As we’ve done in previous years, we’re taking a look at those Pittsburgh Steelers under futures contracts for the 2022 offseason. The ones who spent most if not the entire year on the practice squad and what we can expect from them during training camp (hopefully) into the regular season.
Jace Sternberger/TE Texas A&M – 6’4″ 251 lbs.
Sternberger is a bitter reminder of what can and will happen during late April’s draft. Prospects who look good in college, look good on paper, but don’t work out in the NFL. Jace Sternberger is far from the most obvious example, but he certainly is one. Sternberger burst on scene at Texas A&M in 2018 after transferring from Kansas, seizing the opportunity of his new home with a 48-catch, 832-yard, ten-touchdown season, flourishing while catching passes from QB Kellen Mond.
Sternberger didn’t test especially well during the pre-draft process, but his brief yet productive resume was good enough to get him drafted in the third round, 75th overall, by the Green Bay Packers in the 2019 NFL Draft. But that was roughly the highlight of his pro career. Like many rookie tight ends, he struggled with the transition, doubly so for a “move” type of tight end with really only one year of college experience. He appeared in just six games as a rookie, failing to catch his lone target and logging only 60 offensive snaps the entire season.
His NFL sophomore season was a bit more promising but only in relative terms. He caught his first pass, ending the season with 12 of them, playing one-quarter of the Packers’ snaps, and snagging his first, and to date only, touchdown, a three-yard grab in a win over the Houston Texans.
It gave him some traction entering 2021. But that was derailed. The NFL suspended him two games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. When he came off the suspension list, the Packers showed him the door and dumped him three years in with little to show for it.
Seattle scooped Stenberger up on its practice squad two days later, but he lasted less than two weeks with them. It was a similar story with Washington, not even it making a month with them. Pittsburgh called his phone three weeks later and have offered the most stability since getting his Packers’ release, signing him to the practice squad post-Eric Ebron’s injury and carrying him there the rest of the season. He inked a futures deal with the team once the year wrapped up.
That’s where Sternberger sits today. A former third-round pick whose glory days came in college. A guy with one-foot out of the league trying to stick with the Steelers and running out of options. Pittsburgh’s unlikely to add anything subsantial to its tight end room this offseason; that was done with Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry’s emergency as a solid blocking #2 tight end. Still, Sternberger will have to show he can block to stick in Pittsburgh. That’s never been what he’s known for, and his lack of length, just over 32-inch arms, isn’t doing him any favors. His odds of sticking around a full year are not impossible, but long.