The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers’ tight end group will account for 1000-plus receiving yards in 2020.
Explanation: In an era in which it’s become normal to see a couple of tight ends post 1000-plus receiving yards on their own, the Steelers are hoping to get more productivity out of their own position this year with Vance McDonald and Eric Ebron as a pairing, and Zach Gentry rounding out the group.
Both McDonald and Ebron are talented players, and they have shown that they can comfortably put up numbers when they are healthy and working in a healthy offense. Both had that on their respective teams in 2018. Neither had either one of those things in 2019.
Everyone is healthy now, and everyone is excited about 2020 will look like, which means I’m excited about the state of the tight end position. there is no reason that these two should not be able to put up at least 1000 yards together. McDonald and Jesse James did it together in 2018, after all, and I don’t think any reasonable person would argue that James is a better receiving threat than Ebron, who has recorded 500-plus receiving yards in four of his six seasons (including 700-plus twice), adding 375 yards in 11 games last year, which, prorated, is 545.
You don’t go by prorated numbers at the end of the season, however, and there seems to be low odds that the Steelers will get healthy seasons from both McDonald and Ebron, each of whom have their own injury history.
McDonald and James may have put up 1000 yards in 2018, but it was a fluke, something that the team never even did once while Heath Miller was here, the most being 876 in 2012. Thanks to Daniel Valente’s research back in January of 2019, I can tell you that the last time the Steelers got 1000-plus yards out of the tight end position was in 1993, when Eric Green alone had 942, which still stands as a team record.
This is a team that runs out of a three-receiver set, and, when they have Ben, have shown signs of wanting to run out of four- and even five-receiver sets. They have JuJu, Washington, Johnson, and now Claypool. It will be hard for the two tight ends to even get enough targets to produce 1000 yards, though they may eclipse 10 touchdowns if they get the red zone work, where Ebron could factor most.