Looking back, it’s pretty remarkable that the Pittsburgh Steelers had gone a full 13 draft classes without significantly addressing the tight end position. between 2008 and 2020, the team did not select one single player from the position earlier than the fifth round, and even then only twice, with Jesse James and Zach Gentry.
The seventh round was more their comfort zone, bringing us the likes of David Johnson and Rob Blanchflower, David Paulson and the like. At least, that was the case up until this Spring, when they finally used a second-round pick on Pat Freiermuth, their first day-two pick at tight end since Matt Spaeth in the third round back in 2007.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that they ignored the position. For most of that time, they had Pro Bowler Heath Miller, whom they drafted in the first round in 2005. When he retired, they took a swing, even though they missed, in free agency with Ladarius Green. When that didn’t work out, they traded for Vance McDonald, himself a former second-round pick.
Last year, they signed former Pro Bowler Eric Ebron to a two-year deal. Coming off of a 56-558-5 season, the former first-round pick is looking to expand his role even further in his second season with the Steelers, and make a larger impact. As it stands, Pro Football Focus views him as the number 25 tight end in the league entering the 2021 season, via Ben Linsey:
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.
While Ebron’s drop issues were not unique to his time with the Steelers, it did grow to a bit of an exaggerated level, and one should expect him to regress a bit to a norm with a slightly less unreliable performance.
That has always been on his resume, though, even going back to college, and yet he was a first-round pick, because he’s the dynamic type of talent who can make big plays, and he did come in clutch a number of times for the Steelers in 2020.
Of course, with Freiermuth coming up behind him, there’s a good chance this is his last year in Pittsburgh, but the two of them should make a formidable duo for at least one season, and hopefully add a valuable dimension to the offense.