Detroit Lions Tight End Stats For 2015: MathBomb Projection


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No one will ever accurately predict what a team’s statistics will be at the end of a season.  Prior to 2014, would you have predicted the Detroit Lions would have one of the best run defenses in NFL history?  Would you have predicted the team sending a DB to the pro bowl (Full disclosure, I actually DID predict this)?  Would you have predicted the Lions run game, lauded in 2013, would be one of the worst in 2014?  That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to make an educated guess, which I’m going to take another stab at after being completely wrong last season.

The Leader

With Ndamukong Suh gone, it looks like Eric Ebron has taken the mantle of “Most Hated Player in Detroit”, though he’s done very little to deserve it.  In 2014, Ebron didn’t light the world on fire, with his final yearly statistics falling right in line with what generally happens to rookie tight ends.  That’s not good enough for fans, though, who wanted a hall of fame season right out of the gate.

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I’ve spoken before about how tight end progression usually works, and in fact it is a pretty well documented statistical trend.  That, again, didn’t prevent fans from expecting a bajillion yards and thirty seven touchdowns.  In 2015, however, we’re looking at year 2 for Ebron and with year 2 for a tight end comes much higher expectations.  Jimmy Graham still hasn’t matched his year 2 production, nor has Rob Gronkowski, both the best in the game.  It isn’t fair to use just them as a comparison, though, so I expanded it a bit to include some good-not-great tight ends and a couple with typical TE stat progression.

I compared the jump that each of these players made on their per game statistics from year one to year two, then simply multiplied that percentage by Ebron’s own per game stats and extrapolated it over a full season.  What we get is, essentially, a worst case to best case look at how Ebron’s stats might look if he faces a second year of typical TE progression vs. realistic expectations.

Jermaine Gresham Progression364142
Vernon Davis Projection574191
Brandon Pettigrew Projection504382
Kyle Rudolph Projection595673
Rob Gronkowski Projection667422
Jimmy Graham Projection9210533

That’s none too shabby.  Of course we’d all prefer he ends up with the 1,300 yards and around 100 receptions that Graham and Gronkowski had in their year 2, and it isn’t out of the question, but typical progression should lead to somewhere in the range above, likely closer to the average. But what about the drops?

The Drops

With as heavily as it was covered last season, and as much as it has been this entire offseason, you’d think that Eric Ebron dropped every other pass thrown his direction last season.  The truth?  Much farther from that than even I expected.  It’s true that Ebron struggled with drops in college, but it wasn’t really that much of a problem as a rookie.

Ebron ranked 16th in the total number of drops for a tight end in 2015.  His drop percentage ranked him nearly the same, 17th in the NFL.  Can we expect any kind of rate in 2015?  Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis, and Brandon Pettigrew all had a higher drop rate as rookies than Eric Ebron did.  Of the six tight ends I compared, only Rob Gronkowski had a worse drop rate in year 2 than he did in year 1.  In fact, most of the drops were pretty significant.  I think it’s safe to assume a smaller drop for Ebron, considering his college issues, but since he already ranked outside the bottom 15, it’s probably quibbling over nothing to get into the numbers.

Since only one tight end, Vernon Davis, had fewer drops in year two than year one, I’m going to project Ebron with a similar increase in his total.  From 4 drops to 6, and with likely over 100 targets that puts him with about a 2% overall decrease in his drop rate from 8.5% to somewhere around 6%.

Everyone Else

So now we have the Detroit Lions leading tight end, but he probably won’t be the only tight end catching passes.  So how do we project the other two?  Joseph Fauria is still hurting from his dog related ankle injury while Brandon Pettigrew is too Brandon Pettigrew to expect a huge leap forward.  As it turns out, the math for these two is pretty simple, thanks in large part to their limited target expectation in the receiver rotation.

The aforementioned Eric Ebron stats are actually reasonably high based on last year’s projection using this method, but that should change in 2015 where he’ll be the #3 target.  Calvin Johnson is obviously still the man in Detroit, followed by Tate.  Ebron should come in 3rd, and in Detroit the next three receivers are all running backs.  That’s odd, but considering the Lions personnel I don’t really expect it to change.  Then we have another two receivers in 2014, but I think we only have one in 2015 before we finally get to our #2 tight end. That makes the #2 tight end the #8 receiving option.  Assuming the remaining tight end (#10 option) gets similar 2014 production, we can probably expect a combination of Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria getting the following:

Pettigrew and Fauria Projection303003

So that’s where we end up.  Eric Ebron likely taking a step forward, but probably not enough to convince those that were opposed to the pick from the beginning; Pettigrew and Fauria mostly becoming a footnote in the Detroit Lions passing attack.  What do you think of the projections?  Let us know in the comments or let me know how wrong I am on Twitter by giving me a follow and a holler @MathBomb.

Next: The Eric Ebron Narrative