The 10 best tight ends in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers

Still Curtain ranks the all-time best tight ends in franchise history.
Kansas City Chiefs v Pittsburgh Steelers
Kansas City Chiefs v Pittsburgh Steelers / Gregory Shamus/GettyImages

Tight end has been one of the more underappreciated positional groups in the NFL. These players have an array of assignments and their job responsibilities include catching, running routes, blocking, and lining up in various formations. The Pittsburgh Steelers have had several incredible tight ends over the years which fans won't soon forget.

The Steelers have gone through phases in their history when the tight end has been highly utilized as a pivotal piece of their offense. Unsurprisingly, this always lined up when they had an excellent asset in the position.

These 10 tight ends have made a name for themselves and stand above the rest of the positional group in Steelers history. The top of the list consists of Pro Bowl players and a loveable fan favorite.

Criteria for selection

Comprising Steelers tight end rankings was no easy task. The role of the position has changed drastically over the years. Statistics were considered in these rankings, and many of these tight ends played a heavy role in the passing game. At the same time, there were plenty of tight ends throughout Steelers history who were known for their blocking ability and didn't put up big numbers on the stat sheet.

Because of some strengths that can't be measured, I factored each tight end's blocking ability into my ranking criteria. Additionally, I considered factors such as leadership qualities and impact, clutch performances, and intangibles.

Longevity and consistency were also taken into account, as players who were with the team longer had a chance to impact the team for a greater amount of time.

I took into account considered memorable moments and factored in personal accolades when creating my rankings. I also examined a player's impact on the team and how they aided the offense.

The top 10 tight ends in Pittsburgh Steelers history

10. Vance McDonald

Despite playing four seasons in Pittsburgh, Vance McDonald was essentially a one-year wonder. However, his season in 2018 was so spectacular that it's hard to leave him off this list. In 15 games that season, McDonald racked up 50 catches on 72 targets for 610 yards and four touchdowns (8.5 yards per target).

McDonald will forever be remembered for his posterizing stiff arm on Chris Conte, which resulted in a 75-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown. McDonald possessed a powerful 6'4'', 267-pound frame with 4.69 speed that helped him handle defenders at the point of attack and make plays after the catch in the receiving game.

Unfortunately, McDonald struggled with injuries throughout his NFL career. Between his first four seasons on the 49ers and his final four seasons on the Steelers, McDonald never started and finished a full season. McDonald's career was over by age 30, but he was a good tight end for the Steelers -- even with all the injuries he sustained over the years.

9. Jerame Tuman

The hardest part about ranking tight ends is they have so many different roles. Unlike many of the tight ends on this list, Jerame Tuman didn't make his living in the receiving game; rather he was a bullish run blocker who cleared paths for Jerome Bettis, Kordell Stewart, and eventually Willie Parker in the early-to-mid 2000s.

Despite nine seasons in Pittsburgh, Tuman only recorded 100 receiving yards in a single season one time (2003). Though he wasn't a focal point of the passing game, the 6'4'', 253-pound tight end aided the Steelers to some of the best rushing attacks in the league with his dirty work on the ground.

Because of his lack of production, Tuman was never recognized with Pro Bowl honors, but he played 120 games at tight end for the Steelers before signing with the Cardinals for the final season of his decade-long NFL career.

8. Pat Freiermuth

Pat Freiermuth became the first tight end in NFL history to record at least 60 receptions in each of his first two NFL seasons. The 2021 second-round pick out of Penn State had an impressive start to his career, but concussions and soft tissue injuries forced him to exit the game on multiple occasions.

At 6'5'' and 258 pounds, Freiermuth looks the part of a traditional tight end but is a better pass-catcher than run blocker. While he possesses average athletic traits, his smooth movements, soft hands, and ability to reel in the football in traffic make him a prototype safety valve for the quarterback.

Freiermuth is still writing his own story and he will have a chance to move further up this list if he continues to impress.

7. Preston Carpenter

There aren't many Steelers fans still around today who will remember Preston Carpenter's four-year stint with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the middle of his 12-year career. Selected by the Browns with the 13th overall pick in 1956, Carpenter started four years in Cleveland before coming to The Steel City.

In his first season with the Steelers in 1960, the impressive tight end raked in 495 yards and 2 touchdowns on an impressive 17.1 yards per reception in 12 games. Two years later, Carpenter topped this performance with 492 yards and four touchdowns -- this time earning Pro Bowl honors.

Though Carpenter played his final four seasons with Washington, he managed to record 115 catches, 1,680 receiving yards, and 11 touchdowns during his time in Pittsburgh. His 14.6 yards per reception with the Steelers was one of the highest marks we have seen from a tight end in franchise history.

6. Randy Grossman

At 6'1'' and 218, Randy Grossman probably would have been an H-back or even a wide receiver in today's NFL. Grossman joined the Steelers as an undrafted free agent following a legendary 1974 draft that included numerous Hall of Famers for Pittsburgh. Despite his undrafted status and the fact that the Steelers just selected 21 players in the '74 draft, Grossman suited up for all 14 games during his rookie season.

