Continuing its series of ranking the top 32 players at every position in the NFL prior to the start of the 2021 season, Pro Football Focus named its top tight ends in the league Wednesday morning. Representing the black and gold near the bottom of the list was Eric Ebron, who placed 25th overall.
Here is what article author Ben Linsey had to say about Ebron:
“We were fans of the Ebron signing last offseason for Pittsburgh given what he could offer as a receiving threat in that offense. He was coming off five-straight seasons with receiving grades of at least 65.0, but that dropped to 58.4 in the lowest-graded season of Ebron’s career in 2020. He was one of the victims of the Steelers’ unimaginative passing attack last season. His drops (seven) did the unit no favors, though. Ebron’s 40 drops since 2014 are more than any tight end in the league.”
Like the rest of Pittsburgh’s receiving options, the production suffered for Ebron as the team’s offense struggled to produce big numbers. A shorter and quicker passing game limited his effectiveness as the field-stretching option Pittsburgh signed him to be.
In the first year of a two-year contract he signed with the Steelers that offseason, Ebron recorded 56 receptions for 558 yards and five touchdowns. Those were the third-most receptions and yards in a season in his career, and tied for the second-most touchdowns. They fell shy of Ebron’s career year in Indianapolis in 2018, when Ebron caught 66 passes for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns, making his lone career Pro Bowl.
Despite the playable numbers (Ebron’s 56 were the most receptions by a Steeler tight end since Heath Miller’s final season in 2015), Ebron did not perform as well by PFF’s metrics, which Linsey mentioned brought his ranking down. Drops remain a persistent weakness to his game, and his seven were noticeable during the 2020 season.
With a new offensive gameplan arriving by way of new coordinator Matt Canada, Ebron’s numbers could rise in 2021. But playing to the negative is the arrival of second-round pick Pat Freiermuth, who could eat away at some of his target share.
PFF did not mention Freiermuth in its rankings, as he begins his career as a backup under Ebron in the veteran’s final year of his contract. The only rookie mentioned was uber-prospect Kyle Pitts of Atlanta, who debuted with a very high ranking of fourth in the NFL. He trailed only the consensus top two tight ends in the league — Travis Kelce and George Kittle — and someone who joined the top tier last season, the Raiders’ Darren Waller.
Ebron directly trailed Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox of Indianapolis, and O.J. Howard of Tampa Bay. For the rest of the AFC North, Baltimore star Mark Andrews ranked sixth, and Cleveland’s Austin Hooper ranked 17th. Cincinnati did not have a tight end ranked, one of 11 teams to miss the list.