Steelers linebackers to be challenged by opposing tight ends in 2021

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Eric Ebron (85). Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Eric Ebron (85). Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The Steelers’ linebacking corps will have their hands full defending tight ends on their 2021 schedule.

ESPN recently released their ranking of the NFL’s top ten tight ends. The article is behind the ESPN+ paywall, but Steelers fans should know it contains multiple players the black and gold will meet this season.

Four of the top five. The defense will surely have its hands full this year.

Coming in at number four, but perhaps most pressing to the Steelers’ concerns as a division rival is Baltimore’s, Mark Andrews. Andrews is only one facet of Baltimore’s many-pronged offense headed by quarterback Lamar Jackson, but he’s always a threat to catch a short pass from Jackson.

Andrews caught 58 passes for seven touchdowns on 88 targets in 2020, averaging 12.1 yards per reception. He’s down in all those metrics from his 2019 numbers, but here he is as a blocker:

Andrews is a name to keep an eye on during the two regular-season matchups against Baltimore.

The Steelers travel to Kansas City in week 16 to take on the defending AFC champion Chiefs and Travis Kelce. Rotoballer calls Kelce a “top option” for Patrick Mahomes alongside receiver Tyreek Hill, saying he is “coming off of a historic season and should remain at the top of his class at his position for the upcoming season.”

He’s coming off 105 receptions on 145 targets for 1,416 yards in a campaign that ended in a loss to Tom Brady’s Buccaneers in the Super Bowl.

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Fantasy points machine Darren Waller and the Las Vegas Raiders come to Pittsburgh in week 2.

FanSided’s Just Blog Baby assesses Waller and the Raiders’ tight ends:

"When it comes to the passing game, the Raiders struggled at the wide receiver group as a whole this past season, but they got elite play from the tight end spot. While Jason Witten was a non-factor, star Darren Waller continues to be one of the best in the game, and he shattered the team’s single-season reception record this past season."

Waller’s 107 receptions on145 targets earned Las Vegas 1,196 yards, nine touchdowns, and 69 first downs. Waller set career marks in all three categories.

Finally, the Detroit Lions bring T.J. Hockeson to Heinz Field in week 10. Interestingly enough, even though ESPN calls Hockenson the fifth-best tight end in the game, SideLion Report named him to its list of Lions players under the most pressure in 2021, reasoning that Detroit’s weak receiving corps will thrust Hockenson to the forefront of the passing game.

Steelers fans can take heart in the hiccups of the Lions’ de facto top pass-catcher:

"Hockenson still has not exceeded 100 receiving yards in a game since his explosive NFL debut back in September of 2019. His blocking has yet to match the hype it received during his draft evaluations. He also goes to the ground too easily and too often when precious yards and first downs are still there for the taking."

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Still, he’s also judged as a top-five guy at his position, one of four the Steelers face in 2021 over the course of the NFL’s toughest schedule.