The Steelers are set at the top of the depth chart when it comes to the tight end position, but there could be an intriguing competition for backup roles. Training camp and the preseason will dictate the futures of several players on the roster bubble, including Jace Sternbeger.
The 26-year-old was highly acclaimed coming out of college, after he earned All-American honors in his lone season at Texas A&M. That led to significant expectations when he was drafted in the third round of the 2019 draft by the Packers, but he has yet to live up to them. After a catch-less rookie season, he took only a small step forward in 2020 with 114 yards on 12 receptions.
That limited production, compounded by a two-game suspension to start the 2021 season, led to his release from Green Bay. He spent the remainder of the campaign on the practice squads of the Seahawks, Commanders and Steelers. His current home features standout performer Pat Freiermuth and top blocker Zach Gentry on the roster, who represent part of the reason that Sterberger faces “an uphill battle” to make the 53-man roster, according to Mark Kaboly of The Athletic (subscription required).
Another factor is the way rookie hybrid fullback/tight end Connor Heyward has been used in practice so far. Kaboly notes that he has taken snaps exclusively at tight end, leaving Derek Watt to operate as a full-time fullback. That also raises his chances of catching on as the team’s No. 3 tight end, ahead of Sternberger and Kevin Rader. The younger brother of teammate Cameron Heyward, the Michigan State product totalled 825 rushing yards and five touchdowns in college, adding 711 yards and another six scores in the passing game.
With many of the top skill-position pieces in place for the Steelers, the remainder of the offseason will prove pivotal as they establish the tight end pecking order, particularly at the bottom of the depth chart.