Out of all of the new faces that the Pittsburgh Steelers have acquired since the end of the 2020 season, tight end Eric Ebron may prove to have the largest impact, though if Stefen Wisniewski earns the starting job at left guard, he may end up playing the most snaps, potentially every snap of the season.
In terms of contributions, however, Ebron can be a major asset. He is just two seasons removed from a 75-yard, 13-touchdown Pro Bowl year when he had the opportunity to work with Andrew Luck in 2018. Luck’s sudden retirement and a year-long groin injury prevented him from being effective last season, but the Steelers are banking on him being somewhat closer to his previous form with Ben Roethlisberger, whom he has often praised.
Pittsburgh gave Ebron, a former first-round draft pick, a two-year contract that is worth $12 million. But they already had Vance McDonald, who also in 2018 had a career year, catching 50 passes for 610 yards and four touchdowns. He, too, struggled a year ago due to injuries to his quarterback and himself.
What does the 2020 season hold for the new free agent, and for the tight end position? Head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about that when addressing reporters at the start of training camp.
“We’re familiar with Ebron’s talent”, he said of the Steelers’ priciest offseason acquisition, who addresses an area of need. “We’ve played him quite a bit since he’s been in the league. We are excited about acquiring him and adding him to our offensive mix. He’s a talented guy with a unique skillset for his position”.
“We’re excited about carving out a role and highlighting those talents”, he went on. “Some of it may include multiple tight end personnel groups. Some of it may not. That’s a thing that’s going to be ironed out through this process. He’s a viable receiving option and one we are going to be excited about getting familiar with utilizing”.
While the Steelers did use a reasonable amount of two-tight end sets last year, a great deal of that came with Zach Banner on the field as an extra lineman, a tackle-eligible, rather than two actual tight ends. In fact, the team spent most of the season with only two tight ends active on game days.
The latter could potentially remain the case for 2020, depending upon the offseason development of the second-year Zach Gentry, a former fifth-round draft pick who converted to the tight end position during his college career, but we’re almost assured to see McDonald and Ebron on the field together at least a reasonable amount this season, even with the team’s talent at wide receiver.