The most important element when drafting any prospect, but especially tight ends, is knowing how you will use them once they're on your team. So let me just clear the air up front: the Lions didn't draft Eric Ebron to be a blocking tight end. The Lions drafted Ebron to be a playmaker catching the ball. NWill Ebron be asked to block at times? Of course, but that's not and never will be his primary role. To be honest, Ebron fits perfectly into how the league is moving.
"Anymore you don't talk about tight ends. You're looking at either a Y or an F, and that's the way we talk about them. You're either an inline guy who usually lacks the skill set to be a pass catcher. It's a tough overachiever that's physical at the point of attack. And then you have a guy who can flex and is essentially a big wide receiver. So the guy who can do it all generally doesn't exist anymore. There are a few guys that can do both, but very rare."
Even though Ebron was drafted with an eye toward a different offensive system, he’s a great fit for what new offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, and the rest of the NFL, wants to do. Part of the Lions' success toward the end of last year had to do with getting the ball out of Matthew Stafford's hands quicker. This is where Ebron proved to be a vital chess piece down the stretch. Under Cooter the Lions expect their pass catchers to catch the ball short and create yards after catch. In 2015 Ebron got 289 of his 537 yards after the catch.
Ebron is at his best when he is flexed in the slot. His size is tough for smaller nickel cornerbacks to handle, and he's faster than most linebackers and safeties that try to cover him one-on-one.
In this example, the Lions run Ebron on an in-breaking route over the middle of the field. The Philadelphia Eagles drop Malcolm Jenkins in slot to cover him.
The Eagles blitz and Ebron is able to beat Jenkins out of his break. He makes the catch five yards down field and outruns the defender before being vaulted in the air. In the end he turns a five yard catch into a 20 yard gain. The Lions need more these plays in 2016.
"Eric has a unique skillset," Quinn said. "He’s really an explosive player. He has really good speed. He was a very productive player in college.
"I think he did show improvement from year one to two, which is really what you want to see from a player."
"By year three you know what you have," he said. "So I’m really looking forward to Eric in the offseason program, OTAs and training camp to kind of see that progression. It’s a crucial position, and we’re going to use the tight end as much as we can."
Regardless of whether or not Calvin Johnson decides to retire, the Lions offense needs Ebron to have a breakout year in 2016. The Lions made a major investment in him two years ago and it's time to cash it in.