Update September 4: The Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Ray Fittipaldo expects Eric Ebron to take the lead at tight end. His blocking hasn’t been great according to The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly, but his route running and pass catching should make him much more desirable than Vance McDonald from a fantasy perspective.
Update August 31: Ebron is turning heads in practice with his ability to create separation and make plays. It’s clear that his ceiling is higher than McDonald’s and his red zone effectiveness could make him one of the more productive tight ends in the NFL.
In this series we will look at the most important fantasy football position battles for each NFL team. Opportunity is king in fantasy, as you can’t produce fantasy statistics without getting on the field. So, the first step when looking for value plays is to project, correctly, which players will win training camp battles.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were competitive in the AFC North last year and managed to post an 8-8 record despite losing Ben Roethlisberger to an elbow injury early in the season. While the Steelers reached .500, they ranked 31st in passing yards with 2,981. That drastically affected the stats of Pittsburgh pass catchers, but their numbers are expected to improve with the return of a fully recovered Roethlisberger.
Many expected a breakout season from Vance McDonald last season, as the tight end tallied career highs in receptions (50) and receiving yards (610) the previous year. However, he fell well short of those marks and tallied 38 receptions for 273 yards and three scores last season. McDonald’s window to thrive as a TE1 might be closing, as Pittsburgh is bringing in help ahead of the 2020 season.
Former Indianapolis Colts tight end Eric Ebron inked a two-year, $12 million deal with the Steelers this offseason and is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2019. He followed up a breakout 2018 in which he recorded 66 receptions for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns with a dud. Ebron dealt with injuries and finished last year with 31 receptions for 375 yards and three scores in 11 games. Ebron has proven to be a much more polished pass catcher than McDonald and is better in every relevant statistical category.
The oft-injured McDonald hasn’t played a full 16 games once in his seven-year career while Ebron has accomplished the feat twice in six seasons. It’s likely that both will see their fair share of snaps in 2020.
Ebron should be the priority at tight end between these two. Neither seems very likely to be a star, but Ebron has significantly higher upside. McDonald could be worth taking late if you doubt Ebron’s durability.