Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle. I must be dreaming. Slap a skirt on me and call me Sally; it finally happened, or at least I thought it did.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers shocked everyone a couple of days into free agency 2020 (March) and signed veteran tight end Eric Ebron, the majority of Steelers fans came off as rather on-board with the addition. Heck, people actually seemed excited; invigorated even! I was proud of my fellow Steelers fans; finally no complaints about an offseason move that was made. All hands on deck. Well, per usual, I let myself speak too soon, and I jinxed it like a true pro sports fan sometimes does, because it didn't take long for the 'haters' (aka 'haterz', aka 'trolls') to come out of the woodwork on this one. Gone is the excitement, replaced by the detractors.
You've probably seen this type of 'football expert' before; they typically get on social media and type things in comments fields like, "lol good luck!" and "BUST!"... and the always popular, "Hope he didn't drop the pen when he signed the contract!" Yes, that's sarcasm on my part. I know a lot of brainpower went into these remarks, clearly. The haters are really digging deep here.
These are just some of the things I've started to see more and more of on Twitter and, in passing, on other Steelers sites - mainly in the comments sections. And I'm here to tell you that it's a bunch of bologna! Please excuse my French.
This type of trolling happens every year to every team and every player who changes teams during free agency. There will always (always, ALWAYS!) be scorn from former fans who will hold onto their hate for a player until he retires or is kicked out of the league. Even former players turned analysts will get in on the action. We, as Steelers fans, see this front and center with cornerback, Steve Nelson, who was dissed by Steve Smith and Kansas City Chiefs fans.
Plot Twist. Nelson Island is a resort for WR.
— Garrett Allen Sr (@kwikwit13) April 16, 2019
Nelson just had himself a career season, I won't bore you with the stats but he's widely considered to be one of the largest snubs of the latest Pro Bowl. The guy was absolutely locked down all season long and Chiefs fans still run their mouths on Twitter under Nelson's Tweets (and other places) about how he's "lol not good..." What?! And, then, when you challenge a troll like this, they always say the same thing: "I watched him get burnt for years in KC bro." You'll notice how there's never any credit given to his accomplishments in Pittsburgh by these people who can't get out of the past and dwell on being negative, even though he literally just put his play on display for the world to see.
— Chad Tyson (@chadtyson) December 16, 2019
Nelson just did stuff like this (above)...
I feel a very similar thing is happening to Eric Ebron and has been happening to him since the conclusion of his rookie season in Detriot for the Lions.
Early Years in Detroit
Ebron was kind of doomed from the start, not gonna lie. Not to be a 'Negative Nancy', but he was drafted 10th overall out of North Carolina by Detroit in 2014, and you just don't take tight ends that early in round one. The expectations and, quite frankly, the disappointment in the pick were extremely high from the very beginning.
The 21-year-old played 13 games as a rookie, and started 7 of those games. During those opportunities, he turned out an abysmal 25 catches for 248 yards and one touchdown. Not great at all, Bob! However, I told you I'm here for a good time, and here's the good news; it didn't take long at all for Ebron to find his stride and take steps forward; which is what you want to see in such a young prospect with a high ceiling.
The very next season, with only one more start than the previous year (8), Ebron hauled in 47 balls for 537 yards and 5 touchdowns. He doubled his catches, doubled his yardage, and quintupled his touchdowns. I mean, the improvement from year one to year two is obvious and drastic; you have to give the kid credit. Was it enough to justify taking him 10th overall in the previous draft though? That, apparently, was yet to be decided in the eyes of Lions fans. Remember, Ebron did next to nothing as a rookie. I think Detroit fans (and actual team management) had a very hard time moving on from that, despite his success in year two.
The Lions totally fumbled Ebron (pun intended) from the very start when they drafted him too early, and they did him no favors in placing all of the starting tight end responsibility on him. Instead of downsizing his workload and seeing what he could offer to their offense in complimentary fashion, they only saw him for what he couldn't and shouldn't be doing and thrust him into this every-down tight end role. That wasn't who he was coming out of North Carolina. Although he may be able to handle such duties at this stage in his career, asking that of an extremely raw 21-year-old rookie, knowing that the learning curve for tight ends in the NFL is severe, was foolish of Detroit. And I believe it's a large part of why Lions fans still hate Ebron to this day. Their expectations were just never met.
