Though the Pittsburgh Steelers already had on their hands a starting tight end in Vance McDonald, they reserved their biggest splash in free agency to add to this position, going out and signing former first-round pick Eric Ebron to add to the mix. We now know that this was a move that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wished to see happen, Ebron having already suggested it.
Ed Bouchette yesterday wrote for The Athletic that “Roethlisberger passed along word to coach Mike Tomlin that he though Ebron would be a good addition to their offense” after the two had the opportunity to meet and talk in February during a Christian conference on marriage.
The quarterback told Bouchette that he “was a big fan” of Ebron coming out of college. “I was really impressed with him, thought he was a great football player”. Roethlisberger added that Ebron told him he heard from former Steeler Lance Moore while he was still in Detroit of how much he liked the tight end and would like to have him on the team some day.
“Now that he’s here, I’m excited to see what he can bring to this team”, the quarterback said. “We know he’s an incredible talent. Speaking to him, I can see his desire, and his passion to be great. I’m excited what he can bring to the table opposite Vance”.
Few players in the NFL over the course of the past couple of seasons have produced more scores in the red zone than has Ebron, who scored 13 touchdowns in 2019, though only three last season through some extenuating circumstances, including injury and the retirement of his franchise quarterback.
While both Ebron and McDonald saw stark drops in their production last season due to injuries and quarterback quality, both also had career years the season before. Ebron caught 66 passes for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns, while McDonald for Pittsburgh caught 50 passes for 610 yards and four touchdowns.
The Steelers have never before had a pair of tight ends on their team who offered this much in the way of receiving ability. The team would not have bothered to sign Ebron if it did not have the intention of making serious use of the 21 personnel formation, with the former first-round pick able to create mismatches due to his athleticism and ability to line up all over the formation.
That should take some of the pressure off of the young wide receivers, the majority of whom haven’t produced much at the NFL level, and who now have their fourth different position coach in as many seasons, now one they’ve never met before.
That’s not to say that they will gravitate away from the 11 personnel package as their base, though at the same time, it would not be completely shocking if we fail to see any one package amount to greater than 50 percent of the total snaps if they really utilize their riches at tight end.