May 27, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron (85) during OTA at Detroit Lions Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
To start this section I am going to show Ebron’s four recorded drops from last season. Ebron’s drop problem has been one of the most talked about topics for Detroit Lions fans this offseason. Some beat writers have even been live tweeting his drops in training camp. This has led to thousands of fans and sports writers alike to believe Ebron can’t catch. But, he made some very difficult catches last year and showed he can adjust to poorly thrown balls.
Another problem with this theory is that Matthew Stafford has one of the strongest arms in the NFL and throws a lot of fastballs to his receivers. Golden Tate, a receiver who has always been noted for his great hands, had as many drops last season as he did in his last three years combined with the Seahawks. Pro Football Focus tweeted this chart a couple of days ago, and it helps prove this point. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Ebron had some drops this year, especially when you consider he came from a limited offense at North Carolina. The difference between Matthew Stafford and Bryn Renner is massive and it must of been a huge adjustment for Ebron. Three of Ebron’s Four drops were very hard passes thrown away from Ebron’s body, they still should of been caught but Stafford definitely didn’t make it any easier on him.
Lets get started with the drops:
This play starts off great, he cuts off his route to sit in the short void of the zone coverage. This is something Ebron excels at, he understands these coverages and cuts off his route at the proper time. Stafford throws a perfect pass and the ball falls right off Ebron’s hands. This is a catch Ebron should make ten out of ten times so this obviously is a problem. The only way you can excuse this drop is by saying its a concentration drop or that Ebron took his eyes off the ball to peek at incoming defenders. Still this is a negative play and something Ebron needs to really work on, he has a tendency to drop easy passes like this.
The next drop is a very similar play, Ebron cuts off his route to gain separation from the defender and Stafford delivers a perfect pass away from the defender. The ball again drops out of Ebron’s hands and is a catch Ebron needs to make. These plays both represent what Ebron needs to cut out of his game, these easy plays need to be completed and can kill drives if they aren’t.
The next drop is a play most Lions fans remember when they think of Ebron. The defense bit hard on the play action fake and Ebron was breaking down the field with the end zone in sight. Stafford threw a terrible pass that forced Ebron to slow up his route and let the defenders catch up to him. He still has an open play on the ball and completely whiffs on the catch. If you look at the close up it doesn’t seem like he is looking the ball into his hands. He also lets the ball come to him instead of extending his frame to pluck the ball out of the air. This is probably the most troubling of the drops Ebron had last year. It’s a soft tight pass so you can’t blame Stafford and he doesn’t even come close to catching the ball.
This last drop is another strange play, Ebron only gives a half effort and maybe could of secured the catch if he used both of his hands to secure the pass. He gets credited for the drop but this really is a bad play by Stafford, that pass needs to be softer and more towards the sideline to avoid the rushing linebacker. With a better placed throw this easily could of been a completion and a 5-7 yard gain depending on yards after the catch.
One of the main problems that Ebron has is his ability in contested situations. In the play above he does a great job locating and attacking the ball in the air. For some reason though the ball comes out as he tries to secure the catch through the ground. This is a common theme when you watch Ebron and it looks like he might not have the hand strength necessary to come down with contested catches. He also had some a very poor vertical jump at the combine (32 inches) so even with his elite size he won’t out jump a lot of defensive backs in the NFL. However, this is one of the few times he was targeted in a contested catch situation so there is hardly a significant sample size but its still cause for concern.
Again Ebron gets open deep on this play, Stafford under throws the ball and puts Ebron in a contested catch situation. The ball hits him right in the hands, only to be separated by the defenders hand. Again this play leads me to question his hand strength in contested situations, he allows the defender to strip the ball out of his hands with very little effort.
While there are some examples to show Ebron has trouble catching the ball, he also made some tough catches last year. This play above highlights his ability to adjust to the ball in the air and use good technique to extend his frame to make a catch. Stafford throws this ball in the perfect spot away from the defender, but this throw requires Ebron to make a quick adjustment in the air. This play is exactly why the Lions drafted Ebron, his speed up the seam is very hard to match and with his massive frame he can box out defenders to limit their ability to make a play on the ball.
The play above shows another impressive catch that Ebron made last year. Stafford throws a terrible pass high and away from Ebron. He adjusts quickly to extend his frame and make the catch. The ball starts to bobble and he recovers to bring the ball into his body. This is a really tough catch to make, he turns around and a rocket is coming right at him giving him very little time to adjust.
His ability to make these tough catches, could mean the drops are mostly concentration based. When he knows he has to do something extra to make the catch he bears down and focuses on completing the catch. However, his lack of hand strength securing catches through contact is worrisome. People need to be focusing less on his drops over the middle of the field that can be easily cleaned up and start worrying about his play in contested areas. Its probably Ebron’s biggest weakness and could be part of the reason Stafford was so hesitant to test him deep.
Next: In conclusion