The 2020 NFL Draft is drawing near, which seems to be a fitting time to take a look back at the rookie seasons of the Pittsburgh Steelers class from the 2019 NFL Draft. People start talking about the quality of a draft class before said class is even completed, of course, but now we have a year of data to work from.
Over the course of the next several days, I will be providing an overview of the team’s rookies, as well as an evaluation of each rookie that the Steelers drafted, while also noting any undrafted free agents that were able to stick around. This will not include the likes of Robert Spillane and Tevin Jones because they were first-year players, not rookies.
The Steelers went into the 2018 NFL Draft with 10 selections, including two in the third round and three in the sixth, but ended up trading their second-round pick to move up in the first round. They received additional third- and fifth-round picks for trading Antonio Brown, a sixth for Marcus Gilbert, and the other sixth was part of the Ryan Switzer trade the year before.
Continuing a recent trend, the class has proven to be top-heavy in terms of early results, though there are still opportunities for those selected by them in the later rounds of the draft to develop into bigger contributors as well.
Player: Zach Gentry
Draft Status: Fifth Round (141st overall)
Starts: 0 (4 games)
Considering the fact that it still wasn’t so long ago that he was actually a quarterback, one could say that Zach Gentry has come a long way. The Steelers need him to come much further in 2020 as he enters his second season in the NFL after using a fifth-round selection on the 6’8” tight end last April.
When they did draft him, they did so essentially with the understanding that he was likely to have a redshirt season, with tight end coach James Daniel making it very clear that they were aware his blocking was behind where they would ordinarily like it to be, even for rookies, coming in.
That’s why Gentry spent three quarters of the season as a healthy scratch, largely only playing when it coincided with a tight end injury. He came up just one snap shy of 50 snaps all told on the season over four games, inactive for the other 12 despite being healthy, and despite the fact that they never had more than three tight ends on the 53-man roster at any given time.
That’s not to say that he can’t make meaningful strides in year two, but it’s hard to imagine the Steelers going into the 2020 banking on him being a contributor. Yet right now he is the number two tight end behind Vance McDonald, which Nick Vannett remaining an unrestricted free agent.
It’s pretty much a given that the team is going to address tight end this offseason. If they re-sign Vannett and end up drafting a tight end, that could put Gentry on the outside looking in for a roster spot, though he would be a prime candidate for the practice squad. Their last fifth-round pick, Marcus Allen, went from redshirt year to practice squad as well.