‘Feisty’ Former Patriots Tight End Visits Steelers: Report

Dalton Keene

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images New England Patriots tight end Dalton Keene before a preseason game against the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium on August 19, 2022.

The Pittsburgh Steelers already have an ideal mix of players at the tight end position, with 2021 2nd-round pick Pat Freiermuth a budding star, Zach Gentry a capable veteran backup, and 2022 6th-round pick Connor Heyward full of intriguing potential.

But that didn’t stop the Steelers from hosting former New England Patriots tight end Dalton Keene for a visit on Tuesday, this according to Field Yates of ESPN.

Keene, 23, was selected by the Patriots in the 3rd round of the 2020 draft (No. 101 overall) out of Virginia Tech. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 251 pounds, he has appeared in just six regular-season games — all in 2020 — during which time he caught three passes for 16 yards across 140 offensive snaps, with one fumble.

The Patriots waived him on August 21, with availability an ongoing issue during his two NFL seasons. As a rookie he missed time with a neck injury before a knee injury landed him on injured reserve. He started his sophomore campaign on the Pats’ PUP list and went on injured reserve in August 2021 after undergoing meniscus surgery.

Dalton Keene’s Career at Virginia Tech

Keene’s college career with the Hokies spanned 39 games, during which time he caught a total of 59 passes for 748 yards (12.7 yards per catch) and eight touchdowns, with 21 of those catches and five of the TDs coming in his last collegiate season.

In his pre-draft profile, NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein called the Colorado native “feisty and determined at everything he does” and projected him to be a 6th-round pick, writing:

“Swiss Army Knife versatility performing in-line, as a wingback, from the slot, as a fullback, and even as a personal protector in pass protection. He’s lean but well-defined and his play speed and competitiveness are both a plus. He will struggle against NFL power at the point of attack, but his ability to block in space and catch the football make him naturally suited for the H-back role, where teams can align him around the formation as needed.

That said, he figures to be a strong candidate for Pittsburgh’s practice squad, where he could potentially join either Kevin Rader or former Green Bay Packers 3rd-round pick Jace Sternberger, the two tight ends who were released by the Steelers on August 30.

Teams can begin putting together their practice squads on the afternoon of August 31, and if history is any indication, the Steelers will sprinkle in a handful of newcomers, as was the case in 2021 when five of the first 15 additions were outsiders, namely:

– Karl Joseph
– Christian Miller
– Daniel Archibong
– Steven Sims
Derrek Tuszka

Being from Virginia Tech, perhaps Keene can take a lesson from another former Hokie in terms of availability. Recall that Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has said that safety Terrell Edmunds’ “best ability is his availability.”

Edmunds has appeared in 64 of a possible 65 games during his first four seasons in the league, according to Pro Football Reference. He has been called the quintessential “all-average” safety, which explains why the Steelers declined his fifth-year option in June 2021. Yet the former first-round pick (2018) is back with the Steelers for at least one more season, having returned on a one-year, $2.5 million contract he signed in April of this year.