By Jeremy Hritz
What a difference a year can make.
Heading into the 2021 season, there were concerns about the tight end position, despite the selection of Pat Freiermuth in the draft, and it was considered one of the weaker positions on the team. Fast forward to June 2022, and there is great optimism surrounding the position and what the output can be in the new season.
|Pat Freiermuth||88||TE||6-5||258||23||2||Penn State|
|Connor Heyward||83||TE/FB||6-0||230||23||R||Michigan State|
|Kevin Rader||87||TE||6-4||250||27||2||Youngstown State|
|Jace Sternberger||85||TE||6-4||251||25||3||Texas A&M|
Freiermuth heads the list of tight ends, as he had an impressive rookie season, catching 60 balls for 497 yards and 7 touchdowns. He demonstrated a physicality in battling for catches and securing them, and outside of a few miscues, he was a reliable receiver for Ben Roethlisberger. There is no reason to believe Freiermuth will not be an even better pass catcher and blocker in year #2, and his focus will be on improving his average yards per reception, which is a bit low at 8.3 yards. With a full understanding of the playbook, enhanced muscular development, and improved confidence, 2022 could be a year in which Freiermuth achieves Pro Bowl consideration.
The #2 tight end will be Zach Gentry who emerged last season as a viable option at the position. With tremendous size at 6’8, 265 pounds, and unique perspective having converted to the position from quarterback, Gentry pleasantly surprised coaches recording 19 receptions for 167 yards, but more importantly, flashed in the run blocking game, which is an expectation for the team’s #2TE. Entering his 4th season, Gentry will be called upon to do more in this offense, and he will be up to the task. The pair of Freiermuth and Gentry has all the makings of a Heath Miller/Matt Spaeth duo, and they will be exciting to watch perform in 2022.
I wrote the other day about Connor Heyward being treated more as a tight end than a fullback, and I am projecting him to serve as the #3 TE because of the versatility he brings to the team, in addition to a soft set of hands. This makes Kevin Rader (2 catches, 8 yards) expendable, but someone they will more than likely keep around on the practice squad if they are able to. Rader performed well in spots last year, especially as an in-line blocker, but in terms of the receiving game, there is not much there. If anything, he is insurance should Heyward not work out, or if there is an injury to Gentry.
One player who is intriguing on the roster is former Green Bay Packer, Jace Sternberger who played his college football at Texas A&M. In 2020 with the Packers, Sternberger caught 12 balls for 114 yards and 1 touchdown, so he does have NFL experience. A former 3rd round draft selection, Sternberger was suspended for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy and was then waived by the Packers. There is definitely some talent here, and it will be interesting to see what he can contribute, and if he can make a legitimate push to find a spot on the Steelers roster.
Projected 2022 TE Depth Chart
- Pat Freiermuth
- Zach Gentry
- Connor Heyward
- PRACTICE SQUAD: Kevin Rader
- CUT: Jace Sternberger