The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Zach Gentry’s blocking ability isn’t very important right now and won’t prevent him from getting on the field.
Explanation: After the Steelers lost Jesse James, their number two tight end, in free agency, they drafted Zach Gentry, a former quarterback, in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. The 6’8” prospect has some receiving skills to be sure, but is very rough fundamentally as a blocker, and the Steelers value their blocking tight ends.
Let’s just remember for a second that when Heath Miller missed the first two games of the 2013 season while recovering from a torn ACL, it was former Oregon tight end David Paulson, a former seventh-round pick, whom they allowed to start those games. Let’s just say he wasn’t a blocking tight end.
The Steelers already have their blocking tight ends in Vance McDonald and Xavier Grimble, and I would argue that up until last season, Grimble could be said to be a better blocker than James anyway.
If Gentry can get up the field and make some catches, and especially if he can get himself open with his big frame in the red zone, there will be some room for him to get playing time even if some parts of his game are still developing.
At the same time, it’s not just Gentry’s blocking that is in development. He made some catches as a tight end at Michigan, and there’s even some nuance to certain aspects of his game, such as executing the scramble drill (being a quarterback helps that), but he’s not necessarily immediately ready to contribute as a pass-catcher either, so combine that with work on his blocking and you could see him a healthy scratch, not even simply not playing.
And how many situations will there be wherein Gentry’s particular skill set will be called upon? The Steelers will probably spend about as much time with four and five wide receivers on the field this year as they do with two tight ends on the field, especially if you don’t include the tackle-eligible role.