Is Eric Ebron enough for the Steelers tight end department?
By Austin Lloyd
A look at the Pittsburgh Steelers depth chart has the tight end unit appearing rather lackluster this offseason.
The tight end position can be overlooked by some teams, as they could mainly rely on a combination of a deep ball and rushing attack, and especially if their blocking on the offensive front seven is at least halfway decent. However, the Steelers are not one of those teams, as some of the aforementioned districts at Heinz Field left 2020 with most fans wanting to see bigger and better performances out of them in future seasons.
In the past decade, we have seen quite an array of tight end talents grace the Steel City, with Heath Miller, Vance McDonald, and Jesse James most namely. Following the signing of Pro Bowler Eric Ebron, the tight end lineup was arguably one of the est in the entire league. However, the massive disservice that was done to such a pair (i.e. Vance being vastly underused last season) ultimately left the dynamic duo of McDonald and Ebron as nothing other than a case of what could have been after the former’s retirement earlier this year.
This leaves Ebron and young TE Zach Gentry, who has not gotten as much playing time as many would prefer. The options beyond those two are virtually unheard of. So why is this average-at-best squad not being talked about any more than it currently is?
Ebron alone is not enough for Steelers
To shrug off the situation by focusing on the Pittsburgh wide receiver depth is not a valid answer to this problem. The builds and route-running tendencies are noticeably different between the two positions, and receiving is obviously not all a tight end does. Tight ends are also expected to be a reliable blocking force for whenever his QB drops back to look deep, or to help make a lane for the running back on a carry.
However, with more stable wide receivers comes less need for a route-running tight end. But Eric Ebron, the sole TE of notable status on the Steelers roster right now, is just that. All the while the offensive line situation is questionable when put lightly, and as a result, the rushing game is outstandingly mediocre despite having a Pro Bowl halfback in James Conner.
There have been talks about working on a trade for the Philadelphia Eagles’ Zach Ertz, which could theoretically fit assuming that such an endeavor is pulled off successfully. The only hesitance I would have is from concerns about whether or not we had just picked up another Ebron: a tight end known for his catches exponentially more than anything else. So I cannot help but feel that Ertz, while useful, would most likely be nothing more than an unnecessary asset on the offensive layout, especially with the salary cap tapping its foot waiting for some financial relief.
Eric Ebron does his job very well, and the purpose of this analysis is not to debate that. Rather it is to say that a receiving tight end such as Ebron is not the most crucial requirement to meet on the Steelers’ checklist at the moment. So why is the fact that he is almost the sole impact on the TE unit not being discussed as it should be? There are only two realistic solutions, and that is to look for a blocking tight end at some point in the draft or to put Eric in a more block-first role. Because after all we saw in this last season, his protection is needed more than his hands are.