Why Eric Ebron should be part of the Lions’ long-term plans.
After three seasons, Eric Ebron, the athletic tight end out of North Carolina, has just turned in the best year of his short career. The problem? Some fans continue to hold his draft status against him, choosing to live in an alternate reality where the Lions drafted Odell Beckham Jr. or Aaron Donald instead.
Sep 13, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (99) celebrates after sacking Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (not pictured) during the second half at the Edward Jones Dome. The Rams defeated the Seahawks 34-31 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Sure, if scouts knew what they know now, both O.B.J. and Donald would have been top-5 picks in the draft, long gone before the Lions selected Ebron 10th overall. As much as we would all like to go back, Bob Quinn has to live in the present, not the past. According to MLive’s Kyle Meinke, the Lions are currently undecided as to whether they are going to pick up Eric Ebron’s 5th-year, $8.5 million option.
Meanwhile, fans continue to lament the Ebron pick, ignoring his steady progress that upon closer inspection, shows he’s trending towards becoming a top-flight player at the position. To see what I mean, take a look at Ebron’s stats from his first three years below.
2014 Stats: 25 catches for 248 yards, 1 TD.
2015 Stats:47 catches for 537 yards, 5 TDs.
2016 Stats:61 catches for 711 yards, 1 TD.
The 23-year-old Ebron finished tenth overall among tight ends with 61 catches, and eighth in terms of yardage (711 yards). Does that validate selecting him tenth overall? Not quite, but at 23, it’s hard for me to believe he won’t be a top-5 player at the position for the next several years.
Don’t believe me? Just look at the stats of some of the all-time greats. Let’s look at Tony Gonzalez, arguably the greatest pass-catching tight end ever. Gonzalez recorded 368 yards his rookie season, then 621 in his second year. In his third season, Gonzalez recorded 849 yards for the Kansas City Chiefs. All are fairly close to Ebron’s numbers.
If you look at other tight ends, including Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis, and Antonio Gates, they all had under 400 yards in their first season. They had varying degrees of success over their second and third years, but the point is that tight ends rarely (if ever) come into the league as finished products.
Ebron has been par for the course thus far. That’s especially true if we look at the players he was competing for targets with. Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate were both over 1,000 receiving yards in 2014. This year, Marvin Jones had over 900 and Tate had another 1,000-yard season.
Will Eric Ebron ever become Jimmy Graham? Probably not, but it’s honestly too early to tell. As of right now, though, he’s on track to be a very good tight end. Eric Ebron had a top-ten statistical season for a tight end. Looking at his body of work, he’s clearly on the rise as a player in this league.
The biggest area of his game that he struggles with are dropped passes. Ebron led the team in drops with seven, which was tied for third-worst in the entire NFL. That’s an area he must improve, but not likely something he can totally ever move past – like a player who struggles with fumbles for example.
Overall, looking at the big picture, Eric Ebron is an asset to this team. Considering what little depth the Lions have at tight end, I’d say they would be crazy not to pick up Ebron’s option. It will come down to Bob Quinn’s decision, however, which he still has four months to make.