Ranking the tight end units in the AFC North ahead of 2024 NFL season

Houston Texans v Cincinnati Bengals
Houston Texans v Cincinnati Bengals / Dylan Buell/GettyImages
1 of 4

Tight end is one of the more unappreciated positions in football. Outside of a few exceptions (George Kittle and Travis Kelce, for example), many good tight ends fall under the radar for the casual NFL fans, and the position as a whole is undervalued since tight ends tend not to have the same flash and explosiveness that wide receivers often do.

However, having a reliable player at tight end is the key to an effective offense. When a quarterback's first and second reads are covered up, they can look to their tight end on a short curl route to avoid a sack and pick up a few yards. Most tight ends won't have that 10+ catch, 100+ yard, multi-touchdown performance that we're used to seeing multiple times a week with the stud receivers around the league, but there is a noticeable impact felt with having a true safety valve tight end in an offense.

With that said, let's look at how the tight end units in the AFC North stack up against each other, starting at the bottom and working our way up.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers - Pat Freiermuth, Darnell Washington, Connor Heyward

Surprise, the Bengals are not ranked last! Instead, the black-and-yellow team by the Allegheny River takes the bottom spot. Pat Freiermuth is a good tight end. After all, he did torch the Bengals in the first matchup between the two teams last season. However the Penn State alum did have a down year overall in 2023. A third of his total yards on the season came in that first game against the Bengals.

Granted, injuries played a large part in the dip of production from 2022 (63 rec, 732 yards, 2 TDS) to 2023 (32 rec, 308 yards, 2 TDs), as Freiermuth missed five games. However, even accounting for injuries it was a steep fall off from his impressive sophomore year. In 2023, Freiermuth went down 20.1 yards per game and a full 2 yards per reception from his previous season.

The rest of the tight end unit in Pittsburgh doesn't inspire much confidence. Even with Freiermuth getting injured, Washington nor Heyward could muster much in his absence, as they combined for just 30 receptions, 228 yards, and zero touchdowns. The Steelers could have benefitted greatly from signing a veteran tight end in free agency to back up Freiermuth.

So, with some questions surrounding the starter and less-than-suitable depth, the Steelers comfortably slide into last place in terms of tight end units in the division.