Eric Ebron Adds a Needed Wrinkle to the Detroit Offense
While the tight end position has become exponentially more important in today's pass-heavy NFL, the trend hasn't been around long enough to see whether or not the NFL Draft will result in an increased number of tight end selections in the first round.
In the past three drafts, only Tyler Eifert has been selected in the first round when the Cincinnati Bengals selected him 21st overall in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Prior to the draft, this year's tight end class had the potential to change things. Most scouts and analysts feel this class is strong and deep, but not everyone is sold on the new wave of tight end talent. One NFL exec was quite vocal in his disinterest with the entire tight end draft class, focusing mostly on top tight end prospect Eric Ebron's blocking inefficiencies but also finding nothing positive to say about other tight end hopefuls like Texas Tech's Jace Amaro and Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins for largely the same reasons.
We can assume that outspoken executive didn't work for the Detroit Lions, who drafted Ebron with the 10th overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Ebron may not emerge as an elite all-around tight end, but the former North Carolina Tar Heel's receiving prowess put him in the UNC record books. In his third season, the 6'4", 250 pound tight end hauled in 62 passes for 973 yards, both single season tight end records at North Carolina. His three years in Carolina blue accounted for 112 receptions and 1,805 receiving yards. Both are now career tight end records for the Tar Heels.
Ebron was responsible for touchdowns on only three of those 62 receptions last season, and he now enters the NFL with only eight touchdown catches in 34 games.
Even with the touchdown deficiencies, Ebron's potential and measurables earned him the second first-round tight end selection in the past two years and the first top-ten selection since 2006 when the San Francisco 49ers drafted Vernon Davis.
Both his 4.6 40-yard dash and 10'0" broad jump were top-three among tight ends in the NFL Combine, and he compares well physically with Davis, who is 6'3" and 250 pounds. Davis ran a much faster 40-yard dash during his combine days, a 4.38. Ebron, though, relies more on fluidity than on speed.
Clearly, Ebron has the raw potential to vault himself to the elite ranks of tight end supremacy within his first few seasons, but like Joe Redemann points out, finding the right fit is a critical component to success at the next level.
Ebron's Potential in Detroit
Ebron will be joining an elite offense in Detroit. Quarterback Matthew Stafford ranked third in the NFL in passing yards in 2013 with 4,650, but Stafford ranked only 12th in Passing Net Expected Points. This indicates that, while Stafford was racking up yardage, his yardage did not account for as many points as the efforts by other quarterbacks. Essentially, Stafford's statistics were inflated compared to his actual production on the field.
If Ebron's touchdown woes continue into the NFL, the Lions won't improve in NEP quite as drastically as they need to, but Calvin Johnson and his league-leading Reception NEP of 143.56 will help draw attention from the rookie tight end.
Lately, the tight end position has been a bit of a problem for the Lions. Brandon Pettigrew, a rare first-round tight end selection by the Lions in 2010, has recorded only 16 touchdowns in 71 games with the Lions. Out of 19 tight ends who recorded at least 40 receptions last season, Pettigrew ranked 18th out of 19 in Reception NEP with 34.05. While he did record only 41 receptions, his per-target NEP did not fare much better: just 16th out of those 19 tight ends.
Pettigrew's ineffectiveness hasn't helped Stafford get the ball to Johnson, but if teams continue to cover Johnson the same way, Ebron promises to have more success over the middle of the field than Pettigrew had during his five years with the Lions so far.
Nothing is certain, but Ebron is in a promising spot in Detroit. But the NFL Draft is never quite what we expect. Perceived safe players can bust, and troubled or flawed players can outplay their draft position. Ebron has all the makings to be an effective pass catching tight end in the new NFL--especially with the luxury of the open field caused by Johnson, but at least today can offer him some certainty in his future: Ebron proposed to his girlfriend on top of the Empire State Building before the draft.
Just like the Lions, she said yes to Ebron.