With the Lions recently re-signing Brandon Pettigrew to a 4-year deal, one may think that drafting a tight end in the first couple rounds is out of the question for the Lions. However, I would not be surprised to see the Lions choose to go in that direction anyway. It would actually make a lot of sense to me, even with Pettigrew being locked up for at least a couple of years. More and more teams are consistently using 2 or more tight ends in their offense in today's NFL. We can expect to see a lot of similarities to how the Saints ran their offense last year, with Joe Lombardi as our new offensive coordinator. As POD's own Jeremy Reisman pointed out a month ago, the Saints used a lot of 2 TE looks last year. They would often use Jimmy Graham as a slot TE, while keeping their #2 guy Benjamin Watson on the field as a blocking tight end. The Lions could probably get away with using Pettigrew in either role, but I think Joseph Fauria would be the better option as a slot receiver, as Pettigrew is a much better blocker.
If Martin Mayhew feels like he should draft a tight end early, one option he'll have to consider is taking Eric Ebron with the 10th overall pick. Ebron would fit perfectly in the Detroit's offensive scheme, as he often lined up in the slot for UNC's offense, and is a decent blocker as well. With the way Pettigrew's contract is laid out, the Lions could cut their losses in a couple years if he does not perform well, and not take much of a penalty for it. The Lions could develop Ebron behind Pettigrew and take some snaps away from him, while also splitting some time with Fauria.
Ebron didn't have the most mesmerizing stats at North Carolina, but his production steadily improved each year. He was a consistent option for the Tar Heels, although not quite as much in the red zone. He was first-team All-ACC and first-team All-American in 2013.
What impresses me the most with Ebron, is his ability to run after the catch. His 8.84 yards after the catch is up there with guys like Mike Evans and Allen Robinson. That's pretty damn good for a tight end.
As you can see in the graphic above, Ebron spent a lot of time in the slot. Only Jace Amaro and Richard Rodgers spent more time in the slot than Ebron. I would expect to see a similar number wherever Ebron goes because he is lethal as a slot receiver and is fluid enough to even line up as an outside receiver from time to time.
One concern with Ebron was his drops in 2013. If you look at the graphic below, you'll see that Ebron had the highest drop % out of the top TE's in this year's class. You'd like to see about a 7.5-8% or lower with tight ends, as they tend to have higher drop rates than wide receivers. I'll dig further into Ebron's drops later on when I get to his tape.
*Special thanks to Draft Analyst Greg Peshek over at Rotoworld. He does a phenomenal job with these metrics.
Ebron had an impressive showing at this year's combine. He ran a 4.60 40-time, which was 2nd best among all TE's who participated. He also had the 3rd best broad jump at 120". You can see the rest of his measurements here via mockdraftable.com. Interestingly enough, his measurements compare mostly to Kellen Winslow's, at a 99%.
The first thing that stands out to me when watching Eric Ebron is his athletic ability and catch radius. He had a poor vertical jump (32") at the combine, but he can make some pretty insane catches regardless.
That's just unfair. Ebron is a monster and is extremely effective on seam routes. He was able to get past his defender on a seam route in this play, and even though the ball is a little overthrown, he managed to get his hand on it and show great concentration to bring the ball in for the TD.
Here's another play against Miami, where Ebron makes another ridiculous catch and manages to catch a poorly thrown ball by catching the ball away from his body with one hand.
Ebron has also proven to be a decent red zone threat. He didn't exactly light up the statsheet with a lot of TD's at UNC, but he wasn't targeted a whole lot either. In the play below, Ebron is able to haul the ball in with two defenders focused on him. When Ebron was matched up with a safety, he consistently took advantage of the size difference and made plays.
One thing that I really like from Ebron, is his willingness to block. He looks like a pretty average blocker on tape, and his technique is raw, but he looks like a guy that loves to do whatever you ask of him on the football field, and teams will love to see that.Ebron didn't exactly see a ton of looks as an in-line blocker, but he showed some flashes of what he can do when asked to block in the passing game, and the run game.
In the play above, you'll see Ebron actually block out of the slot on a toss play. He is able to provide a key block that allows the RB to make a big gain, but he doesn't show good technique in his block. Ebron is off balance when they engage, and the defender almost throws him to the ground. Luckily, he's able to regain his his stance and composure.
When looking at Ebron's tape, you'll see a lot of plays where he's asked to block, and instead of getting his hands high and tight on the players jersey, he'll have his arms extended, and doesn't use his legs to drive the defender away from the play. This poor technique could just be a result of not getting enough snaps as a blocker, but it still is a concern.
