One of the mistakes that teams are prone to make when evaluating free agent talents is overrating that player’s performance when he plays them. Among the most prominent examples of this misevaluation is when the Indianapolis Colts signed linebacker Erik Walden several years ago, who had some of his best games against them, but was otherwise a profoundly average player.
Another less concerning habit that teams have is focusing too much on players in whom they were interested when they were coming out of college. It goes without saying that a player will go through a lot of changes between their being drafted and their being acquired by a new team, and sometimes that can be for the worse.
The Pittsburgh Steelers can certainly be accused of being guilty of the latter—think the trade for Justin Gilbert, or the signing of Ladarius Green—but not so much the latter. And that certainly wouldn’t be the case in their latest tight end acquisition, Eric Ebron, who only has four catches on eight targets for 74 yards against the Steelers in two career games.
As has been overwhelmingly common, however, Ebron is a player in whom the team had a lot of interest coming out of college in 2014, when he was drafted in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions.
Soon after he and the Steelers agreed in principle to a two-year contract earlier this month, he told Josina Anderson about the phone conversation that he had with Pittsburgh’s head coach, Mike Tomlin, speaking highly of that talk.
“He told me he’s been on me since I was a Tar Heel, and he’s happy to get one of the guys he wanted out of college”, Ebron told Anderson of his conversation with Tomlin. “He said being a defensive coach he knows I’m hard to game plan against & I’m excited to come”.
On the phone w/ Eric Ebron. He just got off the phone w/ Mike Tomlin: “He told me he’s been on me since I was a Tar Heel, and he’s happy to get one of the guys he wanted out of college. He said being a defensive coach he knows I’m hard to game plan against & I’m exited to come.”
— ig: josinaanderson (@JosinaAnderson) March 20, 2020
This is reminiscent of the remarks that we have heard from Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert frequently over the years after they sign a player in free agency or trade for him. They talked about their pre-draft interest in both Minkah Fitzpatrick and Nick Vannett, for example, last season when they acquired them via trade, and of Steven Nelson’s college tape before they signed him in free agency.
Ebron is now the latest example of Tomlin finally getting a player he’s been interested in for years. the question is which player he will be getting. He is quite capable of putting up 60-plus receptions and over 700 yards—he has done each twice—and can contribute in the red zone, but will his health allow it, and how much of that will be offset by his unreliable hands?