Yesterday, we discussed Pro Football Focus’ rankings of every wide receiver group in the NFL heading into the 2020 season, and how they were not big fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ squad, ranking them 23rd in the NFL. While the talent is recognized, the production has not, so they argued that they have more questions surrounding them than most in the league. That’s fair.
They are a little more optimistic about their tight end group, ranking the Steelers 14th in the league at this position. Of course, tight end headlined the Steelers’ biggest move of the offseason, signing free agent Eric Ebron to a two-year contract worth $12 million.
He comes in to pair with Vance McDonald, who has been with the Steelers for the past three seasons, but has had injury issues to deal with. He is coming off of a rough 2019 season, though so is Ebron, both of whom saw career numbers the year before. Third on the depth chart is Zach Gentry, a 2019 fifth-round pick who was a healthy scratch most of last year.
Steve Palazzolo writes that the Steelers’ tight ends had the lowest receiving grade in the NFL last season, and also ranked last with just 7.7 yards per reception, which is insanely bad. For most of the year, Nick Vannett was the number two tight end, who was acquired from the Seattle Seahawks in Week Four for a fifth-round pick, after Xavier Grimble was injured.
“Obviously, the quarterback situation had plenty to do with that, but it was a disappointing year for Vance McDonald, who followed up a career-high 610 yards in 2018 with a career-low 45.3 overall grade in 2019”, he wrote, noting that while his previous season was impressive, it is so far an anomaly in his overall body of work.
For Ebron, he expects the big man to “provide a nice complement”, noting that he averaged 12.1 yards per reception last year, and of course highlighting his Pro Bowl season of 2018. Writing that he “still drops a few too many passes”, and continues to be “not a great run-blocker”, this is offset by his athleticism and big-play ability.
In sum, he concludes that it will be the body of work from Ebron that makes or breaks this unit, saying that if both he and McDonald can show something of their 2018 form, this could be a top-10 unit in the NFL, though in truth, I honestly expected them to be ranked lower than this.