Fantasy alert: Steelers may have tight end with red zone value

Ben Roethlisberger has given tight end Jesse James plenty of chances to make an impact during red zone drills this preseason. Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH -- Jesse James has no fantasy football experience. Hasn't played, hasn't drafted, barely knows what a TE1 is.

But he's cool with those who believe he might someday be one.

"Hopefully I can help out," James said.

The acclaimed "Killer Bs" -- Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant -- are expected to carry the Pittsburgh Steelers offense.

But what about a sizable over-the-middle target with good hops, slightly below-average speed and eagerness to break through in Year 3?

James won't burn defensive backs with his 4.83 40 speed, but that 37.5-inch vertical might just be useful in the red zone. After watching every Steelers training camp practice, James and Roethlisberger got a ton of reps together in goal-line work. Roethlisberger often looks James' way for high balls and back-shoulder throws in the back of the end zone.

Forecasting James' production is difficult considering the weapons in front of him. But what's certain: He's clearly the starting tight end on a loaded NFL offense. He'll get clean looks by default, though he must show he can hold onto the ball through contact.

"It is what it is. I'm still growing as a player," said James about being overshadowed by more established players. "I feel I'm getting better each week. I think this is going to be the best offense in the NFL and I'm glad to be a big part of it. I just want to get to the Super Bowl and win it. Whatever it takes."

James was a relatively quiet playmaker last season, getting his 30 yards or so each week and heading to the team bus. He finished the year with 39 catches for 338 yards and three scores.

But James looked more comfortable in the playoffs, posting a combined 131 yards on 10 catches against the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots.

Now James has his sights on becoming a consistent scorer for an offense eyeing 30 points per game. Roethlisberger likes to experiment with James and the other tight ends, practicing what he calls "bad completions" -- balls that miss the mark left, right, high or low to see how the receiver adjusts.

James said he's gotten hundreds of those reps with Roethlisberger, and believes he's better for it.

"My length and the way I can turn and make back-shoulder catches," said James when asked about his biggest red zone strength. "I know the whole playbook so throughout the game, any position on the field I'm able to adjust. They can use me any way they want throughout the game and I'll be ready to go."

Tight end Xavier Grimble also is an athletic pass-catcher and veteran David Johnson will earn snaps as a lead blocker. But James, who's improved his blocking, will be involved in most one- and two-tight-end sets.

The next step is going for 500 yards or five touchdowns. James won't mind if he gets there as the beneficiary of the playmakers around him.

"Having guys like AB and Martavis make it easy," James said.