Is Detroit Lions Tight End Eric Ebron Worth Having On Your Fantasy Football Roster?
In fantasy football, opportunity is everything. More snaps means more opportunities, and more opportunities mean a better chance to score points.
For owners of any Detroit Lions pass-catcher not named Calvin Johnson, life is tough.
In the Lions’ first two games thus far, quarterback Matthew Stafford has targeted Johnson 24 times, or 30% of his passes. Johnson’s 24 targets rank fourth in the NFL among all pass-catchers, behind only Jordy Nelson, Jimmy Graham, and Steve Smith (huh?). No other Lion has more than 14 targets.
In other words, when Stafford drops back to pass, he’s always on the look out for Johnson. And, well, he should be.
So, where does that leave a versatile and explosive rookie who was supposed to have an immediate impact after going top 10 in May's NFL Draft?
Well, so far, it’s left him mostly on the sidelines.
Rookie tight end Eric Ebron has played just 20 snaps in each of the Lions’ first two games. That puts him dead last on the tight end depth chart, with both Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria logging more snaps than Ebron.
Nevertheless, Ebron has made the most of his time on the field. He’s hauled in three catches on seven targets, with all three receptions coming in Week 2 against the Carolina Panthers. That’s an encouraging sign for a rookie in his second NFL game. Should we expect more in the coming weeks?
Our analytics here at numberFire seem to indicate potential in Ebron’s game. We use a metric called Net Expected Points (NEP), which ultimately indicates how many points a player adds or subtracts for his team.
Ebron has compiled a Reception NEP of 3.12, which ranks 29th among all tight ends this season. In other words, when Ebron actually catches the ball, he’s been able to add 3.12 points for the Lions through two contests this year. This makes him slightly worse than Derek Carrier (not to be confused with Derek Carr), and a little better than Jermaine Gresham.
Ebron also has a Success Rate of 100 percent, which means all three of his receptions contributed positively toward his Reception NEP.
However, Ebron’s Target NEP, which is the number of expected points a receiver gets on all targets, ranks just 39th among all tight ends. This is telling because it seems to illustrate that Ebron’s still trying to work out some kinks and find the right chemistry with his quarterback. A low catch rate on his small sample of targets is the main culprit here.
He’s also got a lot on his plate as a rookie, and he said as much on a podcast with Ross Tucker back in July.
“I’ve been everywhere,” he said. “That’s what’s killing me.”
Honestly, this should come as no surprise. It’s often difficult for rookie tight ends to have an immediate impact in fantasy football, and Ebron simply isn’t there yet.
Nonetheless, his development is certainly something to keep an eye on as the season progresses. Second-year tight end Zach Ertz improved significantly in his final eight games as a rookie, and it’s not out of the question that Ebron can do the same.
He obviously possesses the physical attributes to be a monster, coming in at 6’4” and 250 pounds. And he could develop into a solid red-zone threat later in the season - despite not really being one in college - as teams continue to key on Calvin Johnson. Not to mention, the Lions have run a number of plays out of two-tight end sets in the red zone, which bodes well for Ebron down the road.
Back in August, Ebron was being drafted as a low-end starter, with an average draft position in the back half of the 12th round, according to Fantasy Sports Portal. He then had a preseason that was marred by dropped passes and struggles with blocking. Still, he was going before guys like Delanie Walker and Jared Cook, who are all significantly outperforming him, according to our metrics. Now he’s owned in just 11.2 percent of leagues on NFL.com and in only 7.4 percent on ESPN.com, and those percentages are continuing to drop weekly.
Ebron’s time will come - and if you have a top-tier tight end with a bye week late in the season (which includes guys like Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Gates, and Jason Witten), Ebron could be the perfect backup stash. Because, like other athletic tight ends, there’s a good chance he puts it all together by then.
But for now, Ebron isn't necessarily roster-worthy according to our metrics, as we see him finishing as the 31st-ranked tight end through the end of the season.