Steelers Eric Ebron ranked low on top-32 tight end list entering 2021

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Eric Ebron (85) (Photo Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Eric Ebron (85) (Photo Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports) /

Steelers Eric Ebron is ranked low on Pro Football Focus’s top-32 tight end list, but here’s why Pittsburgh has hope that things will turn around. 

The Steelers have been looking for a long-term answer at the tight end position since the retirement of Heath Miller back in 2015. To fill this void, they experimented by signing and trading for injury-plagued players like Ladarius Green and Vance McDonald. While both were quality talents, they gave Pittsburgh just a brief flash of production before quickly fizzling out and ultimately retiring.

Last year, Eric Ebron was brought on to be the top tight end for the black and gold. Though he had never lived up to his status as a former top-10 draft choice, Ebron had an excellent season with the Colts in 2018 – earning 66 catches, 750 yards, and 13 touchdowns while splitting work with Jack Doyle. However, when quarterback Andrew Luck retired after the 2018 season, Ebron plummeted back down to earth.

The Steelers were hoping they would see the same Ebron that earned a Pro Bowl status for the first time in his career with Luck at the helm… They did not. Not only did the veteran tight end have a serious case of the drops during his first season in Pittsburgh (which is what we have come to know from him in his career), but he was also a liability as a run blocker.

Recently, Pro Football Focus’s Ben Linsey wrote an article ranking the top-32 tight ends in the NFL entering the 2021 season. He had Ebron ranked 25th. Here’s what Linsey had to say:

"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."

Ebron’s low ranking is justified

Based on reputation and name alone, we would like to think that Eric Ebron deserves to be much higher on this list. But does he really? According to Pro Football Focus, Ebron ranked 61st among 71 qualifying tight ends in the NFL last season, so he’s probably fortunate to even make this list at all.

Just above him are players like Mo Alie-Cox, O.J. Howard, and Jack Doyle. While none have been particularly impressive, they haven’t been liabilities either and they were solid role players for their respective teams. If anything, we could make the case the other way around. Players like Blake Jarwin, Hayden Hurst, and Irv Smith Jr. are all ranked lower on this list than Ebron, but should probably be higher.

There is hope for the Steelers TE situation

Fortunately, there is hope for Pittsburgh’s tight end situation, but it doesn’t lie with Eric Ebron. Now entering his 8th NFL season at the age of 28, we know exactly the player that Ebron is at this point. Rather, hope for the future lies with rookie Pat Freiermuth.

Freiermuth isn’t a spectacular athlete, and he had some drop issues of his own at Penn State. However, there is reason to believe he could give this unit the best player it has seen since Heath Miller.

The 2021 second-round pick is raw as a blocker, but certainly is not lacking in physicality. At 6’5” and 251 pounds, Freiermuth is much more in the mold of a traditional tight end than today’s ‘move’ tight end, but he can operate in a variety of roles. Freiermuth can be used as an inline blocker or flex out into the slot. His time at Penn State has shown us that he can do the dirty work across the middle of the field, and he could give the Steelers a reliable option in this department for the first time in years.

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Pat Freiermuth did not make the list of the top-32 NFL tight ends entering the 2021 season, and that is understandable, as he is yet to play an NFL snap. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if he leapfrogs Eric Ebron in the rankings by next season. The Steelers didn’t have a great tight end group last year, but we are hoping that can change very soon with Freiermuth.