The Pittsburgh Steelers have running backs. They don’t have a featured back. They have a starting tight end in Eric Ebron, in contrast. What they lack, perhaps overwhelmingly, is depth. Following the retirement of Vance McDonald, the depth chart behind Ebron consists of Zach Gentry, Kevin Rader, Dax Raymond, and Charles Jones, who have maybe three or four combined catches.
It’s been a long time since the Steelers have meaningfully addressed the tight end position in the draft. The last time they took a tight end earlier than the fifth round (and even the last time they did that was in 2016 with Jesse James) was all the way back at the start of the Mike Tomlin era, when he used a third-round selection to bring in Matt Spaeth.
Pat Freiermuth could be the first tight end the Steelers take earlier than the fifth round since 2007. That depends on where he falls on other teams’ boards, and how much Pittsburgh likes him. And it does seem like they like the Penn State alum quite a bit. Analyst Matt Williamson can see why, telling the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Tim Benz that he’s a Heath Miller type of throwback.
“Physical. In-line. Good blocker. Rugged,” he said in describing Freiermuth, widely regarded as one of the top three or so tight ends coming out of college this year. “Hard to get on the ground. A focal point of their offense, too. He’s a real solid top-40 pick.”
In four games for the Nittany Lions in 2020, he caught 23 passes for 310 yards and a touchdown. In his three college seasons, he caught 92 passes for 1,185 yards and 16 touchdowns over the course of just 29 games. And that’s to say nothing about his physicality in all phases of the game.
Physicality is what the Steelers are looking for throughout their offense right now, and what they’ve lost with McDonald’s retirement. Ebron is virtually the antithesis of physical when it comes to blocking, a conspicuous absence in the execution of his assignments.
The question is when they can get him, though. It’s becoming increasingly accepted that drafting him in the first round would be a stretch. But could he last until 55? Probably not, though with the draft, you can never be quite certain how things will play out.
What we do know is that the Steelers are very much in need of an infusion of youth and especially talent at tight end this offseason. The draft would be the best way to do that. If they don’t end up with Freiermuth, there are other interesting names that they could pursue, such as Tommy Tremble out of Notre Dame, or Hunter Long out of Boston College.