Coming off of an up-and-down season marred with drops and poor performances in the blocking department, no projected starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2021 faces more arguably pressure to perform than veteran tight end Eric Ebron, who enters a contract year in the black and gold.
Signed to a two-year contract in ahead of the 2020 season, Ebron was brought in to solidify the No. 1 tight end position. His first year in Pittsburgh featured some highs, some lows, and some flat-out frustrations, which has become common in the former first-round pick’s career.
In his first year in Pittsburgh, Ebron finished with 56 catches for 558 yards and five touchdowns on 91 targets, establishing rapport with Ben Roethlisberger right away. However, the inconsistent hands and the inability to make any type of impact as a blocker led the Steelers to go searching for a young tight end in 2021 NFL Draft, landing Penn State standout Pat Freiermuth in the second round, who slots in behind Ebron — at least to start the year.
Due to the inconsistencies and the inability to make an impact as a blocker in the run game, Ebron finds himself on Bleacher Report’s Brent Sobleski’s “hot seat” for the Steelers ahead of the 2021 season.
“The Steelers didn’t mess around after Vance McDonald’s retirement and chose Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth with this year’s second-round draft pick. If not for a shoulder injury that ended the tight end’s season prematurely, Freiermuth could have been a first-round selection,” Sobleski writes. “As the season unfolds, the possibility of the veteran tight end being phased out for a rookie with promise seems like a natural progression, especially since Ebron is scheduled to be a free agent next offseason.”
It’s hard to see Freiermuth cutting into Ebron’s playing time early in 2021, simply due to the different skill sets the two have at the position. Ebron is much more of the move tight end that can line up all over the field and win down the field consistently, while Freiermuth feels more like a Jesse James that can work over the middle of the field and consistently move the chains.
Freiermuth is certainly the better blocker and will fill the void the retirement of Vance McDonald left as the No. 2 tight end, seeing the field often as a run blocker. But it is hard to envision Freiermuth cutting into Ebron’s snap count as a rookie, considering McDonald played 485 snaps last season as the second tight end to Ebron’s 776 snaps as the lead tight end.
All that said, it’s highly unlikely Ebron will be re-signed after the 2021 season, thrusting Freiermuth into the No. 1 tight end role moving forward, sans a move for another veteran free agent tight end.