbulence in no small part because they had Green.
Green noted that Steeler Nation was one of the attractions of Pittsburgh for him:
…you know they’re there. You know the fan base they have and you know the fans love them, the team loves the fans and you want to be around that kind of stuff. People get behind you, and they root for you, which was a big part of me coming here.
Green is the son of a second-generation military family. Both his parents were in the Army, and both grandfathers as well. It led to a rather strict parenting style, as Green noted in a Chargers.com article:
It was a good upbringing because they know the discipline and they know what it takes to raise kids. It was a lot different.
This paid dividends at college, when his college coach noted that Green was never on a list. Which is a good thing. The coaches have lists for the guys who don’t go to class, who are late to practice, who stay out too late at night, or engage in other unsatisfactory or potentially troublesome behavior. Green was never, ever on any of those lists. There’s a lot to say for a disciplined upbringing.
He seems to have a good head on his shoulders. He told the assembled media after his signing:
The most important thing [Gates] taught me was to be myself. I had to learn way back then to not try to be him and not to try to follow in his footsteps. So he taught me to be myself, and that’s what I’m going to apply here as well, as far as not trying to be Heath.
Because Heath is Heath.
It seems the Steelers have, amazingly enough, found a guy to not only take over the No. 1 TE position for Heath Miller, but to continue his tradition of selfless play and humble demeanor. I for one am already a fan.