Now that the regular season 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 have seen and are seeing over the course of the offseason and the regular season 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 reasoning. 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. Because of this, we can and will see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: TE Zach Gentry
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: With Eric Ebron out, and almost surely headed to the Reserve/Injured List relatively soon, third-year tight end Zach Gentry is now firmly established as the number two tight end on the roster.
While we’re talking about tight ends, we might as well keep going, right? When one player gets hurt, it has a ripple effect on the rest of the position group. While for Kevin Rader it mean the difference between a practice squad spot and a spot on the 53-man roster (and the accompanying check), it’s also quite significant for Zach Gentry, who now goes to ‘blocking tight end’ to the clearly established number two at the position behind rookie Pat Freiermuth.
That’s not to say that he hasn’t been contributing. He has already played 224 snaps this year, though that’s still only about 22 snaps per game. For as much as his role appeared to be reduced, Eric Ebron was still playing well over 30 snaps per game.
A lot of those snaps will now go to Gentry, and he could even take on a more diverse role that sees him called upon to catch more passes. Thus far, he has just six receptions on the season on nine targets, and he has not been targeted in four weeks, even though he has been healthy and active in every game.
They don’t really have many other options, truth be told. The Steelers are not deep at wide receiver nor running back, so you have to play somebody. And lest we forget, Gentry came out of college as a receiving tight end, not as a blocking tight end. He had, very much, to learn how to block. After all, he was a quarterback.
Now I’m not suggesting that they have a secret Jason Witten or Antonio Gates on their hands or anything, but I do think he is capable of making greater contributions in the receiving department than has been asked of him. Freiermuth is the obvious number one, but Gentry can probably take at least a couple of targets per game, as Ebron was doing.