With the Steelers’ 2023 offseason underway following a disappointing season that came up just short of reaching the playoffs, it’s time to begin reloading, through the free agency process, through the draft, and perhaps even through trade.
This is now a young team on the offensive side of the ball, though one getting older on defense. Both sides could stand to be supplemented robustly, including in the trenches—either one. Changes have been made to the coaching staff, even if not all of the desired ones, as the roster continues to renew with the weeks ticking by.
These sorts of uncertainties are what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
Topic Statement: The Steelers should still address the tight end position in the draft even after re-signing Zach Gentry.
Explanation: The Steelers are expected to return the same tight end group from a year ago, consisting of starter and primary pass-catcher Pat Freiermuth, primary blocker Zach Gentry, and second-year H-back Connor Heyward. Even Heyward played 174 snaps last season.
Especially with fullback Derek Watt seemingly not returning imminently, there is no reason to remain stagnant at tight end. It’s defeatist to consider Connor Heyward as a tight end, because there are too many things standard to the position that you would not ask him to do.
Pat Freiermuth is a solid but not spectacular number one receiving tight end. Zach Gentry is, at best, an average blocking tight end and the Steelers don’t seem to have much interest in expanding his role as a receiver. Heyward is just going to fit in wherever he fits in, perhaps as more of a fullback due to his size.
There are two routes the Steelers should consider here. Either go for another true starter at the position like Darnell Washington or wait until later in the draft where you can find an insulating piece who can succeed Gentry a year from now. Because you know there’s a good chance Gentry isn’t coming back after this year.
The tight end group that the Steelers have now stands a fair chance of coming into its own this year, attributable to some much-needed year-to-year consistency. Having quarterback Kenny Pickett around for a full year and with a season under their belt in the post-Ben Roethlisberger offense will help to define what the position is.
One thing to note is that Freiermuth can still take on a larger blocking role and improve upon it. A lot of college tight ends don’t really come into their own in this area until their third or fourth season, which is around where he is now. This could open the doors for more two-tight end sets as a focus on the running game continues.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea by any means to take a look at the tight end position during the draft, but it’s far from a necessary move given what the Steelers currently have available. It could easily be a subject revisited a year from now and might make more sense then with a clearer picture of where things stand.