Now that the 2021 offseason has begun, following yet another year of disappointment, a fourth consecutive season with no postseason victories, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we are seeing over the course of the offseason as it plays out. We will also be reviewing players based on their previous season and their prospects for the future.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: TE Zach Gentry
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: The third-year tight end is facing a critical season as he exits his ‘redshirt’ period and has to start earning his keep, and at least his teammate, Eric Ebron, believes that he has what it takes to make the jump from prospect to contributor.
The Steelers have largely operated with two tight ends over the past couple of years, or perhaps even before that. Since Jesse James left, it was Vance McDonald and Xavier Grimble in 2019 (then Nick Vannett after the latter was injured). Last year, it was Ebron and McDonald.
With McDonald retired, the top pairing will now be Ebron and rookie second-round pick Pat Freiermuth. But the question that persists is simply this: do they have a third tight end who can contribute, who is worth actually dressing on Sundays?
Zach Gentry, a fifth-round pick out of Michigan in 2019, has been the number three tight end for the past two years. He has only dressed when there have been injuries in front of him, and played very sparsely.
A former quarterback who converted to the tight end position in college, the Steelers perhaps afforded Gentry a grace period once drafted to further his transition. Now going into his third year, the scholarship ride is over. He has to start earning his keep.
Ebron, at least, likes what he is seeing from Gentry so far this offseason, and thinks that he can play. That’s really all we have to go on so far until we get to training camp and start seeing things for ourselves.
This year, fortunately, that will include a preseason, which we didn’t have last year—which Gentry didn’t have last year. It’s hard to evaluate the progress of prospects like this from the outside when you don’t have the opportunity to get eyes on them.
Chances are he’s never going to develop to something beyond the third tight end role, which, truth be told, is not overly significant. Depth is always valuable to have, and it would be nice to run some effective three-tight end sets.