One of the reasons people like myself get into this business is because we think we know better than the experts. Now me personally, I was more concerned with offering honest opinions that seemed to be lacking in “the sunshine up your rear end” world of Steelers’ blogging. The other thing that separates me from many others is that I’m more than willing to admit when I’m wrong and that’s what I’m here for today. I was incredibly wrong about Zach Gentry.
When Kevin Colbert selected Gentry in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, I was pissed. First of all, no one should be “pissed” about a fifth round pick but that’s how seriously I treasure draft picks and the Steelers in general. Gentry’s selection came at a time when the need for offensive line help was huge as was needed depth at OLB. Tight end depth is always an issue with the Steelers but Gentry?
This was a guy who came to the University of Michigan as quarterback from the football “hotbed” of New Mexico. At 6’8” Gentry was an appealing guy to run Jim Harbaugh’s pro style offense. As that offense changed though, Gentry made the move to tight end where packing on weight to his lanky frame was going to be a chore. Developing consistency as a pass catcher wouldn’t be easy either.
In his junior season, he played in nine games at TE and caught 17 passes for 303 yards and two scores. In his final season he had 32 catches for over 500 yards and another two scores. Respectable stats for a guy making a position switch at the college level but… In Pittsburgh, you have to be able to block especially if you’re going to be a number two or three tight end. When I saw his blocking, or lack thereof, I struggled to understand the pick. It made little sense to me unless the plan was to unleash the new “tight end, end around throw.”
That wasn’t going to happen and my disdain for Gentry’s selection only heightened when I watched him getting manhandled throughout the preseason. The one thing about blocking though is that if you have the willingness, then you can be taught. Blocking is about technique, angles and pure effort to dominate the guy across from you one play after the next. There is however an exception. You can have all of those things but if you lack weight and strength then you’re at a severe disadvantage.
To Gentry’s credit however, he went to work. The process of transitioning from QB skills to TE skills started in Ann Arbor, but it really took off when he arrived in Pittsburgh. He turned himself into a reliable blocker and has become a sneaky-good receiver who is an absolute nightmare for smaller defensive backs to tackle. Now up to 268 pounds, Gentry has added both the weight and strength that were lacking when he arrived. The work ethic and the “want to” were never a question. Could he become a reliable second option was.
The answer is “yes.” He isn’t going to remind anyone of Heath Miller any time soon but few guys are. Ben Roethlisberger showed more and more faith in him last season too. After playing in just six games in his first two seasons, Gentry saw action in all 17 in 2021. He caught 19 balls last season and more impressively is that 11 of those were for first downs. He averaged just over eight yards a catch which I’ll gladly take from my back-up tight end.
Colbert saw something in Gentry most of us did not. That’s not surprising as Colbert made a living doing this, but I was as hard on Gentry as any guy we’ve drafted in recent years. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see Pro Bowls or All-Pro status coming but becoming a quality, reliable tight end is a terrific achievement for anyone. So to you Zach Gentry, I am sorry I underestimated you. I’m very happy to admit this and wish you continued success!
Feature image courtesy post-gazette.com
UM image courtesy pinterest.com