Grossman joined the team at the perfect time, as he would go on to earn four Super Bowl rings over his eight-year NFL career in Pittsburgh. Though never a focal point of the offense, Grossman recorded over 130 receiving yards in six of eight seasons with the team.

The tight end's best year came in 1978 when he earned 448 receiving yards and scored a touchdown. Grossman finished his career earning 1,514 yards in 118 games with the Steelers.

5. Larry Brown

Larry Brown was best known for his time spent as the right tackle of the Steelers in the late '70s and early '80s. Before this, he was a tight end for six seasons in Pittsburgh. 6'4'' and 246 pounds was huge for a tight end when he joined the league as a fifth-round pick in 1971, but he was essentially used as an extra offensive tackle.

Brown started just one game over his first three seasons, but he saw the field for 36 contests where he mixed it up in the trenches as an extra blocker. By his fourth season, Brown became a full-time starting tight end for the Steelers.

The bullying blocker didn't move to offensive tackle until his seventh season in the NFL. Brown earned just 48 catches and 636 yards in his career, but he was a rock-solid player who successfully made a positional change and became a Pro Bowl offensive tackle late in his career.

4. Mark Bruener

The Steelers don't often spend first-round draft capital at the tight end position, but when they have, it typically works out in their favor. With the 27th overall pick, Pittsburgh turned their card in for Washington's Mark Bruener. Unfortunately, head coach Bill Cowher wasn't getting the total package, and Bruener wasn't much of a receiver.

Ironically, the most productive season of Bruener's 14-year NFL career came as a rookie when he caught just 26 passes on 48 targets for 238 yards and three touchdowns. This was his only season in which he surpassed 200 yards. But that's not what made him a good tight end.

Bruener was as reliable as they came as a blocker with his 260-pound frame and hardnosed football mentality. For nine years, the powerful tight end did the dirty work in line as a blocker. Bruener's 4.9 yards per target and 55.7 catch percentage over his Steelers career are detestable numbers, but his blocking ability was so fantastic for nearly a decade that he deserves to be ranked this high among Pittsburgh's all-time tight ends.

3. Bennie Cunningham

Bennie Cunningham had just about everything you could want at the position. He possessed a 6'5'', 254-pound frame back when there weren't many big tight ends in the NFL and he could move like a wide receiver. This helped him carve out a sizeable piece of the offense by his second NFL season in 1977.

Cunningham was Pittsburgh's first-round pick (28th overall) in the 1976 NFL Draft, and the Clemson product did not disappoint. For seven years from 1977 to 1983, Cunningham averaged over 385 receiving yards per season while scoring 18 touchdowns during this span.

Cunningham was drafted just after back-to-back Super Bowl wins by the Steelers in '74 and '75, but he still helped his team to a pair of Super Bowl victories in '78 and '79. He started 80 of 118 games for the Steelers in his 10-year career with Pittsburgh.

2. Eric Green

Eric Green had no business being able to move like he did at his size. Listed at 6'5'' and 280 pounds, Green was a well-rounded monster at the tight end position. Immediately after being selected with the 21st overall pick by the Steelers in 1990, Green effortlessly put up 387 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in 13 games.

In year two in 1991, Green's career took off when he racked up 582 yards and 6 touchdowns on 14.2 yards per reception in just 11 contests. Green cemented himself as one of the best tight ends in the game in the mid-90s when he recorded 63 receptions for 942 yards and five touchdowns in 1993.

The jaw-dropping tight end earned Pro Bowl honors in back-to-back seasons before leaving the Steelers for the Miami Dolphins during the 1995 offseason. He would go on to play five more years for three other teams. During his five years in Pittsburgh, Green recorded 198 receptions for 2,681 yards and 24 touchdowns.

1. Heath Miller

Tight ends as well-rounded as Heath Miller don't come around very often. Most of the time, teams either chase a great receiving tight end or a great blocking tight end. Miller was the ideal combination of both.

At 6'5'' and 256 pounds, Miller's muscular frame helped him impose his will as an in-line blocker. At the same time, he served as Ben Roethlisberger's safety valve in the passing game for more than a decade. The savvy tight end hit the ground running and looked like a veteran during his rookie season when he posted 459 yards and six touchdowns in 2005.

Miller was a chain-mover for the Steelers' offense and routinely came up clutch over the middle of the field on third downs. He could absorb contact and hang onto the football as well as any tight end in the league.

By the end of his 11-year career in Pittsburgh, Miller shattered every tight end receiving record while helping his team earn two Lombardi Trophies. With 592 receptions, 6,569 receiving yards, and 45 career touchdowns, we could be waiting a long time for a Steelers tight end to surpass these numbers.

The 10 best tight ends in Pittsburgh Steelers history by receiving yards



Years With Team

Receiving Yards


Heath Miller




Bennie Cunningham




Eric Green




Preston Carpenter




Pat Freiermuth




Randy Grossman




John Hilton




Mark Bruener




Jesse James




Vance McDonald