Now that the 2021 season is over, bringing yet another year of disappointment, a fifth 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 season and into 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 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 Jace Sternberger
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: The veteran tight end, who spent a portion of last year on the Steelers’ practice squad, is poised to compete with Kevin Rader as the team’s number three at the position following the decision not to retain Eric Ebron.
It seems unlikely that the Steelers will be bringing back veteran tight end Eric Ebron, unless he is willing to come back on an extremely cheap salary—perhaps even a veteran minimum deal. Given that, and the fact that the position will likely be considered low-priority in the draft, those who do remain on the roster can feel good about their chances of making the team this year.
Pat Freiermuth is obviously at the top of the depth chart, last year’s second-round pick, who led all tight ends last season in touchdowns while facing press coverage, and had seven touchdowns in all, which was a team tight end rookie record. Zach Gentry established himself as the number two and can take on an expanded role in the passing game.
That leaves the number three tight end role to be decided upon, with Kevin Rader as the frontrunner. Rader has been with the team for a few years now, mostly on the practice squad but with some stints on the 53-man roster as well, including last year after Ebron was hurt.
But he won’t go unchallenged. The Steelers did sign Jace Sternberger to their practice squad after Ebron was injured. Sternberger is a former third-round draft pick out of Texas A&M who had 48 receptions for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns in his lone season at the program, before he declared for the draft in 2019.
Unfortunately for him, he hasn’t really done anything in the NFL. He spent the 2019 and 2020 seasons with the Green Bay Packers, and did log a combined 262 offensive snaps during that time (another 143 on special teams). He did catch 12 passes for 114 yards and one score during the 2020 season in 12 games, but he did not make the team in 2021, beginning the year on the suspended list and then being waived when he returned. He found his way to the Steelers’ practice squad in late November.