Eric Ebron’s claim to fame, thus far, has been as the guy the Detroit Lions selected instead of Odell Beckham Jr. as the tenth overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft. After foregoing his final year of eligibility at North Carolina, Ebron entered the NFL as being a comparable talent to that of Vernon Davis, while being tapped possessing better hands and greater athleticism, than the former 6th overall selection of the 2006 NFL Draft.
Standing at a sturdy 6’4” and tipping the scales at 245lbs., this physical specimen was thought to provide immediate results in the red zone for the Lions and fantasy owners alike, in his rookie year. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. His rookie season ended in a whimper, while posting a 25-248-1 line and underwhelming the Lions faithful with mental mistakes which led to a multitude of untimely drops. His sophomore year (2015) was a bit better statistically, but the lack of mental preparation was still evident. He did however manage to put on display his red zone prowess, as he caught 5 TD’s, tying for 9th place among TE’s in touchdowns and ranking 13th overall in fantasy points (PPR). It can be reasoned that with the recent retirement Calvin Johnson, Ebron will have every chance to showcase his evolution in 2016. The Detroit Lions were busy adding weapons during free agency with the addition of WR Marvin Jones, however, the seam stretching Ebron will be needed to help keep this offense heading in the right direction, if Detroit hopes to overcome the loss of Johnson.
There is a widely held belief that tight ends have a 3-year waiting period; before seeing tangible fantasy production. This dynamic appears to be a status quo assumption for Eric Ebron as well. In fact, the immediacy of his impact has been modest over his first 2 years in the league, especially considering the lofty comparisons upon his arrival. Thus far, expectations have not met opportunity up to this point in his young career, but the opportunity still remains and it will be up to Ebron to make good.
To further the point, the potential for growth, in a number of areas, is there for Ebron, as he wasn’t a big part of the offense throughout the year. He only had 70 targets (24th for TE’s in NFL) for a team that ranked 4th in the NFL in passing attempts per game (39.5), which included 8 red zone targets. In 2015, the league leader in red zone targets, among tight ends was Gary Barnidge with 24. Golden Tate will continue to serve as a target monster for the upcoming season, however there aren’t many viable options behind him and possibly Jones; thus, Ebron should see an uptick in statistical production across the board.
It should be noted that the addition of Marvin Jones and his $17 million guaranteed will have some level of impact on Ebron’s red zone opportunities, as Jones caught 10 touchdowns in 2013 and could become the preferred option for Stafford should Ebron not secure his quarterback’s trust early on. Ultimately, Ebron needs to establish himself as the safety valve when the pocket breaks down and put his athletic gifts to work the field, while building off of the 289 YAC he had in 2015. It’s true that Ebron isn’t known for his precise route running, so finding the gaps in zone coverage and dominating the linebackers in man coverage will be where his production should be found.
Although, Ebron may not have been the starting tight end on many fantasy rosters, I would expect 2016 to be the year in which he entrenches himself as just that. In the end, a three down, weekly starting option, is what he represents and if he can’t ascend in 2016, his tenure in Detroit will soon come to an end. After all, up to know, Detroit lamenting on the coulda-shoulda-woulda having missed out on the chance to draft Odell Beckham Jr. It will be up to Ebron himself to push that truth out of the minds of his coaches, the Lions faithful and his fantasy owners, a tall task for sure, but one he has the opportunity to accomplish.
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