Now that the regular season has begun, following yet another year of disappointment, a fourth consecutive season with no postseason victories, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen and are seeing over the course of the offseason and the regular season as it plays out. We will also be reviewing players based on their previous season and their prospects for the future. A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasoning. In some cases, it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances, it will be a direct response to something that just happened. Because of this, we can and will see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: TE Eric Ebron
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: The veteran tight end has had scarce opportunities to contribute this season, but he had his best game of the season so far last Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.
Eric Ebron was targeted four or more times in 14 out of 16 games played for the Steelers last season, producing 63 receptions for 620 yards and six touchdowns. So far in 2021, he has been targeted a total of 13 times, and targeted twice in every game except one in which he got three. He has just seven receptions for 47 yards.
Two of them, albeit for just 10 yards, came during Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks, and he most those yards count. He also scored his first touchdown of the season, taking the handoff at the goal line for a one-yard rushing score, which is actually the third rushing touchdown of his career.
More impressive was his four-yard reception on 3rd and 3 early in the second quarter. Not only was it thrown into traffic, he took a good hit after fielding the ball, but he was able to hold on, something that his critics feel he doesn’t do enough.
Though it may not seem like it, Ebron is still playing quite a bit. He has logged 185 snaps so far this year, which is close to 50 percent of the Steelers’ offensive snaps, and some weeks, he does play a bit more than their new rookie tight end, Pat Freiermuth, who has 18 receptions on the season for 158 yards and a touchdown. The second-round pick has only played 16 more snaps through six games.
Still, the writing has been on the wall since the draft. Freiermuth is the future of the position in Pittsburgh. It’s highly likely Ebron will complete his two-year contract here and then move on in free agency in 2022, having played a somewhat reduced role overall.
But the wildcard right now is the JuJu Smith-Schuster injury. We are probably going to see an increase in 12 personnel, as we already did last week, going forward, and that could buy extra targets for both tight ends that they might not otherwise have gotten. So reminding the team that he can make those tough catches doesn’t hurt.