After the Pittsburgh Steelers nabbed Georgia TE Darnell Washington in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft, the writing was on the wall for veteran TE Zach Gentry.
The Steelers opted to re-sign Gentry in March to keep their TE2 from the last two seasons in the fold. Gentry hasn’t accomplished much in the pass-catching department for Pittsburgh the last two seasons, with 38 receptions for 299 yards and zero TDs in 2021 and 2022 combined. However, he has served as a viable blocking TE in Pittsburgh’s heavy formations with Gentry having a big body (6’8, 265lb) to generate a push on the LOS and match up with defensive ends and standup OLBs.
However, Gentry should soon drop to TE3 on the depth chart with Washington having similar size on a more athletic, explosive frame. Nicknamed “The Sixth Offensive Lineman” during his time at Georgia thanks to his prowess as a blocker, Washington does Gentry’s job at a far better level while also bringing more to the table as a pass catcher.
Gentry has experience and size going for him to stick on the 53-man roster come the start of the 2023 season. But with TE/FB Connor Heyward and UDFA FB Monte Pottebaum factoring into the tight end/fullback equation, there is a possibility that Gentry may not stick on the roster given the lack of financial commitment invested in him by Pittsburgh.
While it looks like the most likely scenario sitting here today is that Pat Freiermuth, Washington, Gentry, and Heyward all make the roster with Heyward serving as a TE/FB hybrid, there is a chance that a player like Pottebaum takes Gentry’s spot. Dave Bryan mentioned the possibility on the Terrible Podcast, and one key aspect that should be considered regarding the back end of the TE/FB depth chart is what each player brings to the equation in the special teams department.
Last season, Gentry played 72 special teams snaps (16%). His highest snap total came in 2021 when he played 139 snaps on special teams, but he hasn’t ever been considered a core special teams guy. Meanwhile, Heyward logged 284 special teams snaps as a rookie (65%). Pottebaum earned the Coaches Appreciation Award for special teams at the University of Iowa in 2022 thanks to his extensive participation on kick and punt coverage units with the Hawkeyes, playing a big role as a special teamer for them since 2019.
This isn’t to say Gentry won’t make the roster in 2023 due to a lack of special teams involvement compared to Heyward and Pottebaum. But realistically, Gentry will see little work as the TE3 outside of 13 personnel when Pittsburgh decides to go heavy with three TEs on the field. Should Gentry contribute little or nothing on special teams, perhaps keeping Heyward as the team’s TE3 and Pottebaum as a proven lead blocker at FB make more sense seeing as both project as notable contributors on special teams.
Therefore, we should look to see if Gentry gets more run on special teams in training camp and in the preseason. Should he offer more to ST Coordinator Danny Smith, there’s a good chance he’ll cement his spot on the roster. However, if Gentry only projects to be the team’s TE3 as injury insurance and play just in 13 personnel, Gentry project to be a game day inactive, making it hard to keep him on the roster over guys that can contribute more on special teams.