2020 Offseason Positional Review – Tight End

It’s that time of year again. Free agency is creeping up in just a couple of weeks, so before we get there, we’ll get going over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, position by position, making an assessment of what kind of shape they’re in, trying to figure out how they might, or should, attack the roster on that basis.

We’ll be suspending the Stock Watch series during this time, at the end of which we should have more meaningful topics to discuss once we resume, since a lot more news about free agency and its ripple effects should be current by then. In the meantime, we go back over the current makeup of the team’s roster, and assess where they are strong, or weak.

Position: Tight End

Total Positional Figure: 5

Additions: 0

Deletions: 0

Players Retained:

Vance McDonald: McDonald was injured fairly early in the season, and it’s hard to say how much that affected him over the course of the year. Even considering the quarterback play, he only averaged 7.2 yards per reception, which is pretty heinously bad numbers for a tight end who had a highlight reel of broken tackles just the year before. His slip in blocking is also a concern.

Nick Vannett: Acquired via trade for a fifth-round pick after three weeks following Xavier Grimble’s injury, Vannett came in and contributed right away, but is clearly limited at best to being a number two tight end. Perhaps merely a serviceable one. Four years into his career, I wouldn’t predict any kind of breakout.

Zach Gentry: Though he remained on the 53-man roster for all of his rookie season, 2019 was somewhat of a redshirt year for Gentry, a fifth-round pick who was a healthy scratch for 12 out of 16 games. He caught one pass for four yards on third and three amid his few dozen in-game snaps.

Kevin Rader: The Youngstown State product spent the year on the practice squad after having a competent training camp and preseason as a former undrafted free agent.

Christian Scotland-Williamson: The English rugby player has been on the Steelers’ practice squad with an exemption for the past two years. while he’s gotten the opportunity to learn the game, one cannot in any way count upon him actually developing into a contributor.

Offseason Strategy:

The Steelers could take a number of paths this offseason when it comes to the tight end position. The first decision they have to make, which I feel is probably already made, is whether or not to retain McDonald. If there is no CBA, he may be at greater risk due to a need to create cap space.

Vannett would like to return to Pittsburgh, and the Steelers have liked him since he came out of college, so they would like to do a deal, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he hits the market and the team looks at all of its options. Whether Vannett or somebody else, they should come away with some low-level veteran.

Amid an overall weak and bottom-heavy tight end class, optimism about them seriously addressing the position through this means in 2020 should fade. It’s entirely possible that they do draft a tight end relatively high, but with limited draft capital, it may well fall to the wayside as they head into 2020 with exactly the same depth chart as they finished 2019 with.

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