“Predicting the 53” is a series we will continue throughout the off-season where we predict which 53 players will make up the Pittsburgh Steelers final roster. This post will focus on the Steelers tight ends, a group that features a good duo at the top. Eric Ebron was added in the off-season to form a solid 1-2 punch with Vance McDonald. These two should help Pittsburgh improve their dead-last red zone production from last year, which will also be aided by the return of Ben Roethlisberger.
Predicting the Pittsburgh Steelers Tight Ends
Who’s the Starter?
At this point, it doesn’t seem like there will be any true “starter” among the Steelers tight ends. McDonald and Ebron will likely split the snaps pretty evenly. Both guys are coming off seasons in which they dealt with injuries. It would be in Pittsburgh’s best interest to split reps among the two rather than overload one or the other. Keeping both guys healthy is key, as they both offer a different skillset that can bring value to the team in different situations.
Eric Ebron brings a style of play to the Steelers that they haven’t really had at the tight end position. He gets labeled as a “big wide receiver,” which speaks to his athletic and playmaking abilities, especially for his size. One way Ebron differs from Steelers tight ends of the past is that he isn’t much of a blocker. It will be interesting to see how many snaps Ebron gets as an in-line tight end. He’ll get some looks there but that role will predominantly handled by McDonald. The two tight ends paired together in 12 personnel will be a potentially lethal combination. Teams won’t be able to commit to stopping the run because Ebron, McDonald, and two Steelers wide receivers is more than enough receiving talent to throw the ball in that personnel grouping.
If Vance McDonald can stay healthy, he could be due for a major bounce-back season in 2020. After a solid 2018 campaign, his numbers were down last year due to injury problems and poor quarterback play. But since coming to Pittsburgh, McDonald’s hands have greatly improved and he can be a threat after the catch. His famous stiff arm of Chris Conte in 2018 shows that McDonald can be a problem for opposing defenders to bring down. He’s a nice safety blanket to have, good to make the catch and make a guy miss afterwards. His role might change due to the addition of Ebron, but McDonald will still be a key part of the Steelers offense.
Major Lack of Depth
Despite a solid tandem leading the charge, the depth behind Ebron and McDonald is really lacking. Zach Gentry is probably the favorite to be the third Steelers tight end on the roster. Gentry has the physical tools to be a receiving threat as a tight end. What he lacks in blocking, he helps make up for with athleticism and jump-ball abilities. Kevin Colbert seems to think Gentry can be a future number one tight end, which seems to be a stretch after his lackluster rookie year. But Gentry is still young and has time to improve his all-around game. Christian Scotland-Williamson is another name to keep an eye on. The former rugby player is 6’9″ and has been on the Steelers practice squad for the past two seasons. The team is familiar with him, so in his third year of training camp, he will be looking to make his case over Gentry. It just doesn’t feel likely at this point.
Make the roster: Vance McDonald, Eric Ebron, Zach Gentry
Miss the cut: Christian Scotland-Williamson, Kevin Rader
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