Will Eric Ebron Finally Put It All Together In 2017?
Ever since the Detroit Lions drafted Eric Ebron with the 10th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, expectations for him have been sky high. Although Ebron has yet to live up to those expectations, he hasn’t exactly been a bust either. He just finished his third NFL season, and has shown improvement in each year, as his receptions and yards have gone up each season. Despite this, he seemed to regress in other areas, as he only scored one receiving touchdown in all of 2016 and still struggled with drops. In 2017, we will find out whether Ebron can reach his full potential and be a truly elite tight end, or if his ceiling is as a role player. Here are the things that you can expect from him this season.
Yards After The Catch
The biggest reason why Ebron was drafted so highly by the Lions was because of his athleticism. Ebron is big at 6’4″ and weighing 253 pounds, but he has great speed for a player of his size. This is apparent with his after the catch ability, shown by the clips I have included. On this one against the Vikings, Ebron makes a nice possession catch against Harrison Smith on the in route. Ebron then stumbles but is able to recover and accelerates into the open field, turning what should have been a four yard gain into a nearly 25 yard reception.
Here is another example of the after the catch ability that separates Ebron from many other tight ends. Ebron recognizes the man coverage, and does a great job of getting open with a hitch route against Sean Lee, an all pro linebacker from last season. He then is able to turn to the outside, and runs away from Lee down the sideline. Ebron does a good job of again turning what should have been a short gain into a pass for more than 20 yards, as he is pushed out of bounds near the 30 yard line.
Although one of the biggest criticisms against Eric Ebron is dropped passes, he does have a knack for making difficult receptions, as he does on this play against the Cowboys. Ebron runs a deep out route against Dallas safety Jeff Heath. Stafford scrambles out of the pocket, and notices that Ebron has some separation from Heath. Stafford throws a high pass to Ebron near the sideline, and Ebron does a great job of reaching up, snagging the ball out of the air, and then sliding to get both of his knees down in bounds.
Here is another diving catch be Ebron, this time from week one of 2016 season against the Colts. Ebron is again running an out route near the sideline. Stafford throws a low ball to the outside, and Ebron does a great job of laying out for it and making the reception, controlling the ball through contact with the ground and giving the Lions a first down.
Ebron is faster than most linebackers and bigger than virtually all defensive backs, meaning that he usually has a matchup advantage no matter who is covering him. If Ebron is covered by a linebacker (which he usually is), then he can just outrun them. If Ebron is covered by a safety or cornerback, he is bigger and uses his height and weight as leverage. Here is an example of Ebron creating separation against Houston safety Corey Moore. Ebron runs an out-and-up route from the slot position, and does a great job of out running Moore after his break. Ebron finds the open spot in the Houston defense, and comes down with a big reception for a first down.
Now, here is an example of Ebron getting open against a linebacker, Telvin Smith from the Jaguars. Ebron again runs an out and up route on this play, but this time from his natural tight end position. The Jacksonville defense is playing cover two zone coverage, and Ebron runs right by Smith and into the open field. Ebron is quick enough that he gets lots of separation before Smith realizes that he doesn’t have any help, and again Ebron comes down with a big catch.
One of two major concerns about Eric Ebron is his drops. He was tied for third worst in the NFL last year with seven drops, and he dropped 8.2% of the passes throw to him. In 2015, he had five drops with 7.1% of the passes thrown his way dropped. Although Ebron sometimes makes spectacular catches, he is prone to lapses in concentration that cause drops. Besides this, I blame some of the drops on him simply not having very strong hands, as shown on this play. Stafford throws a short pass over the middle to Ebron, and it should be a pretty routine catch for a short gain, but Ebron allows the ball to be ripped out of his hands for an interception. Ebron needs to work catching passes, and not letting them go for anything.
Ebron’s other glaring weakness is his blocking. Although he is listed as a tight end, you do not want him blocking for you. He is big enough to catch passes against defenders, but he simply doesn’t have the frame to block large defensive linemen. Ebron also lacks good blocking technique. Here is an example. On this play, Ebron does a horrible job of blocking and allows the linebacker to get right into the backfield. To make things even worse, Theo Riddick breaks the tackle, but Ebron doesn’t seem to notice and completely gives up on the play. At this point, I’m not even looking for improvement out of Ebron in this area, I think we just need to accept that he is only a threat in the passing game.
Ebron has often been injured during his time in Detroit, as he has missed games in each of his three seasons. In his rookie year, he missed three games, in his second season he missed two, and then he missed another three last season. Ebron was quoted earlier this offseason saying “[In 2016] I was pretty beat up, man, from the things you might know of, to the things you don’t. I was pretty destroyed.” Although Ebron has never missed significant time in his career, it is still worrisome that he has yet to play a full season.
This is finally the year where Ebron is either going to break out and establish himself as a top 10 tight end in the NFL, or he is going to flop and be considered purely a pass catching specialist. Ebron is going to have lots of opportunities to prove himself this year – at this point it is looking like he will take over the role of Anquan Boldin last year, as the primary red zone and short yardage receiver. I think we will likely see Ebron put up career highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns, but he still won’t catapult into the top tier of tight ends with Gronk, Olson and Kelce. I believe that Ebron would be at his best taking most of his snaps from the slot receiver position, and, barring the Lions re-signing Boldin, Ebron will see many of his snaps from that position this year.
2017 Statistics Projection: 70 receptions, 800 yards, six receiving touchdowns