When you take a real deep look at the Steelers personnel on offense, you can’t help but get excited about the young talent, especially at the skill positions. The tight end (TE) group is no different, after the team’s 2021 2nd Round pick, Pat Freiermuth, enjoyed a breakout rookie campaign that put him on a fast track to stardom. He became the team’s top red-zone target and recorded 60 rec, 497 yds, and 7 TDs while playing essentially behind Eric Ebron for half the season.
Behind Freiermuth is an underwhelming group of fringe roster guys, with the team lacking a true number two TE at this time. Some might consider Zach Gentry on that level, but the big Michigan man has yet to show he can be anything more than a blocking TE3 with the ability to catch the ball in a pinch. Blocking specialist and special teamer Kevin Rader is the team’s current number three guy at the position. Rounding out the guys with NFL experience is Jace Sternberger, formerly of the Green Bay Packers, who is hoping for a chance to show a little of what made him an All-American at Texas A&M in 2018.
Then there’s the new guy. Many say he’s a player without a position, but rookie 6th Round pick Connor Heyward is one of the more intriguing players on the entire roster. Currently labeled as a Tight End/Full Back on the Steelers official site, Connor may be the team’s best hope for a true weapon in the passing game at the TE position outside of Pat Freiermuth.
With the kind of Rookie season Freiermuth had comes big expectations, and the 2nd-year pro will have the eye of fans early in the season, watching for him to truly explode as one of the best TEs in the league. He should get the chance to prove his ability quickly. With a new quarterback in town, whether it’s Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett, “Muth’s” role as security blanket and red-zone threat will be magnified.
Projecting Pat’s 2022 season stat line is a little difficult with the abundance of pass-catching weapons at the Steelers’ disposal. He probably fits in as the team’s 3rd receiver behind Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, but the rate of development for guys like George Pickens or Calvin Austin III could change that.
Zach Gentry has been every bit the project the Steelers expected when they drafted him, but he has turned into a serviceable TE3 mostly as another big body in the running game. If he can take another step as a pass-catcher, he could turn into a true TE2 role for this team. For now, I don’t love him as the team’s 2nd TE.
Kevin Rader and Jace Sternberger are very unlikely to make the roster when you attempt to project a depth chart of this group. This becomes especially true if the Steelers attempt to sign a player at the position during training camp cut-down days. Such a move would not shock me, and it could be an underrated but big help to the offense as a whole. Rader is strictly a blocker and it feels like the team could better allocate his roster spot, and while Sternberger has more receiving upside, his days are likely numbered as well.
This brings us to the versatile rookie, Connor Heyward. If he can fill some sort of H-back role on the team where his ability as a blocker and a pass-catcher can be utilized from both the backfield and the “Y” position, his value skyrockets. It also potentially makes several of his current teammates expendable. Guys like Rader and Sternberger, and even full back Derek Watt and running back Trey Edmunds.
Depth Chart Prediction
Just like with the Running Back group in Roster Review Part 3, it’s beyond clear cut that Pat Freiermuth is THE GUY at TE for the Steelers in 2022. They may have another offensive star on their hands.
After “Muth” it’s much harder to figure, what with the precipitous drop-off in talent from TE1 to TE2. I’m thinking Zach Gentry takes the role early followed by the younger Heyward brother as the team’s TE3, who could easily see more playing time than Gentry if he proves to be the versatile weapon he was drafted to be. I would love to see Jace Sternberger land on the practice squad for continued development, and if he does, that likely spells the end for Kevin Rader’s time with Pittsburgh.
TE1: Pat Freiermuth
TE2: Zach Gentry
TE3: Connor Heyward
Practice Squad: Jace Sternberger
How many Receiving Yards will Pat Freiermuth have in 2022?
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