The End of the Eric Ebron Era in Detroit?
Eric Ebron Fantasy 2018
Ask 10 different Detroit Lions fans what they think about TE Eric Ebron, and you’re bound to get an even split down the middle.
Half will say, “He’s still young. Give him a chance. He’s got all of the talent in the world and tight ends take a few years to develop.”
The other half will sum it up by saying, “Wasted pick.”
The latter might not be too far off, especially with the insanely talented difference makers on both sides of the ball that the Lions passed up on to take Ebron with the 10th pick of the 2014 NFL Draft – WR Odell Beckham, Jr. (12), DT Aaron Donald (13), LB Ryan Shazier (15), WR Brandin Cooks (20), and WR Kelvin Benjamin (28) were all taken after Ebron in the first round that year.
Obviously, when you’re selected as the 10th overall pick, you’re expected to become an instant playmaker – which is what the Lions needed in 2014 because of Megatron and Nate Burleson aside, it was slim pickings in Motown.
However, his production over the first four years of his NFL career says he’s been anything but that.
Let’s Talk Numbers
The idea of Eric Ebron – a freakishly athletic, field-stretching tight end with playmaking capabilities – doesn’t necessarily match up with the actual numbers.
As a matter of fact, they’re pretty far off from each other.
Ebron has played in 56 games in his four years so far in the NFL. Of those 56 games, he’s only had five games with 6+ receptions and only 11 games with 60+ receiving yards.
His catch rate of 61.6% ranked 29th amongst eligible tight ends in 2017 (down from 10th at 71.8% in 2016, and 18th at 67.1% in 2015) according to Pro Football Reference.
This isn’t due to lack of opportunity – his 86 targets this year ranked 10th amongst tight ends, and in terms of target distribution by position, Lions tight ends had a 20.88% target share this year, which was slightly above the league average of 20.59%.
With all of that being said, the common argument you’ll hear around Detroit right now is that Ebron really turned it around in the second half to show what he’s capable of doing.
But did he really?
He had a great Week 13 (10 receptions for 94 yards) and a good Week 15 (five receptions for 83 yards and a touchdown), but take those two weeks out of the equation and he averaged 3.3 receptions for 33.7 yards per game in the second half.
On the season, his 53 receptions ranked 12th in the league amongst tight ends, and his 574 receiving yards ranked 11th.
So, What’s Next?
Do these numbers sound like they were produced by a 10th overall pick?
Didn’t think so.
Ebron is on the books for a massive $8,250,000 contract in 2018, which would make him the 7th highest paid tight end in the NFL (before free agent signings).
That’s more than Kyle Rudolph, Delanie Walker, Jared Cook, and Jack Doyle to name a few.
With a new coaching regime coming into Ford Field, combined with the fact that Bob Quinn wasn’t the General Manager who drafted him and we all know that when it comes to players on the bubble, GMs tend to prefer their own players, Eric Ebron looks like a pretty good candidate to get cut in the offseason (especially at that cap hit), and use the cap savings to address bigger needs.
The reality is this – the Lions don’t need a stretch-the-field playmaker like Eric Ebron is (on paper) because they have that in wide receivers Marvin Jones and young Kenny Golladay.
They need a reliable red zone threat out of the tight end position considering Ebron has 18 red zone receptions on 35 targets in his career, as well as a tight end that can be a useful blocker since the Lions’ pass protection is still an issue.
The oft-injured Tyler Eifert is only 27 and could be a good candidate for a “prove it” deal now that he’s a UFA, and UFA Austin Seferian-Jenkins (who coincidentally was the next tight end taken in the 2014 draft) showed that he’s gotten his act together and could be a solid contributor. The Lions could also make a run at Jimmy Graham if it’s true that his time in Seattle could be coming to a close.
Additionally, a guy to keep an eye on in training camp and in the offseason is a soon-to-be sophomore, Michael Roberts. Even though he was buried this year behind Ebron and veteran Darren Fells and primarily served as a blocker during his 13 snaps a game, Quarterback Matthew Stafford has spoken highly of him recently
Or, of course, the Lions could address the position in the draft with guys like Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews, PSU’s Mike Gesicki, and South Dakota’s Dallas Goedert all becoming eligible this year.
2018 and Beyond
It’s very much possible that Ebron can go on to have a stellar career as a tight end. He has the size, the build, and the athleticism to make it happen, and at just 24 years of age, it’s not crazy considering everyone knows that the tight end position is one of the hardest to learn in football.
At the same time, given his contract situation and a new coach and system coming into town, there’s a strong possibility that it won’t be happening in a Honolulu Blue uniform going forward.