Are the Steelers tight ends one of the team’s biggest strengths?

When discussing the offensive weapons for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the conversation often revolves around the wide receiver corps and the running back stable. However, one group that frequently flies under the radar is the team’s tight ends.

This unit, which features a mix of veteran experience and youthful talent, could very well be one of the Steelers’ biggest strengths in the upcoming season.

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With that said, let’s have a look at the Steelers tight ends and see if this group is a weakness or a strength.

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Pat Freiermuth

At the forefront of this group is Pat Freiermuth, who has quickly established himself as a reliable target for the Steelers’ quarterbacks. Freiermuth’s performance in his rookie season was nothing short of impressive. He hauled in 60 receptions for 497 yards and seven touchdowns, displaying a knack for finding open spaces in the defense and making tough catches in traffic.

Once Ben Roethlisberger left the team, Freiermuth’s performance was spotty depending on who was throwing him passes. Plus the fourth-year pro has battled injuries, namely concussions, that caused him to miss playing time in 2023.

In 2022, Freiermuth’s receiving numbers jumped to 63 receptions for 732 yards but his touchdowns dipped to only two. His yards-per-reception were a far respectable 11.6 yards, up from 8.3 during his rookie season. In 2023, his YPC would lower to 9.3, still higher than his rookie season but not the heights he had during 2022. Part of that was due to missing five games to injury.

He would only catch 32 passes for 308 yards and two touchdowns last season. Freiermuth looks to rebound with new Steelers quarterback Russell Wilson, as the tight end enters a contract season.

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Darnell Washington

One of the key strengths of the Steelers’ tight end group is their versatility. Freiermuth, in particular, is a well-rounded player who excels as both a pass-catcher and a blocker. His ability to create holes for the running game and provide reliable pass protection is invaluable for an offense that aims to establish a balanced attack.

Entering year two, Darnell Washington hopes to build upon a solid rookie season where he was primarily seen as the “sixth offensive lineman”. The former Georgia Bulldog was seldom used in the Steelers passing game, but that appears to be changing with new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith heavily relying on tight ends in his schemes.

The competition within this group should bring out the best in each player, pushing them to elevate their game and contribute to the team’s success in whatever role they are asked to play.

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Connor Heyward

As the Steelers look to upgrade their offensive success from the previous year, don’t be surprised if the tight ends play a pivotal role in their game plans. By exploiting mismatches, providing reliable targets in the red zone, and contributing to a balanced offensive attack, the Steelers’ tight ends could emerge as true hidden gems, elevating the team’s overall offensive firepower to new heights.

One of those hidden gems is Connor Heyward, who is dual-listed as a fullback on the official Steelers roster.

A full half-foot shorter than his counterparts Freiermuth and Washington, Heyward has carved a niche as a 230-pound blocker who can squirt out into passing lanes and move the chains. In limited action during his rookie season, Heyward was able to command a 12.6 YPC average on only 12 receptions. He caught 23 passes last season, but like many Steelers receiving options, regressed in the poorly run offense.

We’re looking forward to Heyward bouncing back under Smith’s new regime and becoming an exciting wrinkle for the Steelers offense.

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MyCole Pruitt

A favorite for Arthur Smith’s who now follows his coach to a third team. The 6-2 245-pound Pruitt turned 32-years-old in March and appears to be an extra body who is experienced in Smith’s system.

Pruitt will be relied upon as a “player-coach” during training camp, and should he make the team, offer a steady dose of chain-moving prowess.

In 46 games over his last three seasons, all with Smith, Pruitt only has 39 catches. However, eight of those account for touchdowns while another 26 all secured first down yardage. That means whenever Pruitt is targeted, he’s a reliable hand.

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Final Thoughts

The presence of a talented tight end corps allows the Steelers’ offense to get creative. Formations featuring multiple tight ends can create mismatches against opposing defenses, opening up opportunities for both the passing and running games. The Steelers’ tight ends are also adept at lining up in different spots, making it challenging for defenses to predict their intentions.

One area where the Steelers’ tight ends could make a significant impact is in the red zone. Freiermuth’s and Washington’s size and physicality make them formidable targets in tight spaces. Having reliable targets who can win contested catches and provide a large catch radius can be a quarterback’s best friend when the field shrinks near the goal line.

While the tight ends could be a strength for the Steelers, their impact will be amplified by the contributions of the team’s other offensive weapons. A potent wide receiver corps, led by George Pickens, will command attention from opposing defenses, potentially creating opportunities for the tight ends to find openings in the middle of the field.

Similarly, a strong running game can set up play-action opportunities, where tight ends can slip behind unsuspecting linebackers and make plays downfield. The Steelers’ offense, when operating at its best, is a balanced and complementary unit, with each position group playing a crucial role in the overall success.

While the spotlight often shines on the more glamorous positions on offense, the Steelers’ tight end group deserves recognition as a potential strength for the team. With a combination of proven veterans, exciting young talents, and versatility in both the passing and running games, this unit has the potential to be a difference-maker in the upcoming season.

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