Hello Indy, Deuces Detroit!
By this point in his career, things were looking up for young Ebron. After having an impressive sophomore season, he entered his third year ready to take the next step and be among the best tight ends in the league. Whereas he again improved his reception mark (61 catches) and his yardage mark (711 yards), his touchdown numbers plummeted after he was only able to find the endzone one time in 2016. I think that stat really left a sour taste in the Lions' mouths and unfortunately took away from the fact that 711 yards is nothing to sneeze at from the tight end position. As a matter of fact, it's rather impressive.
As a benchmark for all yinz, the most Heath Miller ever had in a season was 789. But Detriot wanted Ebron to score points, and in 2016 he didn't do that for them.
As a result, Indianapolis picked up the tight end. Eric meets Andrew, Andrew meets Eric, and 13 touchdowns later the NFL was 'shook'.
I, of course, am referring to Andrew Luck, the former Colts quarterback. When Ebron took his talents to Indy in 2018, he was met by the best quarterback he's ever worked with (sorry Matt Stafford), and a new team and fanbase that didn't have these lofty unfair expectations of him. The coaches in Indianapolis didn't try to force him anywhere, or into any particular role, hoping he would just figure it out eventually. Indy did what Detroit could not, and got the best out of Ebron by utilizing his strengths instead of picking apart his weaknesses.
They coached him. Crazy, right? I know! I think Pittsburgh can do the same.
Not only was Ebron met by a better quarterback, a better coach, and more accepting fans in Indianapolis, he was met by fellow tight end, Jack Doyle.
This caught my attention because Doyle had already established himself as a pretty good starter and quality tight end in the NFL. He wasn't a superstar by any means, but he was a guy you had to plan for and expect to make catches against you. A real red zone threat at the least. The Steelers have a similar player in current starter Vance McDonald. Ebron didn't have another tight end who could make plays and pose a threat like that in Detroit. He didn't have someone to help take some pressure off of him.
Doyle was injured after six games in 2018 but Ebron saw great success while they were on the field together. And by the time Doyle was placed on IR, Ebron had established himself as the starter in Indy and was ready to blossom into what was his first Pro Bowl season after scoring 13 touchdowns.
Welcome to Pittsburgh, Eric!
Fast forward to 2019 and Ebron's time at the top of the tight end food chain had come to a screeching halt. Through no fault of his own, Ebron was placed on Injured Reserve after week 11 of the 2019 regular season. Ebron is also on record as saying he both practiced and played in games leading up to that point, dealing with this injury. But he couldn't tough it out any longer and finally said enough was enough and sought out surgery for his badly-injured ankle. That's right, this man needed SURGERY to repair his ankle and he still tried to stick it out for however long before tapping out.
There's some (not all, but some) scorn from Indy fans out there calling him a quitter. After putting up 13 touchdowns the year before, and losing his All-Pro quarterback to retirement the next season, and battling through injury, that's how he's viewed by Colts fans. Is it fair? No, obviously not at all, not even a little bit. But that's my point!
Ebron's had a solid-to-above average career so far and has displayed a very clear trajectory of improvement from 2014 to now. Has that trajectory dipped once or twice? Yes. You'll be hard-pressed to find an NFL player who doesn't experience highs and lows.
Has that trajectory also reached heights never before seen by a Steelers tight end in the form of 13 touchdowns in a single season? Also, yes. When placed in the right situation with a good quarterback, a good starting tight end opposite him, and a good coaching staff, Ebron has absolutely flourished. I think it's safe to say Ben Roethlisberger, Vance McDonald, and Mike Tomlin meet those requirements.
It's time to put aside the exaggerations and wildly inaccurate 'takes' that disgruntled fans have of Ebron and look at how he can be an asset in the Steelers' offense in 2020.