While Ebron has shown that he needs to work on his technique as a blocker, he's also shown that he can be a very intelligent blocker as well. There were many instances where, when asked to block a player a couple yards downfield, he would attack a designated spot, rather than the player. Here is a good example of Ebron attacking a designated spot and getting in position to block the defender, rather than going straight after the defender and losing position. Matt Waldman from FootballOutsiders did a nice job in his Futures article on Ebron last year pointing this out. However, I noticed these plays happen more in Ebron's 2012 tape than 2013 tape. This could be because of him being more involved in the passing game in 2013, but it's worth noting. Ebron has also shown that he can be very effective as a blocker on outside screens. The play above is an example of him getting in position and locating the defender closest to the outside and locking him up resulting in a first down for the ball carrier.
Earlier I brought up Ebron's ability to run after the catch. He averaged 8.84 yards after the catch last year, which is unheard of from a tight end. A lot of that had to do with the way the Tar Heels used him. They involved him in a lot of bubble screens, and even threw in a couple reverses to him when lined up as an outside receiver. The Lions have called some TE screens to Pettigrew in the past. Ebron would bring some more versatility as a tight end, and does a fantastic job gaining yards after the catch.
You don't see plays like these often from a TE. Ebron has impressive top end speed, and when he breaks a couple tackles like these against Miami, then you can count on him taking it the distance. If you go back to about 45 seconds into the same video against Miami, you'll see a shallow cross play that Ebron turns into a 20 yard gain. He reminds me of a poor man's Vernon Davis when the ball is in his hands, and can turn into a star with the right coaching.
Ebron does have his concerns though. I've already mentioned and pointed out that he is raw as a blocker. He can get bullied around when he doesn't use the right technique, and he also tends to get lost or lose his man when blocking in the open field. He'll get more opportunities as a blocker in the NFL to develop than he did in college, most likely.
The most talked about concern with Ebron lately is his drops. His drop percentage was 11.43% in 2013, which is pretty bad, even for a tight end. The drops are a legitimate concern, but I feel like it is slightly overblown. Ebron had his fair share of concentration drops, but he also had two different QB's throwing to him all year, and neither were very accurate passers. I noticed a lot of plays where Ebron was wide open, and either the QB over/underthrew him, or didn't even notice Ebron was open at all. I also noticed that Ebron and other receivers would run plenty of routes over the middle, and the QB would lead them right into a big hit.
A play like this probably goes on the statsheet as a drop for Ebron. But in reality, it is a poorly thrown ball that most tight ends don't even get a hand on. He'll drop his fair share of balls in the NFL, but I think his big play ability will more than make up for it. That being said, I think Ebron is a great talent that could very well end up being picked in the top 10 or 15 in this year's draft. I don't feel like he is a can't miss talent, or elite talent like some people think. He's not as complete of a player right now as some draft experts lead you to believe, but his ceiling is extremely high, and if used right, he can be a lethal weapon on offense.
Why We Should Draft Him
A lot of successful NFL teams use two or more tight ends on offense. We're seeing TE's used more and more often now, and we're even seeing some line up in the slot like Jimmy Graham. Much like Graham, Ebron was used in the slot for UNC over 70% of his snaps last year. Lions OC Joe Lombardi was a product of the Saints' offensive coaching staff last year, and will be bringing some similar looks to our offense this upcoming year, so expect to see more production from the TE position. Ebron brings versatility to the position, and can do almost anything you ask of him. He can line up on the line, in the slot and even as an outside receiver if you want him to. Even though the Lions just recently re-signed Pettigrew, I can see them finding a way to get Pettigrew, Ebron and even Fauria plenty of snaps in their offense. Drafting Ebron would definitely upgrade the TE position, and if Pettigrew doesn't perform well in the next couple years, his new contract allows us to have the option to dump him after 2 years and not take a huge hit for it.
Why We Shouldn't Draft Him
The Lions found a diamond in the rough last year with UDFA Big Joe Fauria. Drafting Ebron would most likely lower the amount of snaps Fauria sees next year, and the Lions have expressed commitment to developing Fauria as a better all around player recently. Ebron has trouble catching the ball, and had plenty of concentration drops last year, something we're way too familiar with as Lions fans. The Lions need more of a sure catcher on offense, and it might be smarter to look to the later rounds if they want to draft a TE at all, or maybe just skip drafting a TE all together this year now that they locked up their starting TE. Michael Williams will be back as a 3rd string TE that specializes in blocking. If the Lions draft Ebron, Williams might end up getting cut, and we would never really end up seeing what he could have been, and it would be another wasted Mayhew draft pick.
The Lions Select Series:
Going back to the defensive side of the ball. Next up is looking like either Deone Bucannon or Ryan Shazier. Any other defensive players I should profile? Let me know what you think, and rec it if you like it. Thanks.