While the Steelers did add Eric Ebron in the offseason, the long-term option at the TE position is still up in the air and could be an option in the draft.
Heading into the offseason, the Steelers had a major need at TE as Vance McDonald had a down year and there was no depth behind him. The short-term issue was fixed when the Steelers inked Eric Ebron to a contract, bringing him to the Steelers to split time with McDonald. While many fans have now discounted this as a position that will be addressed via the draft, recent history suggests the team may still look that way in the draft.
Just last year, the Steelers had a spending spree during free agency, resulting in contracts for Mark Barron, Steven Nelson, and Donte Moncrief. They followed that up by adding Devin Bush, Diontae Johnson, and Justin Layne with their top three picks. 2018 was just the same, as the team signed Morgan Burnett and followed that up by drafting Terrell Edmunds in the first. This “double-dipping” at weak positions has been a trend the past few years as the Steelers want to completely fix that position of need both instantly and long term.
What does that mean for 2020? After signing Ebron and restructuring McDonald, the team has a clear option A and option B at the position. Yet both are question marks past this year, as they each have similar cap hits and could be cut to save cap. If that scenario unfolds, the team will be in the same boat it was earlier in the offseason. Thus it makes sense to find the long-term future of the position in the draft this year.
While the TE position in this draft is a relatively weak one, there are still some options that could develop into quality starters. While the options at 49 may not be appealing due to value, there could be some talents who fall to the Steelers at 102 that present upside for the Steelers. If a player like Adam Trautman or Albert Okwuegbunam falls that far, they could be drafted with 2021 and beyond in mind.
As well, this position is one that takes a while to translate to the NFL. Take stars like Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce, and Austin Hooper; all of them had disappointing first years in the NFL before developing into some of the best options in the NFL. If the Steelers opt to wait until next year to address the position, then they will be facing a slow first year like most TE’s experience. Adding one this year gives them a developmental year before expanding their role next year.
The Steelers haven’t had a top option since Heath Miller retired, instead opting for band-aids instead of investing in and fixing the position. A late third-round pick wouldn’t have to contribute heavily his rookie year and it secures the position for the future. While a guy like Zach Gentry is still unknown, based on his draft profile and lack of playing time (the Steelers opted to keep Gentry on the bench and dress two TE’s) his upside is limited. The Steelers need a real investment at the position.
While TE may not be the biggest need on the roster this year, the long-term questions at the position could result in it being taken in the third round of the draft. That way the rookie would have a year to develop and could take over as the starter next year. Of course, this will be dependent on the value, as a TE would have to represent a good value to be selected. Assuming all goes as planned and a rookie listed above is available, TE should be a slam dunk to be taken in the third round.