Eric Ebron: 2016 Breakout Candidate
By Matt Urben
Eric Ebron is unlikely to ever live up to his 10th overall draft pick status, mainly because of guys like Zach Martin, Aaron Donald and Odell Beckham Jr. being drafted in the picks following him. That’s not Ebron’s fault, but Lions fans aren’t soon going to forget they could’ve had any of those three pro-bowlers instead of the tight end from North Carolina.
Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis and Tony Gonzalez all struggled, similar to Ebron, early in their careers.
If you take 2014 draft comparisons out of it, however, Ebron’s progress is par for the course of an NFL tight end. Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis and Tony Gonzalez all struggled, similar to Ebron, early in their careers. It takes time to become a great pass-catching tight end in the NFL.
Obviously, those are elite players and Ebron’s numbers haven’t been anything special thus far. His improvement from year one to two should give fans hope that he can still become a big-time player for the Lions. In his rookie season, Ebron was a virtual non-factor, recording 248 yards and one touchdown.
Last year, he doubled that production and then some. He finished the 2015 season with 47 catches, 537 yards, and five touchdowns. Still not quite elite, but enough to be Detroit’s third most productive receiver behind Golden Tate and Calvin Johnson. Ebron continued to have some trouble with drops but looked much more comfortable in the offense during his sophomore season.
Now with Calvin Johnson no longer in the picture, there is a Megatron-sized hole on the Lions’ offense. They did sign Marvin Jones and other free agent receivers, however, none of them are Calvin Johnson. Even with a breakout year from Jones, there should be considerably more chances for Eric Ebron over the middle.
If Ebron is able to double his production yet again, he could vault himself into the top-5 tight ends in the league. That is a lot to ask out of Ebron, but he’s always had the physical tools. After all, you have to be pretty talented to be taken ahead of so many great players.
Ebron is still slightly lagging behind the mental aspect of the game, which is common for tight ends early in their careers. The position, which is a combination of offensive line, wide receiver and fullback, can seem overwhelming for a young player. Ebron was basically a wide receiver while at North Carolina, so he had to develop his blocking ability significantly when he got to the NFL.
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The opportunity is there for Ebron, coming into the season as the unquestioned third option for quarterback Matthew Stafford. His 2016 production will tell us if he is an average starting tight end, or the difference-maker the Lions thought they were getting when drafted him with the 10th overall pick.