Eric Ebron was the flashy signing Steelers nation wanted, but is his addition being overblown by the fanbase and media who is ignoring his inconsistent past?
Going into this offseason, the Steelers need at tight end was high. With Vance McDonald suffering through an injury-plagued season and the Steelers missing on Nick Vannett whom they acquired via trade, the position was one that had to be addressed. With the upcoming rookie class weak on paper, the team opted for the free agency route and added Eric Ebron to a 2-year 12 million dollar deal.
This move has been widely praised by the media, as Ebron has been a productive receiver during his time in the league. ESPN’s Bill Barnwell gave the signing a B+, saying:
"A healthy Ebron is an upgrade on both McDonald and Vannett as a receiver, so this is a nice under-the-radar move for Pittsburgh in a rare foray into free agency."
On most accounts, the Steelers won this deal. Looking into Ebron’s tape though, his fit with the Steelers is dubious.
Ebron has been an overhyped prospect since coming out of North Carolina in the 2014 NFL draft. His 4.6 forty, 120-inch broad jump, and 24 reps on the bench had fans drooling over his athletic potential. His hype carried through to the draft, where he was selected 10th overall by the Lions.
While his play in Detroit was far from awful, it never really lived up to his high first-round status. He never had more than 61 receptions, 711 yards, or 5 TD’s while with the Lions. His fifth-year option was picked up by the Lions, but they later cut him as they believed he wasn’t worth the 8.25-million-dollar option.
He was signed by the Colts shortly afterward, where he put up his best statistical season yet. He logged 66 receptions for 750 yards and 13 TD’s as well as his only Pro Bowl berth. His great play didn’t continue though, as his stats drastically dropped behind a Jacoby Brissett led Colts team.
Even during his mega 2018 campaign, Ebron struggled with consistency, as there would be just as many weeks where he posted below 40 yards as he did above. This was even more evident in 2019, where his play was sporadic seemingly every week (granted the offense did take a significant step back under Brissett).
He also has a nasty case of the drops. Drops are a natural aspect of the game, but Ebron’s are noticeably high. He posted a drop percentage of 8.2 in 2018 and 9.6 in 2019. In comparison, McDonald had a drop percentage of 5.6 in 2018 and 5.5 in 2019.
Along with these drops, Ebron’s personality could use some work. Sports Illustrated had a piece detailing these issues in 2019, where Ebron was publicly critical about his diminished stats with the team. The entirety of the Colts regressed after Andrew Luck retired, so the fact Ebron was so public with his displeasure is alarming. The Steelers were plagued with a diva personality last year and it isn’t something the team should be looking to have again.
Lastly, as a blocker, Ebron shows little technique and effort. With the Steelers, blocking is almost second nature for this position, so the fact Ebron is such a poor blocker is alarming. Every clip I’ve watched with him blocking has left me unimpressed and, frankly, concerned.
It isn’t all bad with Ebron, as his contract is very fair for the tight end position. Spotrac projected his average annual value to be 9.5 million a year, while the Steelers signed him for 6 million a year. His contract came in lower than Jimmy Graham and Greg Olsen, and league-wide is on par with Nick Boyle and C.J. Uzomah. Ebron arguably has more potential than all of those options.
For those expecting Ebron to come in and become an elite starter will be sorely disappointed. He is a fringe starter that should take the pressure off of McDonald and exploit some mismatches in the passing game. That said, I don’t believe the Steelers have their future at the position on this roster right now. While McDonald and Ebron should be ok for this year, it shouldn’t deter the team from targeting the position in the draft if there is a prospect they like. Ebron shouldn’t be a bust signing, but fans need to temper their expectations to avoid being disappointed by the player brought in.