The tight end position is decidedly one of the biggest question marks for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020, though it goes without saying that the top prize necessarily belongs to the quarterback position. Ben Roethlisberger is scheduled to have a crucial checkup in the next few days to determine if he is cleared to begin light throwing as part of the rehab process from a severe elbow injury.
Their top tight end, Vance McDonald, is coming off of a very disappointing season, during which he averaged fewer than eight yards per reception. I used to get on Jesse James for averaging 8.7 yards per reception. There’s really no excuse for McDonald’s poor efficiency, even with the quarterback play.
With Xavier Grimble out of the picture, the team’s number two tight end is Nick Vannett, and he is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. While general manager Kevin Colbert has said that the team would like to keep him in the mix, they won’t have a lot of spare change to retain him if he has anything resembling a market for his services. Last year’s right end market was unusually robust.
Outside of Kevin Rader and Christian Scotland-Williamson on the practice squad, the latter having been a rugby player, the only other tight end is Zach Gentry, the Steelers’ fifth-round pick in 2019. He redshirted for most of his rookie season, but he is determined to have a bigger role in 2020.
“I was inactive for a lot of the games, just watching. That is tough as a competitor being on the sidelines watching”, he told Teresa Varley for the team’s website. “It’s a numbers game. At the end of the day it is what it is. I am setting myself up to be more of a role and a factor next season”.
Gentry only dressed for four games last season, despite the Steelers never having more than three tight ends on the 53-man roster at any given time. He amassed a total of 49 offensive snaps in the four games in which he did play, earning one reception for himself for four yards, though it did convert on third and three.
A former quarterback before making the transition to tight end at Michigan, Gentry’s rookie offseason was largely filled with doing plenty of things that would not help himself professionally beyond raising his draft stock. He is looking forward to his second offseason because of that.
“I can’t wait to work and not have to worry about a hand-held time in the 40-yard dash”, he said. “I can’t wait to know what is in front of me. I can’t wait for my second season to come and know what I need to work on and just go for it”.
Gentry flashed some potential as a receiving threat at the position in the latter stages of his college career. If he can offer himself as any kind of positive resource for the offense in 2020 or beyond, it would probably be seen as a bonus. If they re-sign Vannett and also draft a tight end, he may wind up on the practice squad instead.