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Who Will Win The Steelers’ 3rd-String Tight End Job? Rookie Connor Heyward Or Savvy Veteran Kevin Rader?

Who Will Win The Steelers’ 3rd-String Tight End Job? Rookie Connor Heyward Or Savvy Veteran Kevin Rader?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have multiple roster battles brewing, as training camp is just a few weeks away. There are more interesting debates and roster battles than for a third-string tight end slot, but the Steelers have just that. Rookie Connor Heyward and veteran Kevin Rader will be fighting for that No. 3 spot, as starter Pat Freiermuth and Michigan product Zach Gentry have the top two spots locked up.

In his rookie season in 2021, Freiermuth overtook former Steelers tight end, Eric Ebron to become the clear starter. Meanwhile behind him, Gentry broke out for his best career season in year three. In his first two seasons, he had appeared in just six total games while making just one catch. In 2021, Gentry caught 19 passes and played in all 17 games, listed as a starter in 12 of those contests.

Steelers Pat Freiermuth

Ben Roethlisberger to Pat Freiermuth for six. Here, Freiermuth (88) scores one of his two touchdowns during the first half of an NFL preseason game vs. the Detroit Lions. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich)

Steelers insiders and reporters have had varied opinions throughout the preseason on the tight end options behind those two, praising both Heyward and Rader. Just over a week ago, ESPN Steelers beat writer, Brooke Pryor listed Heyward as her “surprise standout” from OTAs.

“It’s hard to be truly under the radar as Cam Heyward’s younger brother, but the rookie Heyward impressed in off-season workouts and showed a chemistry with first round quarterback Kenny Pickett in a nice snag during a two-minute drill in minicamp. Heyward, selected in the sixth round, figures to be in a hybrid tight end/fullback role in an offense that values versatility in its skill players. Because he has been working mostly with tight ends and receivers, Heyward probably won’t be competing for the fullback roster spot with Derek Watt, making it likely both find roles on the 2022 team.

After the Steelers front office showed their interest in Heyward in the pre-draft process, they selected him in the sixth round of the 2022 NFL Draft. While being the brother of fellow Steeler, Cam Heyward, doesn’t hurt his prospects of making the team, that won’t play a role in the end. Sixth rounders are far from a guarantee to make the regular season roster, as people seem to be just penciling in Heyward as that third-string TE.

Steelers tight end Connor Heyward

Credit: Karl Roser/Pittsburgh Steelers

Chris Adamski, of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, recently reminded us that Rader is still right there. Rader seems primed to make the roster as the No. 3 once again, as he works to improve heading into the 2022 season.

Rader mentioned that he’s in the “best shape” of his life, aiming to be more versatile. He’s often been seen as a pure blocking tight-end, which is typically what you get out of the No. 3 tight end. Multiple Steelers reporters, including Pryor, have mentioned that they think the team holds onto fullback, Derek Watt. This would hurt any potential chance of keeping four tight ends, which is completely against the norm. Heyward could feature as a fullback/tight end combo, but Watt staying around likely keeps Heyward put at tight end.


Could the Steelers keep 4 tight ends?

Adamski says Rader is flying under the radar (Rader?), while Pryor touted Heyward as her surprise standout from OTAs. While both can be true, only one will likely end up making the 53-man roster. As of now, it’s hard to give either one an edge. While Heyward has gotten the buzz all off-season, Rader is still a two-year veteran with the black and gold, which gives him a bit of an advantage.


Who do you think will win this No. 3 tight end job? Is there any chance they keep four tight ends? Let us know your thoughts on this roster battle as we near training camp!




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Credit to my dad, I have been a lifelong Steelers fan. I have fond memories of watching the Steelers win two Super Bowls when I was a little kid. I have only been to 1 Steelers game in my life, which was in Kansas City. That was the notorious game where Antonio Brown pinned it against his chest down the sidelines for a touchdown. I hope to get to Heinz Field some day! I graduated from Iowa State University and look forward to growing as a writer with #SteelerNation!

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