By Jeremy Hritz
Before last season if you would have asked me, I would have emphatically told you that tight end was one of the worst positions on the team.
How quickly things can change.
Pat Freiermuth had an outstanding rookie season as the team’s second round selection out of Penn State, with 60 receptions for 497 yards, and 7 touchdowns. Compare that to Heath Miller’s rookie season when he collected 39 receptions for 459 yards and 6 touchdowns. Where Freiermuth is not equal to Miller in his game is in the blocking department, an area in which he will improve this offseason through the development of his technique and strength.
There is only growth and improvement ahead for Freiermuth, and there is no reason to believe he will continue to climb and be even more of a contributor not only in the passing game, but also in the running game through his blocking. It’s been a while since they have had a reliable tight end in the vein of Miller, and now that piece of the puzzle is finally in place.
That Former QB Turned TE Finally Develops
Emerging as a solid #2 this season to everybody’s surprise was Zach Gentry, a project player who converted from quarterback to tight end. Gentry will enter his 4th season in 2022, and the wait for his development has been worth it, as he showed he can be a quality complimentary tight end to Freiermuth. Gentry’s blocking was noticeably effective at the position. As a receiver, his stats were not gaudy at 19 receptions for 167 yards, but nobody would have predicted even those minimal contributions this year. He is cemented in the depth chart as the second tight end, and there should be optimism about his contributions next season.
Eric Ebron is a free agent, and the team will not resign him, as his drop issues have not resolved, and his blocking is non-existent. He will best be remembered for his sense of humor as a Steeler, as opposed to any consistency and production on the field.
Securing the third tight end spot will be Kevin Rader, who had 2 receptions for 8 yards, but made most of his impact as a blocker. He is signed for the 2022 season, and he will complete the unit and provide a physical presence in the running game.
If there is any position with stability heading into the offseason, it is tight end, and I do not expect, much, if any movement or changes in personnel. The Steelers have a quality trio of tight ends, and if anything, they could look to see if they could upgrade their #3 by finding somebody more effective than Rader; however, knowing all of this team’s needs and what will be available to them based on what they are willing to spend, their best bet is to stay put and run this same group back out on the field in 2022. Any additions to this position will come from the undrafted rookie free agent class, but I wouldn’t count on anybody making an impact, or making the team.
So, no, the Steelers will not be drafting a tight end in 2022, nor will they pursue one in free agency. Go ahead and purchase that Freiermuth, Gentry, or even Rader jersey if you’d like. You’ll get a lot of use out of it next season.