Dec 28, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels tight end Eric Ebron (85) tries to catch a pass during the second quarter against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Lions: Brandon Pettigrew, Eric Ebron and Dropped Passes

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The Detroit Lions have uncertainty at the tight end position with Brandon Pettigrew set to become a free agent. There is no guarantee he returns with Pettigrew not worth the franchise tag for a tight end set at $6.8 million, not to mention the Lions’ already tight salary cap situation.

Assuming Pettigrew does not return, the Lions options to replace him will be mostly limited to the draft. Would the Lions make the bold move of drafting a tight end with the tenth overall pick? Obviously that depends on how the first nine picks go and their own evaluation process, but North Carolina’s Eric Ebron is a name to watch. He was already receiving top ten love in a number of mock drafts and that status was reinforced by NFL Network’s Mike Mayock yesterday.

The most maddening part of Pettigrew’s game to most fans were the dropped passes. Certainly that is an area fans will want to see an improvement in Pettigrew’s replacement, should it come to that. With the help of Pro Football Focus, here is a summary of Pettigrew’s drops for each of his five NFL seasons, as well as his career totals:

Year Receptions Drops Catchable Drop Rate
2013 41 4 45 8.89%
2012 59 9 68 13.24%
2011 83 6 89 6.74%
2010 71 12 83 14.46%
2009 30 6 36 16.67%
Career 284 37 321 11.53%

Rotoworld has a fantastic breakdown of the draft’s top tight ends based on a number of interesting metrics. Included in the discussion is a section on each player’s hands, specifically related to dropped passes. Ebron has a number of elite traits, but his hands, at least in terms of consistency, aren’t one of them:

Here’s Ebron’s dirty little secret – his hands just aren’t as good as some make them out to be. He made some nice one-handed grabs, but he also has a 11.43% drop rate which is not something to be overlooked.

11.43% drop rate sure looks to me a lot like Pettigrew’s career drop rate of 11.53%. Does this mean the Lions shouldn’t considered Ebron early in the draft? Of course not, but as Rotoworld notes, it is an issue that deserves some scrutiny. With the ball in his hands there is no doubt Ebron is an upgrade over Pettigrew as Ebron’s ability to gain yards after the catch is on par with some of the better wide receivers in the 2014 draft class. More from Rotoworld:

You’ll note that Eric Ebron’s metrics in this category look similar to Richard Rodgers. Where Rodgers caught the ball slightly further down the field and averaged less YAC, Ebron leads the class with 8.84 yards after the catch. That’s a number that rivals top WRs in the class like Mike Evans and Allen Robinson.

With Ebron, the good outweighs the bad. The Lions will just have to decide if it does so enough to warrant a top ten pick.

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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft Brandon Pettigrew Detroit Lions Eric Ebron

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