Eric Ebron Is Being Overlooked in Fantasy Football

The retirement of Calvin Johnson makes Ebron an enticing option this season, especially at his current price.

After the top tight ends are off the board in fantasy football drafts this season, the remaining group can appear unexciting and all about the same.

It’s tough to get enthused about many of the second- and third-tier options, but Eric Ebron, who can be had very late, offers rare upside for a tight end with his average draft position.

It isn’t often tight ends are taken in the first round of NFL drafts -- nonetheless 10th overall -- but Ebron carries a first-round pedigree, and he has a golden opportunity to increase his numbers in his third season as a pro. With the departure of Calvin Johnson, there’s a huge gap to fill for a pass catcher in the Motor City. Still just 23, Ebron could have the breakout we've all been waiting for.

If your draft strategy is to wait on the position, then Ebron, who finished 13th in total fantasy points in standard scoring formats last year among tight ends, may represent the opportunity to draft a fairly safe mid-range option, but he could also give the upside of a weekly difference maker.

Ebron’s 2015

Although he struggled with drops at times last year, Ebron's statistics improved significantly from his rookie season as he turned 70 targets into 47 catches, 537 receiving yards, and 5 touchdowns. His catches almost doubled, his receiving yards more than doubled, and his touchdowns increased by four from his rookie campaign.

We can see how effective Ebron was using our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which you can read more about in our glossary. Out of 24 tight ends with at least 70 targets last season, Ebron finished 11th in Reception Net Expected Points per target (0.64).

The expectation this season is that Ebron will get a chance to see an increased role. He could be a big factor in the red zone, where Megatron's presence will be sorely missed. Also, fellow tight end Brandon Pettigrew is recovering from ACL surgery and could possibly start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, meaning Ebron should face little competition for snaps to begin the season.

Pass-Catching Options

The retirement of Johnson leaves a massive hole in Detroit's passing game. To be exact, 149 targets from last season are up for grabs. Things will likely be tougher for the Lions' pass-game weapons because Johnson won't be the focus of opposing defenses, but everyone stands to benefit from a likely increase in volume.

Coming off two 90-plus catch seasons, wide receiver Golden Tate has led the team in receptions the last two years. Tate is expected to lead the team in receptions again this season, but a huge jump in receptions or looks isn’t likely after finishing last season with 129 targets. Albeit with more targets and receptions, at 0.50, Tate's Reception NEP per target was lower than Ebron's.

After playing second fiddle to A.J. Green for three seasons in Cincinnati, wide receiver Marvin Jones is the main offseason addition to the passing game. A possible draft-day value himself, Jones may battle Tate for top receiving duties on the team.

Aside from Jones, Tate, and receiving back Theo Riddick, there really isn’t another strong option for quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Lions' signal caller has attempted at least 600 passes in four of his last five seasons, falling just 8 attempts short of that mark last year. A questionable run game -- they haven't finished inside the top 16 in schedule-adjusted Rushing NEP per play since 2011 -- should keep Stafford’s pass attempts from declining drastically.

With nearly 150 targets potentially up for grabs and no alpha dog receiver, Ebron may be able to snag a decent percentage of those targets.

Forecasting 2016

Many around the Lions are looking for Ebron to take another step forward as an offensive weapon. Considering he was TE13 last season, even a small increase in his production could put him in the top 10 at his position. It’s possible, if all things go right, he could finish even higher.

The opportunity is there, and with a late-round tight end, that's sometimes all you can ask for.

Ebron is currently going 22nd among tight ends and 138th overall, according to ESPN live draft results. Most of the tight ends found in that range don’t have his breakout ceiling and aren't a lock for steady volume.

Ebron may be the breakout candidate you are looking for in drafts this year, but even if he doesn't explode into stardom, he can provide nice value at his current cost.