The only tight end whom I would say right now is guaranteed to be o the 90-man roster later this year is, amazingly enough, Zach Gentry, the second-year tight end and former quarterback that the Pittsburgh Steelers selected in the fifth round in the 2019 NFL Draft.
With Nick Vannett an unrestricted free agent and Vance McDonald’s 2020 option yet to be picked up, the only other tight ends on the roster have no prior regular season experience, and those types of players can be churned out over the course of an offseason.
That’s a rightfully scary proposition, given how underwhelming the tight end position was already in 2019. But at least one observer is choosing to be optimistic when it comes to assessing Gentry’s future, that being Craig Wolfley, who talked about him during a segment about the position in a video from the team’s website.
“My biggest hope is for Zach Gentry to be able to have that year to get in the weight room, beefcake his weight out, get some weight on, get that muscle going”, he said of the lanky Michigan man. “He’s got all the physical attributes to be able to contribute at a higher level, but he’s got to realize that, and part of that’s gonna be with his physical ability”.
Gentry spent three quarters of his rookie season sitting on the bench as a healthy scratch, in spite of the fact that, at no point in the season did the Steelers ever have more than three tight ends on the 53-man roster. He did dress for and play in four games, totaling about 50 or so snaps, making one catch and looking like a quarterback as a blocker.
“You go back to Jesse James, Jesse in his first year, everyone’s kind of like, ‘he wasn’t really physical, he doesn’t block as well’, those sorts of things”, Wolfley reminded. “But you get him fleshed out for a year in the weight room and you get him hitting Golden Corral, and before you know it, you’ve got yourself somebody blossoming. I think Zach Gentry’s one of those guys that could make a jump and make this group be pushed forward”.
Jesse James is the most recent tight end that the Steelers drafted, prior to Gentry, making him a fifth-round selection as a junior out of Penn State in 2015. He departed in free agency last season. As a rookie, he too spent half the year as a healthy scratch, but had to play a bit later on due to injury.
Though he wasn’t a former quarterback, he was also regarded as a raw player who needed development and who would more or less redshirt his rookie season. And James did develop over the course of his career, by the end of his rookie contract rising to the level of solid number two material.
Right now, the Steelers are just hoping they can get out of Gentry somebody that they can justify putting in uniform on Sundays.