2021 Offseason Questions: Where Does Tight End Rank As Draft Need?

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The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books, and it ended in spectacular fashion—though the wrong kind of spectacular—in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.

After setting a franchise record by opening the year on an 11-game winning streak, they followed that up by losing three games in a row, going 1-4 in the final five games, with only a 17-point comeback staving off a five-game slide. But all the issues they had in the regular season showed up in the postseason that resulted in their early exit.

The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions, and right now, they lack answers. What will Ben Roethlisberger do, and what will they do with him? What will the salary cap look like? How many free agents are they going to lose? Who could they possibly afford to retain? Who might they part ways with—not just on the roster, but also on the coaching staff?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Where would you rank the tight end position as a draft need this year?

There probably aren’t too many times in recent team history where the Steelers were less secure at the tight end position than they are right now. While they have a flashy but unreliable receiving tight end as their number one, they have basically nobody else who has done anything. Right now, it would be Zach Gentry and Kevin Rader battling to be the number two.

As least in 2019, Xavier Grimble entered that season as the number two tight end. He had years of experience in the league, was a proven capable blocker, and even caught a few touchdown passes. Perhaps Rader can develop into a quality number two, but right now, he’s not somebody you go into a season planning around.

Eric Ebron is the top dog. He can make impressive catches and maddening drops, and he pretty much can’t block except for the most rudimentary assignments. Vance McDonald is now retired. Everybody else on the depth chart is a practice-squad-level player, including Gentry, when you consider that he’s basically always been a healthy scratch.

There are a couple of questions here, though. How does the need at tight end rank among other positions? How does it coalesce with how the draft class is shaping up in terms of talent? And how important is a number two tight end in this offense? These are some things to consider when tackling this question.

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