The Detroit Lions didn't select Aaron Donald with their 10th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. There is plenty of revisionist history about how much of a target Donald was to begin with (even more so with Odell Beckham Jr.), but the fact remains that it was Eric Ebron who the team drafted. Drafting a tight end in the top ten isn't unprecedented, but it is very uncommon, and the expectations were higher than for any draft pick selected that season; unrealistic, in fact, but that's not the topic for today. Today we're going to bust the myth that Eric Ebron does, in fact, suck.
It's one thing to say a player hasn't lived up to their draft billing. That argument could probably (definitely, I've done the math) apply to 90 percent of players that end up drafted, and easily more than half in the first round. Still, it's never a comfort. Ebron was immediately hated by a large portion of the Detroit Lions fan base who wanted
Darqueze Dennard Ha Ha Clinton-Dix Aaron Donald when that 10th pick came up. He has been hampered by both injuries and Joe Lombardi being just the worst, but even if he didn't have those things holding him back he could never have lived up to the expectations those disappointed fans have. But does he suck?
Eric Ebron had five touchdowns in 2015. That was good for third on his team. Only eight teams had a player third on their team with five or more TDs, so in terms of touchdowns he was better than the third guy on 24 teams. Compared only to tight ends, Ebron was tied for ninth for touchdowns. Of note there, only one of the tight ends with more touchdowns was drafted in 2014 or 2015, and he had Aaron Rodgers throwing to him. (And tight end was considered one of Green Bay's big needs this offseason to replace him.)
In his second year out of North Carolina, Ebron netted 47 receptions. This ranked 20th among tight ends. Like before, the only tight end with more receptions drafted in 2014 and beyond was Richard Rodgers in GB. Ebron had the fourth most receptions on the Detroit Lions. The only player with more receptions than Ebron who was fourth-best or higher in receptions for their team was Jimmy Graham, with one more catch.
Ranking 14th among tight ends for yardage, with no tight ends drafted in 2014 and later rated above him, Ebron shows again that he has been productive in his second year despite not being a superstar. Only five tight ends had 950 yards or more and all five of them led their team in yardage (with over 110 targets each). On a team with Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, Ebron was never going to be the No. 1 target. Speaking of targets, the only TE with more than 500 yards and less than 70 targets was none other than Eric Ebron.
What about drops, isn't that his Achilles heel? Ebron tied for fourth among TEs for drops with five in 2015 (according to Sporting Charts). He ranked seventh among TEs with more than 20 targets for drop percentage at 7.1 percent. That seems to be the only stat most care about, and it isn't great. It isn't, however, the awful problem that it is often made out to be, and he improved from 2014.
Looking again at targets, Ebron was targeted 69 times in 2015. That made him fourth on his team for targets. Only one tight end in the entire NFL was more productive as his team's fourth target, and that was Richard Rodgers (who again the Packers were looking to replace). Among teams' No. 4 targets, Ebron ranked eighth in targets, fourth in receptions, fifth in yards, and second in touchdowns. As far as fourth options in a passing offense go, Ebron ranked among the best.
The Detroit Lions didn't draft Eric Ebron 10th overall to be a great No. 4 option, however. They didn't draft him to be a top 15 tight end, either, but that's what he is. They want him to be an elite, top tier player at that position, and he isn't there yet. No one is going to sit here and claim that he's been fantastic, and everyone should shut their trap with their criticisms. It's impossible, however, to look at what he accomplished in a shortened 2015 underneath a horrible offensive coordinator playing behind a hall of fame wide receiver and talented No. 2 receiver as well as one of the best receiving RBs in the NFL and claim that Eric Ebron sucks. I mean, people still do it. They're just wrong.