With our series breaking down each position on the roster completed, it’s time to turn our focus on what is going on within each position, and on the roster as a whole. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be taking a closer look at some of the roster battles that we expect to see unfold over the course of training camp as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the start of the 2020 season.
This is not a conventional offseason, of course, for obvious reasons, which is likely to play a role in many of these battles, some in ways that we might not foresee. Generally speaking, it should favor players who have greater experience, but there’s a reason these questions are left unanswered until we get on the field.
Position: Tight End
Up for Grabs: No. 1 Role
In the Mix: Vance McDonald, Eric Ebron
As we sit here today, it’s not exactly clear whether or not the Steelers even intend to have a ‘number one tight end’, how often they intend to use two true tight ends at a time, or if it’s even necessary to make the distinction. All we know is that the pairing of Vance McDonald and Eric Ebron is, on paper, the most talented that they have had in some time, perhaps ever.
While nobody is expecting him to duplicate the feat, Ebron is just two seasons removed from a Pro Bowl campaign in which he caught 13 touchdown passes. McDonald has 15 touchdowns in his entire career, and eight during his three seasons with the Steelers.
But he showed a lot of promise in 2018 as well, posting career-best numbers with 50 catches for 610 yards and four touchdowns. That was punctuated by a big 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown in Week Three that energized the entire team and really gave him national attention.
Injuries and a complete dumpster fire at quarterback really sabotaged any chances of him following up with a similar season in 2019, but the fact that he averaged just 7.2 yards per catch last season is just abysmal.
Coincidentally, Ebron also suffered through injuries and a quarterback change when Andrew Luck abruptly retired. Now they are both hoping to be catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger, which McDonald obviously has more experience doing.
Between the two, Ebron is the decidedly more dangerous as a receiving option, and considering both of them are prone to drops, that doesn’t really weigh too much against him. For his six-year career, he has caught 283 passes for 3195 yards and 27 touchdowns.
McDonald is, when healthy, the much better blocker, so it will be interesting to see how they divide the work. But their base offense is in 11 personnel, and that’s not going to change, so somebody is going to see the majority of the snaps in one-tight end sets. Who will that be?